Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

Month: April 2010

Random Entertainment Thoughts

– Patrick Frater has a solid rundown of the Asian films going to the Cannes Film Festival next month. The list features mostly festival regulars (like Hong Sangsoo and Im Sangsoo), but looks pretty good.

– An article about Korean comic books in the United States (although I am pretty sure the much ballyhooed Sam Raimi movie of PRIEST is dead now). Mostly about the new-ish company Net Comics. You can go to the company’s website for some free comics and other goodies, too.

– Korea hiphop group Epik High will be featured on CNN’s Talk Asia program this week. Tune in on Wednesday (9:30pm), Thursday (12:30pm), Saturday (8pm) or Sunday (4:30am and 5:30pm) to catch the program.


Random Finance Thoughts — Women, Microfinance, and African Leaders

There were some good articles in the news today about investing and finance around the world. Which got me thinking about a couple of related points.

– There was this New York  Times story about the limits and problems with microfinance. I have felt for a while that microfinance, while helpful, was being oversold as a panacea to all the Third World’s economic problems.

– This article about the lack of women in Silicon Valley, which touches on problems women face in general in raising capital for new ventures. Really sort of depressing that this sort of thing is still such a problem in 2010.

– Even an editorial from Bono about Africa (what else?). I know a lot of people find him an annoying gasbag; but for the most part, I like his work on Africa. Rather than telling Africans what to do, Bono is more about raising awareness of the good things Africans are doing for themselves. The most interesting part of that editorial to me was the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which gives $5 million plus a lifetime stipend to good African leaders who step down peacefully when their terms are over.

– Meng Wong has posted on his website a Venture Fundraising Rejection Form Letter, which is as hysterically funny as it is insightful and useful. If you are putting together any sort of business proposal, it is totally worth you time to give it a read. If you like that, then be sure to check out his Gamer’s Guide to Start Ups (not a guide for starting a gaming company, but a guide for startups written in the form of a game).

– For advice on the opposite side of the fundraising process, you should read Matt Mireles’ How I Judge Investors.

History of the North Korean Army

Okay, this is pretty far from what I usually talk about on this blog, but I also thought it was pretty cool — it is the US Army’s 1952 History of the North Korean Army. It was classified up until 1982 (if I am reading it correctly), and was posted onto the Secrecy News website a couple of days ago.

The profiles of the NK leaders (including Kim Il Sung, of course), beginning on page 90, are especially interesting. Like this fun tidbit:

Non-Communists who know KIM personally describe him as a roughneck, poorly-educated, poor at languages, with little administrative ability. He is, however, an able and ruthless guerrilla leader.

Fashioning Korean Fashions

A very interesting article in the New York Times today on Seoul Fashion Week and the trends and big ideas in Korean fashion in general. The general theme of the article is on how style in Korea is so different between men and women — men being elegant, women being very girlie. I am not sure if I agree, but it is definitely a good read.

Some choice bits:

Once you get past the bright-colored girlie girls, what really stands out in Seoul is the chic, bordering on the obsessively refined, look of the Korean young men, from college kids and young professionals in their early 20s to men in their 40s.

I really like this quote from fashion blogger Hong Sukwoo:

“Young Koreans haven’t found their own style yet, so they’re copying images they find on the Internet,” he says. “It’s a form of stylish cosplay.”

Hong Sukwoo on Korea's style divide

Hong Sukwoo on Korea's style divide

And then there was this comment from fashion designer Juun J.:

“There needs to be a revolutionary generation of women’s designers to come out and lead women into something new,” he said. “Designers in their early 20s are still learning, and they’re the ones who will do it.”

Johnny Hates Jazz - from Seoul Fashion Week

Johnny Hates Jazz - from Seoul Fashion Week

As someone who remembers Korea in the mid-1990s, honestly I do not find Korea’s rise in the fashion world that surprising. Even if the clothes and general style were not so hip back in the day, even then Koreans put a lot of energy and thought into their appearance. And from time to time, when I met students who were studying fashion (usually in Daegu), they were invariably much more interesting than the average Yonsei or Seoul National University egghead.

How much did the rise of Korean pop culture lead the fashion industry and how much did it follow? Or was it even caused by the fashion industry? I will let braver (and more fashionable) people than myself offer their theories. I suspect the two are intertwined.

But the biggest plus of these changes, in my humble opinion, is how the rise of fashion has led to diversity. Sure, Korea remains one of the most incredibly trendy places for fashion I have ever seen (from Burberry coats of the late 1990s to the mushroom hairdos of a year or two ago). But you do see a lot more variety than you used to. Beauty may be only skin deep, but individuality goes to the core.

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As long as I am on the subject of style in Korea, I really should point out the great magazine GRAPHIC. It has been around since 2006, but last year it went bilingual. Sadly, you cannot download the magazine online, but you can buy it online and have it shipped to you.

If you are looking for a sign of how far Korean design has come, GRAPHIC magazine is really revealing. Tellingly, it is an independent magazine, without government money or major sponsors (which are usually behind the curve on art and culture, and rarely really “get it”). Plus it is just a great magazine for anyone interested in typography and graphic design.

Kunsthalle One-Year Anniversary Party

One of the more interesting artistic spaces in Seoul, imho, is Kunsthalle, the stack of shipping containers located close to the Dosan Park Intersection in Gangnam. And they are having their one-year anniversary party this weekend, April 8-10.

Each day from 5pm until 3am will feature events, music, dancing and plenty more. Saturday will also have brunch from noon to 5pm. Sounds like a lot of fun.

Kunsthalle has hosted a wide range of artistic events and other cool stuff since it opened last April (it was event host to the Korean Music Awards on March 30). Set up by the Berlin artistic group Platoon (they call themselves a “movement”), this is an attempt to blend the artistic and the political into a seamless entity. Or, I suspect, it is a cool way to meet girls. Whatever, I think it is worth checking out and supporting.

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Oh, and over at my main website, I talk about Seoul Fashion Week, the recent article about it in the New York Times, and Korean design in general.

Globalizing Hollywood – Doing It Right and Doing It Wrong

Two very interesting examples of Hollywood’s approaches to globalization in the news recently, one very smart and positive, one achingly stupid. But I think the two symbolize the good and the bad of how media companies are trying to figure out the future of their businesses.

First, the good. From Variety, an article about how Fox has been stepping up its international productions (behind the world’s most useless paywall). Through a division called Fox International Productions (creative name), Fox has been producing and co-producing movies in Spain, Germany, China, Russia, India and more. Why did Fox become so enthusiastic about international productions? The article quotes Fox International Productions president Sanford Panitch:

“The weekend the movie [JUMPER] opened, I remember getting an email from Fox Korea, where the film was one of the highest openings ever. But we were still No. 2 for the weekend. I thought, ‘How is that possible?’ Sure enough, a local Korean film, ‘The Chaser,’ was No. 1,” said Panitch.

So Panitch and Fox started to look all over the world, particularly in markets with strong local movies:

One of his first deals: He signed with “Chaser” director Hong-jin Na to direct Korean local-language production “The Yellow Sea.”
Panitch constantly watches videos of foreign movies, and often touches base with Fox’s network of foreign offices (there are 28 in all). He’s primarily focused on territories where local films dominate, such as India, Japan, France, Germany, Spain, South Korea, Italy and the U.K. He’s particularly focused on Italy these days. “I’m on the road a lot. I’m home from Hong Kong on Thursday, and leave for Russia on Sunday. I was in Japan every six weeks for a year. I’ve gotten these terrific development people,” Panitch says.

Which I think is great. Over and over again, countries that have strong local movie industries tend to have strong overall film industries. Look at Korea, where foreign movies went from 75 percent of the market to less than 50 percent over the past decade (sometimes under 40 percent). But over that same period, the Korean movie market more than quadrupled; Hollywood does not dominate Korea anymore, but it makes a lot more money now. So if Hollywood wants to help spur local production, I think that is a positive thing for everyone.

And now the bad. Or, rather, the very, very stupid. Hollywood is threatening to stop distributing DVDs in Spain because of all the online piracy over here. Yes, some people’s solution to piracy is actually to make their product harder to access legitimately.

The similarities with Korea are quite interesting. Says this LA Times article:

Spain is on the verge of becoming the second country in which piracy has ravaged what was once a robust business. In 2008, the last of the major studios shut down their operations in South Korea for the same reason.

In addition, online piracy is not against the law in Spain unless it is done for profit, very similar to the position the courts in Korea have taken repeatedly over the years. And, surprise surprise, neither country has an iTunes store, making it all the more difficult to watch movies online legitimately.

But the big lesson Korea teaches is that people ARE completely willing to buy content online when given the opportunity and the right business models. Koreans have been spending more money for online music than offline for five or six years now. However, media companies cannot expect to continue as before. As the Internet Manifesto states, “Tradition is not a business model” (declaration No. 12).

In short, if you want to succeed in the modern age of the Internet and globalization, you need to localize and you need to adapt. Neither bludgeoning nor whining get you anywhere.

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