Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

Month: March 2010 (page 1 of 2)

Meanwhile, over at the other blog…

Some thoughts on Korean movies in America, live music websites, and other things over at my new blog. I guess I should get into the habit of writing over there. Feel free to check it out if you like.

Music, Movies, Aliens and More

So far, 2010 has been unusually strong for Korean movies in the United States. Surprising, considering how poor the export market for films has been for quite a while. First MOTHER gets released (and has made over $100,000 in its first 10 days, on just a few screens). And now, Kim Jee-woon’s 2008 hit THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD is about to come to American theaters, too — you can see the pretty new trailer here.

In addition, there is a fun story in the Dallas Morning News about Paul Shin, a Korean-American who is bringing Korean films to AMC theaters in the United States — not just New York and LA, but Chicago, Long Island, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Seattle and Dallas-Fort Worth.

I think this is yet another sign of broader changes happening to global culture. I can still remember the first time I went to a random multiplex just west of Toronto, and discovering two Indian movies playing there. I could not believe it, especially remembering the lack of diversity the Toronto suburbs had when I was growing up. But now, people take movies, restaurants, just about everything cultural for granted. They just accept it. It is normal now.

Which is one of the big points I was trying to get at in POP GOES KOREA. Yes, it is amazing how Korean culture has bounced back and become so influential, but this is about more than just Korea. It is a worldwide trend. Korea is in many ways leading this trend, but more and more we are going to see cultures from around the world claiming a space at the table.

* * *
Music has long been one of my biggest interests. It comprises a good chunk of my book POP GOES KOREA, and another website of mine is the Korea Gig Guide (about live indie music in Korea).

So I have been poking around on the various live music websites that are scattered across the Internet. I had no idea there were so many these days. I had been struggling with near-useless, last-generation sites like Pollstar, so was amazed how much things have changed. Now there are a multitude of websites that are trying to combine social media, data harvesting, and whatever the media 2.0 flavor of the month.

These include:

  • Hearwhere – a gig listing site that is flashy but hard to use, and not good for Asia
  • Songkick – nice interface, but geared toward big shows, and very little information on Korea
  • Iggli – another attempt at media 2.0 and live music (and other live events). This site’s hook is the “invite” – it is all about people inviting each other to events; claims this is not social networking. Dubious. Not much on Asia.
  • Bands in Town – big artists, not for Asia
  • Jambase – ugly, just big Western acts, incomplete, basically another Pollstar
  • Madlounge – only the US
  • Superglued – social networking plus concerts; not sure how useful this could be if it takes off, but not much yet.
  • Gigzee – specializes in local music, but buggy, and nothing for Korea yet
  • Gig Junkie – not much in Asia, not very complete
  • Gig Listing – trying to be the Google for live music. Still in beta, and it shows
  • Gig Freaks – I think I like this one the best. Nothing for Korea yet, but its Japan and China listings show some promise. I like the interface (despite the big, ugly Google ad banner in the middle), which is easy to use and informative. Seems to be a one-man operation, though, so I am not sure how much it will develop in the future.

As you can see, I am biased toward sites that focus on local and indie music. Really, how much help do people need finding the next Lady Gaga concert? Hopefully these services will find a way to make it easier to find local and more unusual bands, all over the world. But honestly, I really prefer music websites that have more input from real, live human being — like you see on Barcelona Rocks, Tokyo Gig Guide, or, of course, the Korea Gig Guide.

* * *
And now for something completely different. Pooh Bear vs. Aliens. What a great little comic.

More MOTHER

More news from Bong Joon-ho’s MOTHER, this time from Hong Kong, where it picked up three prizes at the Fourth Asian Film Awards, including Best Picture. It also won Best Screenplay and Best Actress.

Korea has done quite at the Asian Film Awards in general, picking up Best Picture at the first Awards for THE HOST (which also won for Best Actor, Cinematography and Visual Effects), and at the second Awards for SECRET SUNSHINE (which also won for Best Director, and Best Actress).

Meanwhile, MOTHER continues to do well in the United States, and has now made over $100,000. Last weekend, it grew to 19 screens (up from six from the previous weekend) and its box office topped $53,000 (up from $36,000). It will be interesting to see if it can keep it up for long.

MOTHER in America

Bong Joon-ho’s MOTHER opened last weekend in the United States. Just six screens, but it opened to nearly $6,000 a screen — good enough to be the No. 2 movie by per-screen average (for movies on more than one screen).

So, just $35,000 so far… not sure if distributors are planning on growing MOTHER’s release. Since my last post about the film, its Rotten Tomatoes rank is up 1, to 88, but its Metacritic score is down on, to 79. Still, pretty good — it has the fourth-best score on Metacritic and ninth-best on Rotten Tomatoes.

Comics in North Korea

In POP GOES KOREA, I have a chapter about the history of Korean comic books, but sadly I never had the chance to get much into North Korean comics. Fortunately, Geoffrey Cain over at Global Post new has a good article on comic books in North Korea (thanks to Gusts of Popular Feeling for the find).

The books are also designed to instill the father of North Korea, Kim Il-sung’s, philosophy of Juche — radical self-reliance of the state, added Nick Bonner, founder of Koryo Tours, an English-language tour company in Beijing that takes visitors to North Korea several times each year.
“They’re much like the themes I read when I was a kid, on the British Army fighting the ‘Nazis and Japs,’” Bonner reflected, pointing out that some propaganda plots nonetheless resemble our own. “But [in North Korea] their themes are either historic or based on the Anti-Japanese Guerilla War, or the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War [the North Korean name for the Korean War in 1950-53].”

Personally, I find the animal comics of North Korea like The Great General Mighty Wing most interesting, especially in light of such Western comics as Maus. Mighty Wing features bees, wasps, spiders and other creatures, in a tale that was designed to promote national unity following the death of Kim Il Sung in 1994.

pyong_kwon_c_great_0208_1
pyong_kwon_c_great_0208_8

The spider stuff in Mighty Wing I found especially fascintating because South Korea used similar imagery in some of its anti-North propaganda over the years — such as in the anti-communist animation that opened the old South Korean animated film General Ttoli.

Ttoli1
Ttoli2

Band of Brothers, The Pacific … The Korean War?

I came across a great interview with Bruce McKenna, the head writer and showrunner for the epic HBO series THE PACIFIC (and a writer for BAND OF BROTHERS). Totally worth a read.

But at the end of the interview, they ask him if he would like to move on to the Korean War next. And this is what he said:

HitFix: Do you think, though, that if this works out as well for HBO as they’re obviously hoping, that they’re going to go looking for that next war? Are we off to Korea next? Do we skip ahead and do Vietnam?

Bruce McKenna: I don’t know. We’ll see how well “The Pacific” does. I think it will do well. For me personally, the one war story that I would write is the story of the Chosin Reservoir. The Korean War is the forgotten war. Forget the Pacific, nobody knows anything about Korea. It’s a Marine story and it’s quite moving. Whether HBO does it or not, I hope they do. They did “Generation Kill” and I think something on Korea would be a great idea.

HitFix: Does that feel like another miniseries to you? Can you even think in a two-hour format anymore or are you stuck thinking in 10-hour blocks?

BM: Believe me, I think in whatever format they’re willing to pay me to write. The Chosin Reservoir would be a better movie than a miniseries, because it was a very contained event. Now Korea? That’s a miniseries.

So perhaps it is not likely at this stage. But just the thought that someone like McKenna would like to tackle the Korean War is a nice thought. Maybe we will get lucky some day.

Fantasporto Wrap-up (late)

Sorry for being so late with my wrap-up of the Fantasporto film festival. It actually ended last Saturday, but this week just got away from me.

Anyhow, rumors were correct, the big winner was Philip Ridley’s HEARTLESS. It won the grand prize, best director and best actor.

Best actress went to Scot Neve McIntosh for the SALVAGE.

Fantasporto also has a few sidebars. The Orient Express section was won by Park Chan-wook’s vampire film THIRST. The Director’s Week section was won by FISH TANK (it also picked up best screenplay).

The Jury Prize went to Danish director Ole Bornedal for DELIVER US FROM EVIL, and a special jury prized went to the Russian film WARD NO. 6 (which I thought was incredibly dull, but what do I know? I never read the original Chekhov story).

Overall, I had a great time at Fantasporto. One of the most enjoyable festivals I have been to, actually. The Vampire Ball party on the last night was good fun, too (even if Mario did not dress up as a vampire this year… Was looking forward to seeing that). Great town, great people, fun films.

MOTHER in America, Movies in Saudi Arabia, and a Few Random Thoughts

Bong Joon-ho’s MOTHER gets a limited release in the United States today, and so far the reviews are very good — 87 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, and an 80 metascore on Metacritic (which I find more useful than RT).

Manohla Dargis at the New York Times gives the film a glowing review. And even more interesting, the New York Times has Bong himself describing a scene from the film, talking about how and why he shot it the way he did.

I am not sure how big the release of MOTHER is (I suspect it is rather small), but will update this post once I find out.

I find it remarkable that a quirky film like MOTHER would get such a strong response in the West. MOTHER has almost none of the typical features you see in an Asian film that gets released in the West. No martial arts. No ghosts. No gangsters (well, almost none). It is like audiences in the West are growing much more comfortable with international cinema. Like it is getting normalized. Which I think is a great thing.

* * *

In a completely different vein, I just came across this fascinating little article about cinema in Saudi Arabia. Apparently all theaters there were closed in 1980 and just now some people are trying to bring them back. In general, I find the history of world cinema a great subject in general, and especially so in the Arab world. For instance, how many people remember that Egypt once had a very strong movie industry? I once met a filmmaker from Bahrain (perhaps the only filmmaker from that small island state), Bassam Al-Thawadi and he told me a lot of great stories about what it was like for him trying to make movies in Bahrain.

Maybe the same forces that are making Korean movies more normal in the West are also, in some small way, liberalizing the Arab world? Is this an example of the soft power of culture in globalization? Maybe not, but it is something I like to think about these days.

MOTHER Comes to America

Bong Joon-ho’s MOTHER gets a limited release in the United States today, and so far the reviews are very good — 87 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, and an 80 metascore on Metacritic (which I find more useful than RT).

Manohla Dargis at the New York Times gives the film a glowing review. And even more interesting, the New York Times has Bong himself describing a scene from the film, talking about how and why he shot it the way he did.

I am not sure how big the release of MOTHER is (I suspect it is rather small), but will update this post once I find out.

I find it remarkable that a quirky film like MOTHER would get such a strong response in the West. MOTHER has almost none of the typical features you see in an Asian film that gets released in the West. No martial arts. No ghosts. No gangsters (well, almost none). It is like audiences in the West are growing much more comfortable with international cinema. Like it is getting normalized. Which I think is a great thing.

* * *

In a completely different vein, I just came across this fascinating little article about cinema in Saudi Arabia. Apparently all theaters there were closed in 1980 and just now some people are trying to bring them back. In general, I find the history of world cinema a great subject in general, and especially so in the Arab world. For instance, how many people remember that Egypt once had a very strong movie industry? I once met a filmmaker from Bahrain (perhaps the only filmmaker from that small island state), Bassam Al-Thawadi and he told me a lot of great stories about what it was like for him trying to make movies in Bahrain.

Maybe the same forces that are making Korean movies more normal in the West are also, in some small way, liberalizing the Arab world? Is this an example of the soft power of culture in globalization? Maybe not, but it is something I like to think about these days.

Epik High No. 1 on iTunes

Well, I never would have imagined it, but Korean hiphop group Epik High is currently sitting on top of the iTunes US hiphop chart.


Also currently are No. 1 in New Zealand, No. 2 in Australia and No. 3 in Canada. Pretty wild.

Epik High’s new album, Epilogue, was just released on iTunes on Monday (March 8). I am told that it has bounced around on the charts for Japan (as high as #9), France, Germany and the UK. Good for EH.

Very encouraging for a more “real” group to make some noise outside of Korea, as opposed to a more manufactured teen-pop group. But, as I have argued many times over the years (along with many other folks, of course), real music is much more likely to get noticed around the world. Hiphop and indie rock are the real futures of K-Pop around the world.

(Again, there is room in the world for teen-pop, too, just as there is a place for the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus and the like. But that sort of music is not majority of the music industry. Artists who write their own songs have a lot more “weight” with critics).

If you are interested, here is the music video for Epik High’s lead-off single Run. I have never been a huge fan of the group, but this song is rather catchy.

Don’t forget, Epik High will be on CNN’s Talk Asia on April 21.

(UPDATE: I added a link to the iTunes chart, that I forgot to add when I originally posted. Although I am not sure how long Epik High will be on top, which is why I posted a screen capture).

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