Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

Month: November 2009

Hip Korea Nominated for Asian TV Awards

As a commenter mentioned earlier, the Rain episode of the HIP KOREA documentary that I worked on has been nominated for four Asian Television Awards — Best Music Programme, Best Infotainment Programme, Best Direction and Best Cross-Platform Content. As I have never been nominated for much of anything before, I must admit that it feels kind of cool to be a part of a program that is up for four awards.


The Asian TV Awards will be handed out on Dec. 3.

Oh, and since I am talking about Rain… His publicity blitz for NINJA ASSASSIN recently took him to Toronto, where he gave interviews for the local media, like the Sun and the Star.

Kim Daul Gone

By now you have probably heard that Korean fashion model Kim Daul was found dead in her apartment in Paris on Thursday, Nov. 19.


Daul was just 20 years old, but had been a top model for three years or so. She was also known for a big and quirky personality, as evidenced in this cool mini-interview at Test Magazine. I think you get a sense of what she was like in this photo shoot, too.

She also bared that quirkiness often on her blog I Like to Fork Myself. I had been following it for a couple of years, reading it irregularly, but nearly always loving it when I did. She talked a lot of music and modeling, of course, but also about her loves, like collecting cutlery, schlocky horror films, cereal and guinea pigs. She also had a great post when she told Korean netizens who were on her case for doing some nude pictures to shut up.

And then there were posts like this one (one of her first):

my life as daul was so miserable and lonely.
please join my loneliness in another world.

Sure, she adds “just kidding” a few lines later. And one does not want to overly psychoanalyze a blog. But still…

And then there was this post:

and thanks to stupid tv show from korea ppl think i like to
torture myself and thanks to that im getting lots and lots of
suicide emails on a daily basis
but im definately not depressed, and i dont want to killmyself

And more recently, here:

freedom comes with such cost.

but is it even freedom?

one could get numb living like this. pretty things. comfort. vanity. decadent nights to make up for losses.

but this endless loneliness

there must be something wrong from the core.

i worry as i take the courage to sleep

I remember thinking about a month ago how her blog had gotten wordier recently, like there was something she was trying to figure out, or something that was on her mind, eating at her.

Here is a picture of Daul at 5 years old:


Korea has had a much-discussed problem with celebrity suicides for a while (something I have avoided discussing, because I find the whole subject somewhat lurid and distasteful). But I did not know that modeling in general also has been wrestling with a similar problem (at least according to stories like this one). Regardless of the cause, suicide is always such a waste. But if Daul was suffering from mental health issues, it would be a shame that she did not get the help she needed. In general, I wish people were more aware of mental health and willing to get help when they needed it (or encourage their friends who need it to get help).

No OLDBOY for Hollywood

Okay, this is a few days old, but I quite enjoyed this story about how talks between DreamWorks and Mandrake Pictures to remake OLDBOY have broken down. It is an interesting article, helping to point out the many problems aside from creative that potentially stand in the way of any project — ownership and other rights, speed of development, executives changing jobs, etc.

As you probably know, there have been stories floating around about how DreamWorks wanted to remake Park Chan-wook’s iconic film, with Steven Spielberg directing and Will Smith starring. But looks like all that is now kaput.

Of course, OLDBOY was loosely based on a Japanese manga of the same name, so just who would be remaking what was always a tricky question. Like the proposed remake of THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD… just who “owns” the idea? Anyhow, all moot now.

The Sincerest Form of Flattery, Vietnam edition

One of the big reasons I do not like the term “Korean Wave” (as I talk about in POP GOES KOREA) is that the term undervalues the size and scope of the cultural trends affecting pretty much everywhere. It is not a Korea thing, as much as it is a globalization thing. And just as Korean entertainment companies got a great boost by improving their business management, marketing, and artistry, now other creators and businesses are getting into the act.

In an interesting example of what I am talking about, here is an article about how Vietnam is following Korea’s example in how to produce pop stars.


The article talks about how aspiring singers in Vietnam are coming to Korea to produce their albums or study with Korean music labels:

Another pop star, Ho Ngoc Ha, who recently took part in the Asian Song Festival 2009 in South Korea, said: “Going to South Korea to witness their technology, I understand their entertainment industry. They can make anybody to become a bright star with that professional and huge system”.

Actually, this has been a long time in coming. I remember representatives from KBS telling me way back in 2002 that they were seeing a lot of interest in their programs from Vietnam. One of Vietnam’s first multiplex chains was run by a small Korean exhibition company (sadly now out business in both countries, I do believe). And I have been seeing media folks from Vietnam Media Corporation for years, at PIFF, Cannes, and elsewhere. The Vietnamese program 39 DEGREES OF LOVE was deliberately modeled on Korean TV dramas. No surprise, then, that producers and creatives in Vietnam’s music scene would also try to emulate Korea’s successes.

All very cool, but this is about more than just Korea. In my humble opinion, the point of these influences and changes is not Korea’s Koreanness. These are trends that are deeper and more pervasive. After all, it is not a coincidence that Korea’s cultural rise in Vietnam (and elsewhere) came at the same time as its corporate rise. In Vietnam, Korean cosmetic and appliance companies were aggressive in breaking into the market, which helped open things up to cultural content (and vice versa).

So I definitely credit Korea for being one of the first non-Western countries to modernize its entertainment industry and reap the benefits of doing so, I think it is important to realize that almost all countries are looking to do the same thing. India and China are of course the highest profile competitors in Asia, with Hollywood studios falling over each other to sign up deals in those countries. But you can see it pretty much everywhere. I can see it here in Spain, in their music and movies (Spain produces a lot of films each year, thanks in part to an aggressive Catalan film community).

While the Hollywoodization of the world’s entertainment industries can be distressing at times, on the whole I think this is good for most local cultures. They are learning how to produce popular, engaging entertainment, which is the best way to ensure local entertainment industries continue to exist (or even thrive) in the face of the huge, global entertainment conglomerates. So if Vietnam can emulate Korea to strengthen its entertainment industry, I think that is a good thing.

UPDATE:
And just hours after I post this story, there is an article out of the Philippines about the popularity of Korean pop stars. Okay, not really related to the Vietnam story, but still interesting to see how mobile today’s pop culture can be, and how good Korean stars are at getting that popularity around Asia.

Fire and Rain

Looks like the Hollywood PR machine is gearing up for Rain’s all-action, ultraviolent film NINJA ASSASSIN. For example, here is a nice clip of one of the fight scenes.And the NINJA ASSASSIN stories are starting to appear in the press (like here and here), thanks in part to a press conference last week in Seoul.

So far, the only review I see is a pan in Variety — but what did you expect from those humorless dorks. (UPDATE: The Hollywood Reporter review is here. At least this reviewer seemed to get the point a little more.)

NINJA ASSASSIN gets released in the United States, Canada, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia on Nov. 25, then in oodles of other countries in the beginning of December and throughout the month.

UPDATE: Ah, I knew there would be a lot more NINJA ASSASSIN stuff on the web soon enough. Like here are six clips from the film. Most of them are fighting scenes, and most seem well choreographed and bloody and such (although ninjas fighting on the streets is a little goofy… okay, a little *more* goofy).And, best of all, here is the NINJA ASSASSIN trailer in Lego:

From the Kim Sisters to ‘Oh Brother’

I grew all excited when I saw the headline in the Chosun Ilbo this morning: “5 Decades of Korean Girl Bands.” It even started promisingly, with an opening graph about the Kim Sisters.

But then came sadness, as the article jumps abruptly from the Kim Sisters of the 1950s to SES in the late 1990s. From there, it merely lists the major girl groups of the past decade — SES, FinKL, Baby VOX, Jewelry, Wondergirls. Sigh.


Strangely, the article even asks, how did we go from groups like the Kim Sisters to the manufactured eye candy of today? But then it leaves a non-answer by critic Lim Jin-mo and gives a vapid rundown of a few vapid groups. While, of course, posting as much eye candy as possible. Thereby kind of answering their own question.

“Why are today’s girl groups just eye candy?”
“I don’t know, but here are some pretty pictures.”

That Mr. Lim is quite the go-to guy for music analysis these days. He is quoted heavily in this recent Korea Times story about K-pop. Heck, even I interviewed him for that Rain documentary on Discovery Channel that I worked on earlier in the year.

In the KT article, Lim, as usual, presents his argument about pop culture in moral terms, which I rarely like.

“The utmost value of today’s music consumers in listening to music is ‘fun.’ They no longer seek any serious messages or meanings from music as people did back in the 1980s and ’90s. I’d bet this fun-oriented appetite of listeners will continue for years to come,” he said.

First of all, there is nothing wrong with “fun.” We are talking about pop music after all, which is supposed to be popular. “Good” in no way precludes “fun”.

Secondly, it is such a middle-aged gripe to complain that culture used to have meaning when I was young, but now it is all shallow and garbage. He similarly complains about the media and the music labels, saying they are all shirking their responsibilities and are only about money. Zzzzzz.

I call them “should” arguments. He should do this. They should do that. Like when he talks about Korean artists learning English to succeed in the West:

“But their ultimate goal there should be standing on stage with Korean-version songs with a very Korean sound, which would be the completion of the Korean wave.”

As I have argued several times before, when it comes to big picture issues, I am much more interested in systems than morals. All the “shoulds” in the world will not do much if you have a system that is pushing people toward a “shouldn’t”.

If you want people to have wider interests, maybe you should make those options more available. I have written before about the importance of live music as the foundation to a more natural, organic music system, and how Korea does not have much of a live scene despite having so many talented, creative young people. But even if someone were to be interested in a Korean indie band, how would you find them? The resources in Korea are very few, poorly organized, and poorly supported. The live music venues have terrible websites that rarely post their schedules more than a few days in advance. Cyrock has stopped updating. Weiv rarely posts about modern Korean music anymore. Lord, I miss MDM magazine.

(Of course, there is always Indieful ROK and the Korea Gig Guide, at least for you foreigners. Oh, and newbie site Pocket of Sky for lyric translations).

Okay, now I am really digressing. I started off talking about girl groups and how they have evolved, then I devolved into a bunch of other issues. But it would be nice if important national publications like the Chosun Ilbo were to address issues like this with a little depth and research instead of just printing pictures of young women in short skirts. (Great, now I’m making a moral argument, too).

(Btw, I think my headline for this post would have been better were there not a Korean band called the “O! Brothers”. It confuses the sarcasm. So apologies all any and all who read this hoping for comments about them and surf-rock in Korea.)

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