Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

Month: January 2012

More Korean Box Office 2011

It looks like the official box office results for 2011 are out, and they look pretty close to what I estimated at the beginning of January. Key numbers:

– 158 million admissions
– ₩1.23 trillion ($1.10 billion) in revenue
– South Korean films were 52% of tickets sold, 49.8% of revenue
– 166 local titles released, versus 320 foreign titles
– CJ E&M Corp (née CJ Entertainment) was the top distributor (no surprise), with 37.5% of the box office, six of the top 10 movies, and 44 titles released overall.
– Top movie was Transformers 3, with 7.9 million admissions, good for  ₩74.8 billion ($66.7 million) — proving, once again, that Koreans love robots
– Top Korean movie was War of the Arrows (최종병기 활), with 7.5 million admissions, but just ₩55.8 billion ($49.8 million).

(Thanks, as always, to Film Biz Asia for their great work).

Whither the Hammerman?

What’s this, the Hammering Man? Does that mean Mark is back in Seoul?


Alas, no. In fact, I was just in Basel, Switzerland, where they have their own Hammering Man — albeit smaller than Seoul’s version. Basel was quite lovely, though, a small Swiss city along the Rhine, with plenty of art galleries and other goodies. But $4.50 espressos? Yikes.


Some random thoughts about my little trip:

– EuroAirport is pretty funky. Located right on the Swiss-France border, you constantly are walking back and forth between countries here. On one side, you pay in Swiss Francs, on the other, in euros.

– Yes, McDonald’s and Starbucks are a terrible form of cultural imperialism that America has inflicted upon the world. But judging by the incredible number of Donner Kebab restaurants and “Sushiland” discount sushi houses everywhere, it appears the world has gotten revenge.

– If you can handle a little chilly weather, tourism off-season in January is so much more relaxing than in summer and high season. Especially at tourism hot-spots like Strasbourg.

– No signs of any K-pop at the Virgin Megastore in Strasbourg. But there were a few Korean comic books (mixed in with the many, many Japanese comics).

Holiday Movie Roundup

I went on a pretty good movie spree over the last few weeks, so I thought I would add my brief opinions on some of them. Spoilers here, so beware (more spoilers of tone than plot, though):

Tin Tin – B-

Mostly harmless. Spielberg not trying usually brings out his best.

Mission Impossible 4 – F

Terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible. Stupid, mindless, annoying, and decidedly second-rate action. Maybe objectively it was not the worst film of the season, but because I expect so much more from director Brad Bird, I give it an outright fail.

Sherlock Holmes 2 – D-

Basically Transformers, minus the robots — that is, senseless noise for two long, long hours. Not sure why I am not giving it an outright F … perhaps Robert Downey’s acting? Perhaps the occasional flash of creativity in a couple of action sequences? Maybe I have no taste? Anyhow, really, really bad.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – B

I really wanted to like this — John LeCarré’s spy novels are a great antidote to the mindless action of James Bond or 24. I quite liked the book, although not overly so (so I think I could watch the movie objectively). But in the end, I did not like it much. It ended up feeling way too disjointed and dull. George Smiley actually does talk and communicate, unlike in this movie, where he just stares into nothingness. Still, deserves a decent grade for not being a non-stop noise fest and having some thoughtfulness.

The Descendants – B+

After so many noisy action films, it was good to see a story with something approaching human characters and human emotions. But it was also pretty formulaic in its own way, especially the saccharine ending.

Drive – B

For the first hour of this movie, I thought it was a sure A. Then I thought it was probably an A-. But after the end, just a B. If a movie is called “Drive,” and the characters repeatedly talk about what a special driver the main character is, you kind of expect his driving skills will be a big part of the story, maybe even the finale. But a better title for this film would have been “Stab.” Anyhow, great soundtrack.

The Day He Arrives – B+

Yeah, it is not really a holiday film, but I just saw it so I’ll include it anyway. Hong Sang-soo really shines in black and white. As he said for Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (Hong’s first black and white movie, and still my favorite of his), black and white helps audiences concentrate on the story and not get side-tracked by less important details.* Regardless, it is certainly Hong’s best-looking film, with some gorgeous shots of Bukchon in the snow.


Being a Hong Sangsoo film, I guess a plot recap isn’t really necessary — people drink too much, hook up, have awkward conversations, patterns repeat, etc. If there is anything that makes The Day stand out, perhaps it is the surreality of the film, as characters swirl about without any sense of time really passing or events occurring. Is it one day we’re seeing, like Groundhog Day?

The snow adds to that surreality, as Hong’s filming style does not really allow for a lot of continuity — snow appears and disappears, seemingly at random. But that’s okay, because as in many HSS films, characters also appear and disappear at random. Actress Kim Bo-kyeong plays two different characters, also adding to the swirling sense of dislocation you get watching the movie.

Ultimately, though, Hong Sangsoo continues to disappear ever deeper into his own navel, and his films all suffer. The Day He Arrives may be one of his best variations — light, fun, and interesting — but it is still a variation on the same theme. After 12 movies, I would not mind if he tried some different themes.

*(Not that I didn’t get hopeless distracted by his locations anyway. I was so happy to see Hong return to that great Insa-dong fish restaurant, where so much of Virgin Stripped Bare takes place).

Truth and Journalism

One of the big discussions floating around the Internet for the past couple of days has come from the New York Times‘ public editor Arthur Brisbane’s recent column, “Should the Times Be a Truth Vigilante?,” which asks to what extent journalists should just come out and call a liar a liar in their stories. Unsurprisingly, most commentary has mocked Brisbane for asking this, believing it indicates a failing of modern journalism and basic morality that a relatively big-name journalist like Brisbane cannot handle the truth. I guess it is similar to the old Bush-43 spokesman (Karl Rove?) who once talked about “reality-based communities,” saying that the world no longer worked that way and we now create our own realities.

I think people who bash Brisbane are often missing the bigger point. Sure, there are times when public figures say things that are blatantly, obviously false, and they should be called to account But often it is not about fact vs. fiction, but more about “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” — “Who guards the guardians?” (or, if you are a nerd like me, “Who watches the Watchmen?”).

As someone who has held more than a few minority opinions in my lifetime (as we all do, I think), I know what it feels like to have an opinion dismissed, simply for being odd or unconventional. And it seems to me that for every clear-cut case of someone lying or offering a self-serving theory to advance themselves, there are many more murky incidents that are not so clear. Sure, you can tell fact from fiction, and you know when something is grey and nuanced. But do you trust the people you work with and others to make the same distinctions so well?

Let’s face it, when people get together, they often get a lot more opinionated and dumber then they are as individuals. People are not all above average. Many of us are dumb — usually dumber in some areas than others, but sometimes just all-round dumb. And a few special people are able to succeed in their professions despite a surplus of dumbness.  Laws and other regulations  are always enforced by dumb people, or at least by the collective dumbness humanity repeatedly exhibits when it acts in groups.

Which is why I would be very hesitant for journalists to just start add “he lied” to their stories. There is just way too much room for abuse in that sort of policy. Most of the time it is better to present the facts and let readers make up their own minds. People may be dumb, but the average person is not, and a well-written story should point toward the truth naturally. Perhaps what people should be decrying is less the post-modern disintegration of truth and more the decline of good writing (and critical reading skills, but that’s a rant for another time).

Korean Box Office 2011 — Still Setting Records

I thought I would add a quick note about the Korean box office for 2011. Numbers are still preliminary, but they certainly look very good. According to KOFIC:

– It was the biggest year every for overall box office in Korea, with 1.24 trillion won ($1.07 billion) in revenues and 160 million admissions.

– With 51.9% of the box office going to Korean movies, it was the best year for domestic cinema since 2006 — or 82.9 million admissions. And according to Kofic, 612 billion won would make it the best year ever for revenues (although I suspect the numbers for 2006 might have been incomplete).

– With 622 billion won for non-Korean movies, it was the second-best year for international cinema in Korea.

So big congratulations to everyone who helped make the year so good. And I hope 2012 will continue to be so strong.

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