Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

Month: December 2010

WSJ on Korean Indie Cinema

Okay, this was a bit unexpected–an article about the Seoul Independent Film Festival appearing in the Wall Street Journal. Even if it is just in a WSJ blog, I would not have expected them to cover something so unconventional. Anyhow, it is a pretty decent article, talking about the festival’s 35-year history, recent government cutbacks to the festival and the film industry, and an interview with Kam Jin-qu, a member of the festival’s organizing committee.

Some Online Writing

Just in case anyone is interested, these days I am doing a little writing for the website Korean Content.

Korean Content was launched by the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) in late October 2010 to build awareness for Korean content abroad. In addition to my occasional contributions about music, movies and whatnot (such as this one, and this one, and this one), a variety of other contributors write about all manner of Korean content.

There was even an article by my old boss, Lukas Schwarzacher. It looks like he is working as a professional photographer these days, having started a new company 1st District LA. I also came across a nice little article about him here. Anyhow, it is great to see him around again.

Makgeolli – 1977

Considering how popular that video was of the Korean anti-marijuana PSA from 1975, I thought I would upload another old video.

This one is a short film from 1977 about Makgeolli, Korean rice beer*. Makgeolli has enjoyed quite a resurgence in the last year or two over in Korea, but it was not so popular when I first arrived there, way back in the 1990s. But somehow, on my second day in Korea (down in Gwangju), I somehow ended up in a traditional-style pub, with wooden walls and furniture and waiters and waitresses in hanbok, drinking the stuff.

The film shows how Makgeolli was made, with a brewery full of rice, huge vats of the stuff fermenting, being bottled, etc. And at the end, you get a few shots of people drinking it at a bar — 400 won for a bottle of Makgeolli back then. Enjoy.

*Although many people call Makgeolli rice wine, in fact Makgeolli is much more like beer in how it is made and drunk.

(Update: I finally figured out how to get the video to work on Youtube, so I swapped the Dailymotion link for Youtube).

New Review for Pop Goes Korea

You do not hear a lot about a book you published two years ago, so I was pleasantly surprised to find POP GOES KOREA reviewed in the most recent issue of PACIFIC AFFAIRS.

PACIFIC AFFAIRS is a pretty serious and respectable academic journal, having been published since 1928. The reviewer, Dr. Jung Eun-Young, an assistant professor of music at the University of California, San Diego, did a pretty good write-up — in general positive, with some solid insights and fair criticisms. The highlights:

The most interesting part of this book for cultural scholars is the conclusion, where Russell turns to the international dimension, boldly stating that “there never was a Korean Wave” (215) and pointing out its negative connotations. He argues, “the trouble with talking about a ‘Korean Wave’ is that it does not really explain anything… Can we really say there is anything specifically ‘Korean’ [in Korea’s pop culture]?” (212).


Russell’s book certainly deserves credit for providing new and detailed insights into Korea’s pop culture industry. It is especially useful for readers unfamiliar with Korean pop culture; the many sidebars as well as the main text are informative and accurate. Given that Russell refers to this book as a first installment, we can expect to see more stories of Korean pop culture, revealing other dimensions through his insightful analysis.

So, there you go. I am not sure how long that link is going to work, but hopefully I will be able to update it when the current issue moves to the archives.

More Korean Music Notes

– I wrote a little article about some Korean bands playing in London and North America in the coming months over at the Korean Contents website. 3rd Line Butterfly and W&Whale have been invited to Monocle Magazine’s Winter Series (I will supply the iTunes link when it is available). And then Vidulgi Ooyoo, Galaxy Express and Idiotape are going to be traveling to SXSW and the Canada Music Week in March (and maybe make a few more stops around the continent).

– Shawn Despres has yet another good article about Korean indie music, this one about the band Sunkyeol, over at Groove magazine.

– And as long as I am linking to Shawn, I really should mention his recent article about Chang Kiha & Faces and the Rocktigers in the Japan Times.

– The Joongang Daily has a fairly long article about the Hongdae scene (translated from the parent publication, the Sunday Joongang). It has a few quotes from a lot of the biggest names in Hongdae (Sung Kiwan, Lee Sang-eun, Lim Jin-mo) and is a decent introduction … although it does not talk about the publishing side of Hongdae, which in many ways was the foundation of the neighborhood, back in the early 1980s.

– And, of course, if you are interesting in learning more about Korean indie music, Anna’s blog Indieful ROK is the best place to learn about new releases and pretty much everything about the scene.

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