Mark James Russell

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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.


Fortitude season 2 – first teaser trailer


So excited to see the first trailer for Fortitude season 2. The first season was one of my favorite TV surprises ever. I had no idea what to expect, it was a gorgeous mix of icy landscapes, quirky characters, ancient plagues and sheer terror.

Season 2 does not begin until January. About all I know at this point is that Dennis Quaid is in it.


Here’s the short teaser trailer:

So, it looks like Trump was right…


What a crazy year we are having. In the wake of the British vote to leave the EU (“Brexit”), it is increasingly becoming clear to me just how very right Donald Trump is…

No, not right about policy. Or economics. Or anything that involves thinking.

But one thing he appears to be absolutely right about is why and how people make decisions. As we learned from the playbook for selling the intellectual snake oil that was Trump University:

“You don’t sell products, benefits or solutions — you sell feelings.”

Bingo. Which is why facts are so useless in dealing with the Trumps of the world. Or the Brexits. Or the Catalonian independence types, or the Quebecois separatists, etc. etc.

Another highlight in this section is about selling by approaching people’s “problems”:

  • Customers don’t have need—they have problems.
  • A lot of sales training and books tell you about the importance of selling to customer needs. Although this is basically true, customers don’t sit down and think, “I’ve got a need.” Instead, they experience problems and seek solutions to them.
  • The customer has to perceive the problem, of course. You may perceive the problem, but if the customer doesn’t, then there’s no way they can bite the solution line.
  • So the sales job is about finding, eliciting and solving these problems.

So, instead of finding needs and providing solutions, Trump (and his ilk) find problems and provide feelings. Strength for the weak. Security for the frightened. Clarity for the confused. It’s a pretty potent pitch, especially compared to co-called technocrats, talking about money and data and empty little facts.

Personally, I don’t view the Brexit vote as the end of the world. Markets have roiled mostly because no one thought this would actually happen, and markets don’t like to be surprised. But how this all shakes out politically, I have no idea.


As someone who has a UK passport, I’ll be sad if that becomes a lesser document. I like the idea of trying to bring the world and people together. I hope the UK politicians figure out how to fix things before it’s too late.

But the powers-that-be having been mucking things up around much of the world for far too long. Promising benefits that never come, or demanding sacrifices that don’t actually help. Only when politicians and others begin to recognize people’s real problems and feelings, and present their ideas for the future in those terms, are we going to see things get better.

How I’m feeling these days

No memes2

Warm weather in Korea

After the smog of April and before the hot and miserable weather comes, we are in the middle of some pretty nice weather. Here are some random pics of life in Seoul that I’ve encountered lately.

First of all, the green view from where I live.

Apart - May

It wasn’t so long ago it looked like this:


Down by the Cheonggyecheon, lots of people were taking photos and fixated on something. What? Why?


Ah, some kind of heron, hanging out in the stream.

Cheonggyecheon - bird

And I recently went up to the Shilla Hotel, for the first time in ages. Got lucky with a great moon and some moody clouds.

Shilla hotel night - april

What country am I living in anyway?

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks at my local supermarket. Even though I live way at the edge of Seoul in a fairly desolate area, my GS Mart now has:

  • Shallots
  • IPA
  • Pale ale
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Kettle chips

It really reminds of just how much Korea has changed since I first arrived, back in the 1990s. Back then, foreign goods usually required a trip to a black market, in Namdaemun or Itaewon or Shinchon. Very few beers or non-Korean vegetables were around.

But now, even the most plain supermarkets offer brussel sprouts, a selection of cheeses and some decent beers, not to mention Vietnamese and Thai sauces. The options are really pretty wide-ranging.

Korean food has really improved, too. There are a whole bunch of good sauces and soup stocks that Korean companies offer.

But for the moment, I’m just really excited about pale ale and shallots.

Rob Ford and me

I can’t claim to have been friends with Rob Ford, the infamous former mayor of Toronto. But I did spend a little time with him back in the mid-1990s, while volunteering on a minor by-election in his family’s home turf of Etobicoke. He was always incredibly friendly and helpful and full of energy, always ready to go the extra mile to help.

For instance, a couple of times I worked late on the campaign and missed my ride, and Rob would drive me all the way to the Yorkdale bus station, cheerfully and without reservations. The drive would take a while, so we’d shoot the breeze: sometimes talking sports, sometimes family and life, sometimes politics. I remember once trying to make a conservative case for gay rights (it was the mid-1990s—pre-Friends—and such things were much less accepted then), and I said something like “Gay people don’t want ‘special rights.’ The biggest thing gay people want is not to be beaten up for being who they are.”

Rob’s response was emphatic: “I would never beat up a gay guy!”

Followed by: “You’d get blood all over your hands and get AIDS.”

So … yeah. Rob Ford. An incredibly giving, energetic guy. An incredible asshole.

Even back then he was already pretty much the same guy who became infamous as a politician. Minus the crack. His father was the patriarch, and his older brother Doug seemed to be the one heading for big-time politics. If you had told me back then that Doug would one day be mayor of Toronto, I would have believed it. If you said that Rob would one day be caught on video smoking crack, I probably would have believed that. But Rob as mayor? Not so much.

And now he has died. I won’t pretend he was anything that he wasn’t. I know he hurt a lot of people. But he was very nice to me and was fun when I spent time with him. And I suspect he may have been bipolar or had some other similar issues going on, given his substance abuse issues, wild energy swings and related problems. That doesn’t excuse the bad things he did, but I do think he deserved some understanding.

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