Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

Month: September 2011

Busan Cinema Center

Hard to believe that the Busan Cinema Center is finally opening. I think I first wrote about it — and its ambitious architecture by Coop Himmelb(l)au — way back in 2005. But despite the odds, Busan actually built the $143 million movie haven, pretty much as first envisioned. You can read about it here (with some good video) and here (more pics). And plenty of pics here, of course.

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Here are a couple pics of the Cinema Center under construction. Doesn’t it look like the USS Enterprise in dry dock?

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From the Speaking-Too-Soon Department…

Maybe I was too quick to laud Billboard’s Hot 100 K-Pop chart … Both CJ Music and Soribada have been accused of illegally selling K-pop and other Korean music internationally. Worse, they sold much of that music on the cheap, for as little as 6 cents/song, screwing the artists in the process.

This is hardly the first time this has happened — it seems like half the Korean music available on iTunes is not supposed to be there (especially the classic rock), thanks to some, uh, “overenthusiastic” distributors who would decide that they could sell someone’s music internationally. But now there is some noise that this latest scandal might have some legs … and might actually lead to some consequences. Expect to hear some news in the next few days.

Lord knows the Korean music industry needs to be cleaned up… but I’ll believe it when it happens.

K-Pop on Billboard

Considering that I wrote about Billboard a couple of times last week, I really should have mentioned that the trade magazine has started to run a K-Pop chart (although I cannot seem to get it to work at the moment).

It’s quite a change from back when I was writing for Billboard. Back around 2003 or 2004 or so, Billboard had a pretty wide variety of little charts from all over the world, including such non-hot spots as Malaysia. There was never much interest in adding Korea to the mix, especially since there was nothing resembling an authoritative, transparent music chart. Most of the TV channels put together their own charts, based on call-ins and a variety of cryptic data. Every so often, not surprisingly, there would be some sort of kickback/payola scandal about a chart, causing a big outcry and shutting down that chart for a time. Things got so bad in 2003 that all the major music charts in the country were taken down.

I always thought it significant that Korea was unable to put together a reliable music chart at the same time music sales were falling off a cliff. It was a telling contrast that the movie industry was booming as movie box office data were getting better and better. Of course, the music industry eventually regrouped and went all-online in Korea, which I guess helped them put together the data for this new chart.

On the other hand, The Hollywood Reporter appears to have stopped running its box office chart for South Korea. That did not last very long. Back when I wrote for THR, I bugged them for years to start including the official box office charts, but never found much interest — even though the information was easily available online, and even though, at its peak, Korea was about the world’s fifth-largest box office. In one of THR’s more recent revamps, it started to include Korea’s movie chart, but I guess it was too much trouble…

Anyhow, it looks like Billboard’s new K-Pop chart has gotten a bit of press. Such as this article at the Globe & Mail, which says “It’s as if disco had a baby with European house music — then weaned it on candy” (thanks to Gusts of Popular Feeling for the pic).
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Shin Joong-hyun Like You’ve Never Heard Him

I’ve been listening to an early copy of Light in the Attic’s Shin Joong-hyun retrospective, BEAUTIFUL RIVERS AND MOUNTAINS: THE PSYCHEDELIC SOUND OF SOUTH KOREA’S SHIN JOONG-HYUN, 1958-1974, and so far I am really impressed by it. The sound quality is noticeably better than the CDs currently on the market, even with the compressed versions I have, with better range and dynamism (and now recorded at the correct speed).

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Light in the Attic Records tell me that they made new transfers of Shin’s songs from the original vinyl (the original masters were apparently burned by the government back in the 1970s), then remastered everything in the United States. The result is Shin Joong-hyun much closer to how his music is supposed to sound, and if you have only heard his music on CD, the difference can be pronounced at times.

Other people have also been listening and apparently are impressed. Mojo magazine’s most recent issue (October) has named the retrospective their Reissue of the Month, giving the CD 4 stars and comparing Shin to Phil Spector. Sadly, Mojo is not available online (at least not for free), but you can read a couple of excerpts from their review here.

Attic will also be releasing a digital EP of Shin’s music, SHIN JOONG-HYUN, FROM WHERE TO WHERE: 1970-1979, and I quite like it, too. Both collections contain severals songs that I have not heard before, with an emphasis on Shin’s more rockin’ and psychedelic songs.

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BEAUTIFUL RIVERS AND MOUNTAINS contains 14 songs, including many of Shin’s best, such as “The Man Who Must Leave” (떠나야할그사람), “The Sun” (햇님, a personal favorite), and of course “Beautiful Rivers and Mountains” (아름다운강산). There is just one song, “Moon Watching” (달마중), from his debut album, Hiky Shin, but it was interesting to hear something Shin recorded way back in 1958. And there is a good overview of the various singers who have recorded with Shin over the years — Kim Jung-mi, Kim Choo-ja, Lee Jung-hwa, Jang Hyun, Park In-soo, Bunny Girls, and Kim Sun. “J Blues ’72” is really good, imho.

WHERE TO WHERE has seven songs, but they are also all very solid, including “Grass” (잔디), “What Am I Going to Do” (나라고 어찌하오), and the Music Power version of “Beautiful Rivers and Mountains.”

These releases are not perfect — the anglicizing of the song names is a little rough, for example. And Shin’s history in the liner notes is a tad credulous, and could have used a bit more rigor. But these are mostly quibbles, and overall the releases are great, a huge recommend for anyone interested at all in the music of the period.

The vinyl version of BEAUTIFUL RIVERS AND MOUNTAINS comes out Sept. 6, and the CD version will be released Sept. 24. WHERE TO WHERE will be available on Sept. 25.

And I just learned that another American label, Lion Productions, also has a couple of Korean rock albums on the way, including Kim Jung-mi’s NOW. Apparently Lion is going to similar lengths as Attic to get their releases just right, so this could be a great few months for fans of this amazing era in music.

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