Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

Author: Mark (page 1 of 84)

What have we here …

Happy day, as I found this parcel waiting for me when I got home.

Pullocho_Parcel2Pullocho parcel1

Seriously, I can’t really believe it’s an actual printed book. I’ve been so convinced that someone would go wrong, even at the last minute. And yet, here it is, in the flesh.

You know how some authors say their books are like their babies and they love them all the same? Well, that’s garbage — I love this book the most.


Young-hee and Pullocho—2 early reviews

So, Kirkus has come out with what I think is the first review of Young-hee and the Pullocho. But they didn’t seem terribly impressed. On the positive side:

Russell enriches his debut novel with many details borrowed from Korean folk tales. Fans of stories within stories will enjoy the tales included here,

But the reviewer also seems to think that young readers will find the contents confusing and did not like how I started things off in the middle of the action, then looped back. The word “mundane” was used.

One the other hand, a friend of mine gave the book to her 9-year-old daughter, who apparently enjoyed it immensely and did not find it confusing at all.

“It’s amazing!”  –  4.75/5 stars

The mom said she likes it, too, although her daughter raced ahead and read it all first. Funny that a middle-aged reviewer worried a book would be confusing, while a 9-year-old had no problem. I know which review I prefer.

My first Boing Boing (kind of)

It looks like my name has graced the iconic Boing Boing website for the first time. Yay.

Well, it’s kind of there. A little bit. Actually, the very cool Colin Marshall was invited to provide a bit of guest blogging. And for one of his first posts, he linked to his entire Korea series from his Notebook on Cities and Culture blog. So  there I am, fourth on the list.

Okay, it’s a pretty minor mention, but I’ll take it all the same. Thanks, Colin.

Phish Tales

Long wall of text coming. Sorry.

Anyhow, no, I’m not talking about the jam band. “Phish” as in trying to scam someone to get their personal information, like passwords or credit card details, usually so you can steal their money. Phishing is quite a problem in Korea, often turning up in news stories, but in the last week, two phishing incidents hit pretty close to home — some scammers tried to steal from a relative yesterday (let’s call her “F1″), and the friend of a friend actually lost 20 million won to another scammer earlier in the week (“F2″).

In each case, the method used was rather similar, so I wonder if this is a problem that’s getting worse, or if two incidents just happened to hit close to home. These phishing attacks are pretty devious. Like most grifts, they’re designed to take advantage of human nature and our personal blind spots.

The scam begins with a phone call. A guy claiming to be with the police says that you have been targeted in a bank fraud and identity theft. They’ve caught the guy, but there will be lawsuits and all sorts of legal hassles. They warn that not taking care of this right away could result in months of trouble and your bank accounts could be frozen for a time.

But then they offer a solution — if you go to the police’s website, you can register your information and protect yourself. Of course, the URL they mention is not “” and not the real Korean police website. It looks the same, but it is “.com”.

Throughout, they keep talking fast, trying to stop you from thinking, lulling you into a rhythm, taking advantage of most people’s tendency to want to please others and be respectful. They also know your name and same bits of personal information (easily bought on the black market), designed to make them sound official.

Luckily for F1, once they started saying they needed her to transfer them money, she got really suspicious. She said she needed to check their info and would call back, asking them for their names and departments so she could call them back. They said to use the number on her caller ID, but she said no, she’d call the main police switchboard and the operator could pass her along to them. They immediately hung up.

F2 was not so lucky, and sent a lot of money.

It’s easy to look down on people who get scammed, but grifters are smart at recognizing glitches in human nature, and “hacking” our behaviour, like how a computer hacker breaks into online networks. That said, there needs to be a lot more education in Korea about how to protect your personal information.

More annoying, though, was the response of the real police. F1 called the Mapo Cyber Police division, but their response was “If you didn’t lose any money, don’t worry about it.” They said they could do anything about it and weren’t interested in filing a report or gathering information. So lazy and amateurish (and, unfortunately, typical).

tl:dr — Don’t ever give away your personal information over the phone and be careful about online. Korea’s lack of information security is getting ever more dangerous.


‘C’est si bon’ with English subtitles

Well, it looks like Ode to My Father has just about finished its run in the theaters in Korea. Or at least an end to the screenings with English subtitles.

Fortunately, something potentially a lot more interesting is taking its place — a new movie about Korean music history titled C’est si bon. The movie is the story of the C’est Si Bon club, one of the more famous music clubs from the 1960s and ’70s, and one of the more famous acts of the period, Twin Folio.


Twin Folio was a folk duo, comprised of the classically trained Song Chang-sik and medical student Yoon Hyun-joo. Their first recording was a Shin Joong-hyun cover on the soundtrack to the movie Green Apple (which I believe has gone missing). They did a split album with the Pearl Sisters in 1969 and then an album of their own in 1970, but by then they had already broken up. Song went on to have a good solo career, becoming a noted songwriter.

Given that Twin Folio was a duo, but the movie has changed them to a trio for “dramatic purposes”, that’s a pretty big red flag. And I was pretty excited about Go-Go 70s, too, but that was a letdown. But who knows? Maybe we’ll get lucky this time.

Anyhow, if you want to see the movie with English subtitles, it is playing at the CGV theaters in Shinchon, Yeouido, Yongsan and Cine de Chef in Apgujeong.


  • Feb. 7 (Sat.) – 5:55pm


  • Feb. 7 – 5pm


  • Feb. 8 – 7:05pm

Cine de Chef:

  • Feb. 7 – 10:10pm
  • Feb. 8 – 10:10pm
  • Feb. 9 – 3:30pm
  • Feb. 10 – 10:10pm

Here’s the trailer, with English subtitles:

Ode to My Father – English subtitles

Just a little fyi, there are still a few CGV theaters showing the latest big hit, Ode to My Father, with English subtitles. CGV’s website is a bit tough to negotiate for non-Korean speakers, so, if you’d like to check out the fifth-biggest Korean movie of all time:

CGV Yeouido

  • Jan. 21 at 7pm
  • Jan. 24 at 5:40pm

CGV Yongsan

  • Jan. 22 at 8:25pm
  • Jan. 25 at 8:35pm

CGV Shinchon Artreon

  • Jan. 21 at 7:45pm


(HT: Hamel)


Changsin-dong in winter

Just a few pics from Changsin-dong, just to the north of Dongdaemun, in the park that runs along the wall.

changsindong hill


changsindong hill2





Dongdaemun chalet

And a little something from the Dongdaemun Design Plaza.

DDP Flower Top

My typical view on the way to the subway in the morning.

Shinchon morning

Outrage, bias and growing older

I was taking a look at traffic to this little blog (bloguita?) a little while ago, and noticed a few hits coming from the forum attached to a popular Korean pop culture website. There, on a thread all about the actor Bae Yong-joon, one commenter had linked to my website, saying some nice things about Pop Goes Korea, but also making some strange claims about my “bias” against Bae Yong-joon, apparently instead favoring Lee Byung-hun.

Which I thought was more than a little odd. I mean, there’s a lot in the book about Lee because, well, there’s a whole chapter that profiles him. But in that chapter, when I talk about the rise of the Korean Wave, I clearly indicated the prime importance of Winter Sonata, the drama that made Bae so internationally famous. I may have tweaked Bae’s obsessive fandom once or twice in the past, but I think I’ve always given him his due.


So if I talked a lot about Lee Byung-hun, it was because he was the subject of the chapter, and because he was generous enough to give me plenty of time for interviews, responding to my many questions. Bae would have been a great choice for a TV chapter, but at the time, he just wasn’t interested in participating in the book (and I had some contacts with his company and manager at the time, so wasn’t just cold-calling from out of nowhere).

But, being the Internet, people like to speculate, which led to some really odd comments, like maybe I preferred Lee Byung-hun because his personal scandals appealed to my male sensibilities. Very, very odd. If anyone wanted to take a moment to research a little, they would have found plenty of stories about the importance of Winter Sonata  and Bae in Hallyu history.

Anyhow, it definitely was not a big deal. I only mention it because of some other online fusses I’ve seen lately. There’s apparently a squadron of people who loathe the very nice folks at Eat Your Kimchi, so when EYK was announced as a guest on some Arirang TV show, a mini-mob arose, accusing EYK of all sorts of ridiculous stuff (like fat-shaming, which would be, like, the exact opposite point of their videos on the topic). The mind boggles.

Fans of K-pop groups are always quick to switch to outrage mode, whenever someone is perceived to have slighted their favorites. Some of those fans are famous for being totally unhinged.

But it isn’t just Korean pop culture fans, of course. It seems like any field where people are the least bit passionate, that passion turns so quickly and easily into a wild, mob mentality. Left hate right. Right hates left. The fantasy and science fiction communities, also love a good flame war (“So-and-so famous writer from the past was racist!” being a popular starting point).

All of which makes me so happy to be middle-aged. I have my loves and dislikes, but aside from my family, all my music favs, art, movies or whatever have a much more moderate place in my psyche. “I hate X.” “Oh, okay. I quite like X, but that’s all right.” Life is so much more pleasant this way.

* * *

Then again, no shortage of the big Twitter flame wars involve adults, so I guess age doesn’t mellow everyone.

Korean box office — another year, another record

And so it was, on Dec. 30, with just one day left in the year, Korean movie theaters once again set a new attendance record. At least, that’s how it looks on KOBIS, where yesterday finished at 213.1 million admissions, just shy of last year’s 213.3 million.

Of course, when it comes to actual revenue, 2014 set a new record a few weeks ago — 1.65 trillion won ($1.5 billion), versus 1.55 trillion won last year.

Roaring Currents

As for Korean movies, as a percentage it was a bit of a down year, and thanks to a late surge does it look like they’ll finish the year right at 50 percent of ticket sales. That’s down from last year’s amazing 59.7 percent, but still pretty frickin’ good.  They made about 811 billion won, which is the third-best ever.

The Hollywood studios, on the other hand, must be ecstatic, setting huge records across the board. 106 million admissions is 23 percent higher than their previous record, and 839 billion won is also a huge record.

Anything else worth mentioning? ADMIRAL: ROARING CURRENTS was crazy popular, of course, making 135 billion won. But 12 Korean movies made more than 20 billion won, and 22 made more than 10 billion won, so from where I sit, the industry looks pretty healthy.

I do find it pretty cool that in all my years in Korea, the movie biz has set new attendance records almost every single year (save three or four, I think).

Be steelpan my beating heart

So, it’s winter. It’s dark and cold. China keeps farting out its pollution onto us in Korea. How to chase the blues away? Steelpan drums!

Okay, maybe not to everyone’s taste. But here are two songs that I have been finding irrepressibly cheery lately. First, Duke Dumont’s dance song “I Got U”:

And here’s “Flying White Pillow” by Korean indie band Telepathy (the version of the song they recorded for Fred Perry Subculture, which is much more interesting than the original, thanks in part to the steelpan sound):

That’s all. Nothing about The Interview, Nut Rage, or politics or any of that annoying stuff. I just like these songs and have been listening to them together a lot.

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