Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

Month: November 2008

We’ll Be Right Back, After This Word — And Why That’s a Good Thing

Some very happy news from the Korean courts Thursday — Korea’s Constitutional Court ruled that the state-run television ad agency KOBACO is unconstitutional.

Now, that might seem like an obscure thing to be happy about, but I assure you this is great news. You see, the Korea Broadcast Advertising Corporation currently is responsible for all aspects of TV advertising in Korea. It sets the rates and times for ads, collects the money and doles it out, all in one shop. And only KOBACO is allowed to do this. The result is the highly regulated, uncompetitive, and bizarre thing we call Korean television.

Of course, KOBACO justifies what it does in the name of “fairness” (as bureaucrats always do). But the result of KOBACO is anything but fair.

  • Advertisers get very little control over when their ads air.
  • TV stations do not get as much ad revenue as they could on the open market.
  • Neither advertiser nor broadcaster has much flexibility over the ad market.
  • Therefore TV stations have much less money to create programs, so their programs are that much cheaper and cheesier than they could be.
  • Also, there is little incentive to experiment with program styles, since the channels’ revenues do not vary much, regardless of what they air.

    Years ago, a former ad guy told me that KOBACO is a “zombie corporation” — that is, it is already dead, but it keeps on moving. In fact, the government passed legislation what would have ended KOBACO’s monopoly back in 2001, but that was not enough to kill it either.

    Everybody knows that it is a relic from Korea’s authoritarian past, but the government loved KOBACO, and was loath to give it up. It was set up under Chun Doo-hwan to keep control over Korea’s television stations (way back before SBS began and long before anyone had even thought of cable TV).

    The government tried to dress up KOBACO and make it pretty — for example, it must use a certain percentage (around 6%) of revenues for public projects. The Press Center, the Korean Broadcasters Center, and the Seoul Arts Center were all built using KOBACO money (and the Arirang TV building).

    With KOBACO’s monopoly coming to an end in 2009, this could potentially really open up the Korean TV markets. Which should mean more money for the TV channels, more money for TV programs, and then hopefully better TV programs. And, if we are really lucky, we might get some more diversity, too.

  • Korea Weekend Box Office – Nov. 21-23

    Sorry for the lack of updates last week. I was in Spain and did not have access to my computer. Had a very good time, though. If you are tempted to go, I highly recommend November (at least for the south) — clear skies and 20 degrees every day, not so many tourists around, plenty of hotel rooms to be found.

    Anyhow, as for movies, the sexy Kim Min-sun film PORTRAIT OF A BEAUTY was the top film for a second week in a row, taking in 2.8 billion won (or about $1.9 million… thanks to the every more depressing exchange rate). After two weeks, it has now made about $6 million, or a decent 1.3 million admissions.

    By the way, isn’t it amazing that it has been about nine years since Kim starred in MEMENTO MORI? Definitely one of the most interesting films from the heyday of the Korean film boom.

    Second also went to a Korean film, ANTIQUE, an adaption from a Japanese comic book.

    The latest James Bond film continued to do okay, but nothing overwhelming — around $8.2 million after three weeks. (I miss the great Bond riots of 2002, when DIE ANOTHER DAY was in the theaters).

    This Week Title…………………………………….. Release Date Screens Nationwide Weekend Revenue (bil. won) Total Revenue (bil. won)
    1. Portrait of a Beauty (Miindo – Korean) 11.13 498 2.80 8.59
    2. Antique (Seoyang Goldong Yanggwajajeom Antique – Korean) 11.13 437 1.38 5.52
    3. Quantum of Solace 11.05 435 1.37 12.16
    4. Blindness 11.20 284 1.37 1.65
    5. Max Paine 11.20 197 0.70 0.88
    6. Connected 11.20 222 0.44 0.57
    7. My Wife Got Married (Anaega Gyeolhonhaessda – Korean) 10.23 242 0.30 11.71
    8. The Bank Job 10.30 133 0.13 3.52
    9. Fly Me to the Moon 10.30 96 0.095 1.07
    10. Let Me In 11.13 42 0.094 0.30

    (Source: KOBIS – Figures represent 98% of nationwide box office)

    Will try to think of something interesting or useful to say this week, once I have re-adjusted to the Korean time zone.

    Unearthing the Past II — Even More Past

    I had a nice little surprise today when I went browsing through Kyobo Books downtown — I discovered a new volume of THE PAST UNEARTHED, the Korean Film Archive’s collection of colonial era Korean films.


    If you recall, I wrote about the first box set of colonial era films here. This set has three films in it — SWEET DREAM (1936), MILITARY TRAIN (1938) and FISHERMAN’S FIRE (1939). Sadly, I have not had time to watch them yet, but I hope to write about them fairly soon.

    SWEET DREAM in particular looks interesting, as it is the oldest surviving Korean film (at least that we know of). The set also has a few bits of pieces from other films that have survived.

    As usual, the packaging is superb (except perhaps for being too tight… hard to get the booklet and DVDs out the first time). Most interesting to me was the inner DVD box, which had a reproduction of a newspaper page from the colonial era.

    You can buy your own copy of THE PAST UNEARTHED from Kyobo Books. You can even order it online.

    Korea Weekend Box Office – Nov. 7-9

    James Bond has a pretty good opening last weekend. Not record-breaking or anything amazing, but pretty good — almost 900,000 admissions and $4.3 million. Personally, I thought it was a noisy, annoying film. Exceptionally well done… but so well done technically that it was pretty empty. Also, it gave me a headache.

    Kind of cool, though, that it was released a week before the US market.

    Otherwise, not a lot of insights to add. Yet another film with a ONCE UPON A TIME English title opened, but no one seemed to care. Really, that title should be retired, like Wayne Gretzky or Michael Jordan’s jersey.

    Not sure what I think of the manga adaptation ANTIQUE. Very middling advertising campaign. Love that food pr0n, but this was not a great example of the genre.

    This Week Title…………………………………….. Release Date Screens Nationwide Weekend Revenue (bil. won) Total Revenue (bil. won)
    1. Quantum of Solace 11.05 574 4.48 5.72
    2. My Wife Got Married (Anaega Gyeolhonhaessda – Korean) 10.23 386 1.42 9/83
    3. The Bank Job 10.30 250 0.69 2.50
    4. Eagle Eye 10.09 288 0.58 14.04
    5. Fly Me to the Moon 10.30 179 0.33 0.78
    6. Once Upon a Time in Seoul (Sonyeon-eun Ulji Anhneunda – Korean) 11.06 241 0.33 0.40
    7. Mamma Mia! 9.04 210 0.28 28.58
    8. Body of Lies 10.23 260 0.26 3.59
    9. Antique (Seoyangroldongyang-gwajeom aentikeu – Korean) 11.13 181 0.23 0.24
    10. Good & Bye 10.30 166 0.14 0.68

    (Source: KOBIS – Figures represent 98% of nationwide box office)

    PS: Forget to mention — Zach Snyder was in town on Monday, shilling for THE WATCHMEN. And like a total idiot, I forgot to go. I am really hating myself right now. THE WATCHMEN is looking great and it is one of my favorite comic books ever. Sigh.

    Dancing on the DMZ

    I just noticed that Matthew Harding, the dancing world traveler of Where the Hell Is Matt? fame, has a third video out, documenting yet another global jig.

    And in this video, Korea gets not one, but two segments — on the DMZ at about 1:45 and in front of Namdaemun at 2:45 (or is it Dongdaemun?).

    As always, a fun and enviable video. I like watching all of Matt’s videos, if only to shame myself into seeing more of this big world.

    Or you can go here.

    November 17

    Happy news. I just received the official shipping date for POP GOES KOREA — Nov. 17. Just a couple of weeks from now. Of course, it will take a little time from then for the bookstores and Amazon.com, etc. to get their copies. But the important thing is that POP GOES KOREA will be on store shelves very soon. And in time for Christmas, so be sure to tell Santa.


    Apologies to everyone who ordered the book earlier in the year when Amazon.com said it would be shipping in July. But you should be receiving yours soon. Amazon.com now says Jan. 1, but hopefully we can speed things up a bit.

    Really looking forward to receiving my first copy…

    Korea Weekend Box Office – Oct. 31-Nov. 2

    A boring weekend at the box office, with no films doing terribly well. MY WIFE GOT MARRIED was No. 1 for the second week in a row and how now topped the 1-million-admissions mark. EAGLE EYE has topped 2 million. Only two Korean films in the top 10 (albeit one is the No. 1 movie).

    Hopefully James Bond can shake things up next weekend, when QUANTUM OF SOLACE is released early.

    This Week Title…………………………………….. Release Date Screens Nationwide Weekend Revenue (bil. won) Total Revenue (bil. won)
    1. My Wife Got Married (Anaega Gyeolhonhaessda – Korean) 10.23 471 1.80 6.84
    2. Bank Job 10.30 275 0.97 1.12
    3. Eagle Eye 10.09 328 0.94 12.88
    4. Body of Lies 10.23 286 0.68 2.87
    5. Mamma Mia 9.04 264 0.34 28.02
    6. Fly Me to the Moon 10.30 193 0.30 0.32
    7. Good & Bye 10.30 203 0.26 0.35
    8. Crush & Blush (Miss Hong Dang Mu – Korean) 10.16 225 0.18 3.34
    9. Painted Skin 10.23 191 0.12 0.85
    10. 26 Years Diary 10.30 183 0.092 0.12

    (Source: KOBIS – Figures represent 98% of nationwide box office)

    In other box office news… the Joy Division movie CONTROL opened way down in 25th, with less than $5,000. Bong Joon-ho’s TOKYO! was 15th, and how now made $136,000 since opening a couple of weeks ago. Moon So-ri’s SAGWA/APOLOGY was in 21, and has now made $283,000. Kim Ki-duk’s BIMONG is nearly finished, with $455,000.

    (Note: currently using 1,260 won/dollar. But I am sure that will keep changing, hour by hour).

    Sanullim on CD (at last)

    Big thanks to Anna and Orienkorean over at Indieful ROK for pointing out that an amazing 17-CD boxset of Sanullim’s albums is about to be released (Nov. 26).


    Sanullim is, of course, the biggest Korean rock band from the late 1970s. Their first album was released in 1976 and was a classic. Their second album was probably their best. After Shin Joong-hyun and the rockers of the 1960s and early 1970s got into trouble with the government for various reasons, Sanullim was considered a much safer band, mostly singing about love and food, nothing political. Later on, they made several albums for kids, too.

    Sanullim’s albums were all issued in CD format years ago. I bought a couple but always put off picking up the rest of them for one reason or another until it was too late — everything was out of print. Some details about Sanullim’s albums are here and here. Best essay about them is here.

    Hey! Someone even set up a Sanullim Myspace page. That’s kind of cool.

    And Shin Joong-hyun at Myspace, too. I fear I am about to be sucked in to a long spell of distraction…

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