Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

Month: July 2016

All you zombies…


As I type this, a new Korean blockbuster has come roaring out of the gates, setting several records in its opening weekend. And it’s a zombie movie. How fun is that?

Train to Busan has gotten 5.3 million admissions since its release last Wednesday (including 500,000 or so in pre-screenings), and made about 43.8 billion won. Most impressively, it set a new one-day record, with 1.28 million admissions on Saturday, just beating out the Yi Sun-shin movie, Roaring Currents.

It strikes me as pretty fascinating how good Koreans have gotten at genre blockbusters. From Shiri back in 1999, which kicked off the current age of blockbusters, to the monster fun of The Host in 2006, and now Train to Busan—repeatedly filmmakers here have been able to shake things up with their unique takes on mainstream, Hollywood-style movies.


Anyhow, I doubt Train to Busan will surprise Roaring Currents in the end. It doesn’t have the benefits of a resonant, nationalistic message to squeeze out those last few tickets. But it’s nice to see a smart, well-made blockbuster doing so well.

Incidentally, what’s up with this promotional still? Is it a deliberate homage to The Host?



Tim Duncan retires!


Sad to hear Tim Duncan is retiring. While there have been plenty of more explosive or exciting players in the NBA, there has never been any player I respected more.


I mean, take a look at his stats, especially the per-36 numbers and the Advanced — they barely budged for 20 years. Just excellent right up until the end.


¡Que raro! K-Pop en español~

K-pop enspanyol

Hey, just got some fun news: K-Pop Now! has been published in Spanish! And by Penguin Random House Mexico.

I’ve written a lot about how K-pop has found much popularity in much of Latin America, but I never thought that I would get to be a part of it. ¡Fantastico!


Changing downtown Seoul

From Matt’s Gusts of Popular Feeling website, I came across this article on redevelopment plans for the Jongno/Junggu central parts of old Seoul. Kind of fascinating, on several levels.

Most notable is this map, both for what it shows and for what it doesn’t.


As you can see, pretty much everything along Jongno (and Sinmunno) is up for redevelopment, from Gyeongui Palace to Insa-dong. But that’s a bit weird, because most of that area has already been redeveloped. I doubt they’re doing to tear down the Four Seasons Hotel any time soon.

Similarly, the last of the old restaurants and pojang macha to the east of City Hall are slated to come down — which is a tiny bit sad, but to be honest there’s not a whole lot left there that really matters.

The area around and to the west of the main government buildings in the northwest of the map is also slated for redevelopment, which makes me a bit more wistful. But it is the center of town, and there’s nothing that’s really old, so my personal memories aside, I guess that’s not a big surprise.

What saddens me the most is to see that area between Jonggak and Jongno 2-ga on the north side of the road up for the wrecking ball. That would include that wonderful fish and makgeolli restaurant that was so important in Hong Sang-soo’s Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors.  I love that place … although I’m more than a little shocked it hasn’t just caved in and killed a dozen or so people already.

But the general trend of the government take a ham-fisted approach of designating certain areas to be protected continues. That always ends up “protecting” a bunch of buildings that are utterly unimportant and (more importantly) overlooking a lot lot of really important places. I do wish the Korean government would take an approach closer to, say, Barcelona, where building-by-building is examined for its importance.

It’s funny to think that the area on that map labelled “Jongno 5-ga” will be one of the last old-Seoul places to remain. When I first came to Seoul, most of the downtown felt like that, with the fish restaurants and labyrinthian alleys and random sweat shops. It’s probably a good thing that we don’t have so many sweat shops left, but it is still a bit sad to be losing the Seoul that I remember.


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