Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

Month: March 2014

Captain America goes global

I just watched the latest Marvel superhero film,  Captain America: The Winter Soldier — which was quite enjoyable — but what really jumped out at me was a scene when Steve Rogers (the Captain) writes in a little booklet about things he needed to check out, having spent 65+ years frozen. He added a Marvin Gaye album, and above that there was Thai food. But higher up on the list, I noticed there was the movie Oldboy and footballer Park Ji-sung.

Sure enough, in the United States, people saw a rather different list.

A pretty amusing little big of localization, I thought. I’m surprised Hollywood doesn’t do that sort of thing more. After all, when you are spending $150 million or whatever on a blockbuster, why not add a couple more dollars and CGI in something local for each market?

When the aliens destroy some city, I bet people in England would love to see London blown up, and people in France could see Paris blown up, people in Japan could see Tokyo blown up, and people in Korea could see Tokyo blown up (joking).

Anyhow, Captain America. I wonder how many countries got their own customized list. I’m sure sites like Comicbooknews will be tracking them all soon enough. It was a fun little idea.

More K-POP NOW stuff

As K-POP NOW! gets closer to its international release (coming to Amazon on April 29), Tuttle is slowly ramping up its marketing push. And one cool thing they’re doing is holding a contest over on Goodreads, giving away 10 copies. So sign up and enter if you want to win a free copy.

I should also mention that I’ll be going on a mini lecture tour (kind of) in the second week of April. Actually, it’s mostly a coincidence that it synchronizes with the release of K-POP NOW, but I think the coincidence is kind of cool. Anyhow, I’ll be talking about K-pop and Korean culture at the University of Pennsylvania on April 7, Indiana University on April 8, Ohio State University on April 10 and the University of Michigan on April 11.

I think Tuttle is trying to organize some bookstore stuff at those schools, too, but I don’t have any details yet.


TheKorean on K-Pop Now

The Korean (of Ask a Korean fame) has just posted a nice little review of K-POP NOW over on his book review blog. Aside from a couple of quibbles — and a very legitimate complaint about the lack of Lee Hyo-ri on the book — he was mostly quite complimentary.

For a taste of what he has to say:

K-Pop Now is not a treatise of everything there is to know about Korean pop music. Like the stars it covers, the book is glossy, thin and image-heavy. Russell’s insight is more readily available in the introductory passages, as the later parts of the book are not much more than a series of quick presentations about K-pop artists. None of this is meant as a criticism. The book is properly understood as a breezy introduction to a slice of Korean pop music scene, which is hardly a reason to complain: everyone needs an introduction to a given topic before they explore further.

Not a bad summary at all, imho.

If you want to pre-order K-POP NOW, you can do so on, Indigo, and of course at Tuttle Books. In most of the world, it should be getting released in April, so if you pre-order, you won’t have long to wait.

Windy walk around Hongdae

It’s been a really nice weekend here in Korea — sunny, if a bit cool and windy. But it was nice enough I though I would do some walking this weekend.

Saturday, I just went exploring randomly in the area between Hongik University and Sangsu Station and Hapjeong Station. I knew it had built up, but I’m always surprised at just how built up it is. After a disappointing Thai lunch a place that will remain anonymous (I think it is the Hongdae spinoff of a famous Gyeongnidan restaurant), we just went walking at random.

I mean, I can remember when all these roads were basically residential. And now they are endless cafes, restaurants, and shops.

Ironically, one of the dorkiest parts in the area used to be the coolest:

This spot, which has long been a terrible-looking noraebang, used to be home to Sangsudo, the first “real” techno club in Seoul. Or the nastiest one. Or something like that. Anyhow, it used to get hopping around 3 or 4am and go until sun-up. Until the police decided it was a den of iniquity and drugs, and started raiding it all the time. Soon it closed and was turned into a noraebang.

Back when Sangsudo was at its peak, this area was nearly all residential and there was nothing else around at all. So I find it pretty funny to see how built up that area is now, with shops everywhere. But this is one of the few buildings that is still not gentrified.

This building has seen better days:

Then I found this:

Yay, Record Forum is still around. It used to be located in the middle of Hongdae, beside what is now Monster Pizza and the Eat Your Kimchi Studios. But its tiny location was torn down and replaced with a garish monstrosity that now houses a Bennigans. I was worried it was lost, but apparently it just move down the street, closer to Hapjeong.

It felt like every time I tried out a new street, there was something interesting to discover — a jerk chicken reggae place, a Portuguese restaurant, a funky little clothing shop (I actually stumbled across a shop run by the girlfriend of a friend of mine, totally by accident).

These days, a lot of people are worried that the gentrification of Hongdae will bring in a lot of chain clothing stores, restaurants and other mainstream franchises. But I think that’s just not really a problem for Hongdae — because Hongdae is just too big for the franchises to take over. Whenever they come to one part of Hongdae, jacking up rents, the cool people that make Hongdae interesting just move somewhere else — Donggyo-dong, Yeonnam-dong, or south of Sangsu Station.

Speaking of Yeonnam-dong, after a disappointing Thai restaurant experience yesterday, today my wife and I returned to Tuk Tuk Noodles, probably the best Thai place in town. And once again, we were very happy with our lunch. I screwed up the reservation, so we had to wait an hour, but it was worth it.

Happiness is a yellow curry full of giant prawns.

Here’s a pic of the restaurant’s entrance (stolen from here):

So, that was my little weekend exploring Hongdae. Nothing revelatory, but I do find it amazing how this part of town just keeps growing and changing. It really is one of my favorite places.


K-Pop Now Reviews

Some early reviews are coming in for K-POP NOW. Very exciting.

Just a few minutes ago, The Korean (of Ask a Korean fame) posted a review over on his book blog Reading Korea. And he was nice enough to say a lot of nice things about it. For example:

 Keen-eyed and resourceful, Russell has regularly provided valuable insight into today’s Korean pop music that is both historical and comparative. Russell’s celebration of K-pop is jubilant but sober.

Another review I found was from a more obscure site, this blog that reviews young adult books for libraries. But it was also very positive.

Russell has put together a fantastic volume of information regarding the K-Pop history and industry. This is relevant to the current K-Pop craze phenomena and interest to those who are reading it for the first time or have a deep concern about their favorite groups. It will also make a great complementary addition to any classroom curriculum on the topic of Korean Culture.

It is so nice when the first reviews for a new book come back positive. I’m sure there’s a bashing coming before too long, but I really appreciate these positive and interesting early reviews.



Whining and dining

Apparently there’s an online controversy-du-jour going on in the expat community in Korea about the evolving restaurant scene in greater Itaewon. The source of the fretting came from this amusing cartoon by Chris Kwon Lewis. Some people thought it a good takedown of gentrification and hipsters in Korea. Others called it racist. In general, it looks like a pretty insufferable debate.

For a smarter take on the issue, check out these wise words that were recently written by Joe McPherson, of Zen Kimchi fame.

The way I see it, this is basically a fight between rival hipsters. Expat hipsters versus Korean hipsters. And, let’s face it, that is a fight that nobody wins. (Although, as this is Korea, if I had to pick a side, it would be with the Koreans. I don’t see the expat scene in Korea get upset when they ruin a perfectly nice local hangout, which has happened more than once).

Personally, I like that there is more Korean-foreigner interaction going on these days. And gentrification is a problem that is as old as capitalism, so it does not really annoy me. I’ve seen my favorite shops move around multiple times over the years in Korea. What’s one more time?

I think it is also worth pointing out that the cartoon can totally apply to a purely Korean context, too. Korean restaurant opens, does well with good prices, gets picks up by bloggers, becomes popular, prices goes up, quality goes down, rinse repeat. You might want to add a step about how the original owners sell the restaurant for a lot, too. It happens to Korean restaurants, it happens to foreign restaurants.

All I know is, when I look around Korea, I see a lot more diversity and cool stuff going on than ever. Music, food, art, life is all really interesting here, and for each negative change, there must be a dozen positive changes. I’ll take that over some sclerotic alternative any day.

Musical Notes

It’s been a nice stretch for music in Hongdae lately — or at least for my kind of music. So I thought I might mention a few groups I’ve seen and venues I’ve been to.

Back on Feb. 22, I caught Hwang Bo-ryung=Smacksoft and Vigulgi Ooyoo playing at Strange Fruit, accompanied by bellydancers Eshe and her troupe. While I find Smacksoft a bit uneven, when their songs are good, they are very, very good. And this particular show was a good one — capped off with a great performance of their song “Horizon.”

No pics of Vidulgi Ooyoo, sadly, but it is always good catching their post-rock music.

On Feb. 23, Mudaeruk had a really interesting show — classical music, featuring a string nonet and a few horns.

It was a pretty accessible show, featuring Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for String Orchestra, some Elgar, and Ennio Morricone. But it was well done, and the acoustics of Mudaeruk were surprisingly good for chamber music.

They also had Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Concerto transcribed for viola, which has long been a favorite piece of mine, although something you don’t get to hear very often, so that made me quite happy.

That’s Kim Won-tae playing, by the way.

Mudaeruk says it plans on making classical Sunday showcases a regular thing beginning in March, so if that sort of music is your thing, I recommend checking it out. Personally, I’m really happy to have more variety in Hongdae, and classical is especially welcomed (as Korea’s major classical venues are just too inconvenient for where I live and my work schedule).

Then last night, I was back to Strange Fruit, this time for some soul and funk. The night started with Soul Train, a group that’s been around a few years, but I had never checked out before. Dumb me. They were quite good, doing a mix of American soul classics and their own compositions. Very groovy.

And after that, Gopchang Jeongol played, the ’70s-style band fronted by the crazy-cool Sato Yukie. I can’t believe I’ve been watching Sato Yukie play live for a decade now. But he’s still plenty of fun.

Sorry for the terrible photos.  But I hope they give you a sense of what the shows were like.

More music tonight, as both Club Ta and Soundholic are hosting shows for bands heading to SXSW next week…

© 2018 Mark James Russell

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑