Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

Month: October 2011

Some Singer That I Used to Know

Am I late to the party? I just discovered the joy that is the Belgian-Australian singer Gotye. Of course his big single “Somebody That I Used to Know” is good fun (perhaps the most angst-written song I’ve enjoyed this much since my 20s), but also great are songs like “Giving Me a Chance” and “Eyes Wide Open.”

And most of his videos are good fun, too:

(If you find “Use to Know” a bit boring, try looking for the Loot & Plunder remix… much more upbeat).

Even Old, Even Newer — Great New Book in Korean Cinema History

I just received my copy of a wonderful and very important new book about Korea’s movie history, KOREA’S OCCUPIED CINEMAS, 1893-1948, by Brian Yecies and Shim Ae-Gyung. It’s really a subject that has long needed more exploring, not just in English but even in Korean, and so far I am really enjoying the read.


Certainly there is too little literature available in English about Korea’s cultural history this century. And I find that too much of Korean scholarship has focused on re-iterating boring old nationalism or re-fighting old cultural battles rather than digging into archives and unearthing more information about the past (probably a lack of language abilities has hurt, too).

But Brian and Ae-Gyung have gone into the archives and gotten a lot of great stuff that really changes and fleshes out the period. Most previous literature has focused on the movies made by Koreans, glossing over how foreign films did in Korea and how international cinema influenced and changed Korea. They take issue with the commonly told story of the first sound picture in Korea, talk about the success of Hollywood films in Korea in the 1930s, and lots of other stuff.

The book is rather academic — not surprising, considering that Brian and Ae-Gyung are academics and it was published by Routledge. And sadly, it is priced like an academic, library book, so you might want to get it from the library, at least until the paperback comes out. But when I do finish it, I will write up my thoughts and give it a proper review. Anyhow, great going, Brian and Ae-Gyung. I’m really happy and looking forward to reading it.

A Korean Classic Rock Revival

A feature I wrote for the International Herald Tribune about Shin Joong-hyun and the revival of Korean classic rock music is now online. I hope you find it interesting. It should be in Friday’s print edition, if you prefer dead trees.

I’ve written about Mr. Shin before, so rather than just re-hash his biography I tried to do something a little different with this story, connecting a bunch of different trends. First, there is the re-issue of Mr. Shin’s music in the West, which is pretty cool. And there is the growing interest in old Korean rock music in Korea, with retro bands like Chang Kiha and the Faces and the retro sampling of DJ Soulscape.


Plenty of modern rock bands are also covering classic rocks songs these days (like Galaxy Express), and several Hongdae clubs have had special days focusing on classic rock covers (which I think Badabie started with its Kim Jung-mi cover night) — oh, and the neo-70s group Funkafric & Boostah, they’re great — but unfortunately I could not find a way to fit in those details.


Anyhow, I’m just happy to spread the word a little about some great Korean music besides K-pop. I hope a few people out there might read it and listen to Mr. Shin’s music or other great stuff from way back when.

Here are a few links to some other things I have written here about Shin Joong-hyun: here (about the Light In The Attic releases), and here (about a 1963 article on Mr. Shin from Stars and Stripes).

Now if I could just find a reason to write about Han Daesoo or Sanullim…

Occupy Barcelona

Last night I was walking through Barcelona, and accidentally stumbled upon the local “Occupy” march, and I must say it was quite impressive. Now, there is never any shortage of protests going on in Spain, whether in Puerta del Sol in Madrid or along the Passeig de Gracia in Barcelona (and they have had their own social movement, modeled on the Arab Spring, going strong since around May). But usually, compared to the “real” protests I got to enjoy when I was living in Korea, the ones in Spain seem pretty minor. The march of crowds coming to and going from Camp Nou for each Barca football home game is far larger (and rowdier).


But Occupy Barcelona was different. Or October 15 Barcelona, I guess I should call it. For one, it was a lot bigger — police say 60,000 marched, activists say around 400,000. But it certainly felt big. People marched from Placa Catalunya, up Passeig de Gracia, then down Arago to Sant Joan, then to the Arc de Triomf and Parc Ciutadella. They were orderly and good-natured, and a pretty wide mix of ages and social groups. Seeing grandmothers marching with V for Vendetta masks is pretty striking (I wish I had taken a picture of them, but sadly I did not).

The nature of Occupy Barcelona is a bit different than Occupy Wall Street, which is natural, considering that the Spanish economy is quite different than America’s. Unemployment is huge here — 21%. They actually do need some business-minded reforms. Basically, a huge property bubble that ran from the late 1990s until about 2008 (thanks to cheap money from the Euro) led many here to think they were living in a German-sized economy. The readjusting to reality has been pretty ugly for most of the country.


That said, though, I think the Occupy movement has a role to play here, too. Like America, a big reason for the property bubble was bank-business-government collusion, a distortion of the basic social contract that needs to be fixed.

In sports, no one likes the referees, but we know that referees are needed for the sake of the game. Wanting to fix the rules and support the referees doesn’t mean we are anti-football or anti-basketball (or whatever). We love our sports, we just want them played fairly and well. I think that is the core of what the Occupy movement is about. Most people are not anti-business, but we are seeing something essentially unfair and broken that needs fixing.

Gayageums Rock

Here’s a fun little video I just ran across of a woman playing Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold as Love” on the Gayageum. It’s really well done.

Of course, if traditional instruments playing cool, modern music is your thing, the best band out there is still Jambinai.

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