Talk: Sympathetically, Gravely? North Korean Spies in Recent South Korean Cinema (SungKongHoe University, Monday 4pm)

North Korean Spies in Recent South Korean Cinema -- Stephen EpsteinSorry for the short notice. Please check out the posters for the details (click to enlarge).

Call for Papers: The 3rd World Congress for Hallyu

I’ve been asked to pass on the following:

wahs call for papers and contest flyerFrom the accompanying email (slightly edited by me):

…I am emailing on behalf of WAHS to inform you of an upcoming international conference in Dubai on Hallyu Studies. The conference, World Congress on Hallyu, is the third of its kind and aims to bring together academics, students, and organizations who have an interest in the phenomenon of the Korean wave, known as Hallyu. Currently, we have branches of research in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, North America, and Europe.

I have a attached a flyer for an official “call for papers” for undergraduate and graduate students. I hope that you can pass it along to students who would be interested in submitting to the conference or contest. The undergraduate student essay winners are eligible to win a cash prize for their research, while graduate students are eligible for free airfare and accommodation to the conference to present their research. Graduate students seriously interested in attending are urged to sign up for a WAHS membership to receive a discount conference entrance fee and possible stipends for our future spring conference.

More information can be found at the official conference website, via the Facebook page, or via Twitter.

Meanwhile, apologies that a bad flu and the start of the new semester has delayed the follow-up to my last post, and I’ll try to have it up soon :)

Korean Sociological Image #90: Watch Out For Those Italian Men…

Two back-to-back YouTube commercials for SK Telecom’s “T Roaming” Service, which have a blatant double standard:

In the first, actor Son Ho-jun freaks out when his girlfriend tells him she’s going on an overseas trip with her old college friends. First, he asks if any men are coming with her, but relaxes when she reminds him that she went to a women’s college. Only to freak out again when he learns she’s going to Italy:

T Roaming Italian MenWhatever your gender or sexuality, if your partner can’t trust you not to bang your friends or the natives when you’re more than a few days away from each other, then in my book that’s your excuse to move on and do precisely that.

But I’ll grant that it’s just a commercial, and that Son Ho-jun’s reactions are exaggerated for comedic effect. Also, provided you’re not too clingy, there’s nothing wrong at all with staying in touch while your partner’s away.

The double-standard lies in the huge contrast with the second commercial, which shows what Ho-jun needs the roaming service for when he’s overseas: access to a translation app, without which he doesn’t realize the local women are throwing themselves at him.

T Roaming French WomanOr, once he does realize that “With T Roaming, [he] can translate, take pictures, and do anything [he likes]”, that he can set up his own harem:

Foreign Women T RoamingAgain, it’s innocuous in itself, and I’m all for taking advantage of technology to make sure people don’t miss out on any potential liaisons. Given the selling point of the first commercial though, it’s a bizarre choice of follow-up.

Instead, I would have plumped for a more provocative, much more memorable version with his girlfriend and foreign men, showing Ho-jun exactly what she thinks of insecure boyfriends who want to keep electronic tabs on her.

Or, if that was indeed deemed too provocative, then simply two more commercials with the sexes reversed. As the only extra costs would have been the additional male actors and the extra shooting time, then you really have to wonder why not.

Because without those versions, these ones not only seem entirely aimed at men, but it’s very difficult not to contrast his Korean girlfriend’s childishness in the first—and lack of an angry response to his question about her male friends—with the boldness and confidence of the foreign women in the second. It’s also difficult not to place the commercials in the Korean media’s long history of depicting foreign women as sexual conquests, but foreign men as something to defend Korean women against. (Although this has been improving in recent years.)

What do you think?

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image Series, see here)

Korean Sociological Image #84: What’s that old, fat, bald, white guy doing here?

S Diary Busan Play Audience(Sources, edited: Interpark, Miscellaneous Maddness)

GLASGOW (n.): The feeling of infinite sadness engendered when walking through a place filled with happy people fifteen years younger than yourself.

The Meaning of Liff, Douglas Adams and John Lloyd (1983)

Ever been tempted to watch S Diary, because of its eye-catching posters? Don’t. It’s decidedly less raunchy than it looks, even by 2004 standards, and it’s strangely serious for a romantic comedy. Instead, watch it for what it is: “a simple exploration of a woman’s past romantic relationships and how they influenced her,” and for the insights — and confidence in future relationships — that can be gained from doing so. (Also, for Kim Sun-a‘s suburb acting.)

Customer Demographics BusanAs my first Korean play then, and the first night out my wife and I will have had together since we had kids, we could do much worse. But we noticed something strange when we went to check the dates and times: scroll down the page on the ticketing site, and you’ll notice an age and sex breakdown of those customers who’ve already bought tickets online, as seen on the right.

This one is for the Busan play; interestingly, the sex ratio is reversed for the Seoul one (click here if you are reading this after its run has ended). Also, the data may not be entirely accurate: when my wife does buy two tickets, will those be counted as two 35 year-old women in the data (which would make no sense), or will she be asked to—possibly even required to—provide more information about the other attendee?

We’ll let you know, once my sister-in-law tells us when she’s available to babysit(!). (Update: All booked. My wife wasn’t asked for information about the second ticket holder.) Either way, it turns out that providing these statistics may be standard for online booking sites in Korea, as indicated by a similar breakdown for online tickets to the The Fault in Our Stars movie on the CGV website. It gives the same results regardless of the cinema chosen, so I presume that they’re nationwide figures (again interestingly, the male to female ratio is the exact opposite of what you’d expect for a romance movie):

The Fault in Our Stars -- Customer Demographics(Source: CGV)

I’d appreciate it if readers can send any more examples, and/or let me know if they’re also available when booking tickets online in other countries. If not, and they turn out to be unique to Korea and/or (I suspect) the East Asian region, what significance do you think that has? Does it speak to any wider feature of Korean society or culture?

Of course, Koreans are not alone in tending to avoid events where they’re likely to be significantly older or younger than the majority of other participants or audience members. The main question is, why do Korean companies make this information available to them? Is it simply testament to the importance of age in Korean relationships? Is it because more people would go if they felt the audience matched their own demographic, than be dissuaded because it didn’t? Or it is just useful extra information given on a whim, which shouldn’t be overanalyzed? Please let me know your thoughts.

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image series, see here.)

Finding a place to call your own – My Place

My Place Eng Poster

I’ve been asked to pass on the following:

[Press statement]

Finding a place to call your own – My Place

Foreigners in Korea often find themselves caught between cultures. Whether you are adjusting to your new English teaching job, working with Korean colleagues, in a relationship with a Korean partner, or even just travelling as a tourist, you are sometimes baffled, at times intrigued, and certainly trying to navigate through the differences you encounter. For people who find themselves in a transnational context, the documentary <My Place> will speak volumes.

The heart-felt film, <My Place>, depicts an intimate portrait of the director’s own family struggling to overcome past wounds of reverse migration from Canada to Korea. Family members, each in a different way, had to deal with the hurdles of societal norms, a repressive education system, and gender inequality dealt to them by the Korean society. This illuminating film explores clashes between Western and Eastern cultures, traditional values versus the contemporary, and broader themes of societal normalcy, identity, and belonging.

The film begins when the director’s little sister decides to become an unwed single mom. The little sister decides to raise the child in Canada as she never felt welcome in her parent’s homeland, South Korea. As the film progresses, the lives of parents, intertwined with Korea’s modern history is discovered, while family members try to come together to face the challenges of raising a new baby outside of the traditional family form. While following the trajectories of family members, constantly on the move in search of their own place, the film seemingly concludes that ‘My place’ isn’t so much a spot on the map, but a place that lies in the relationships that one holds close to their heart.

After touring the film festival circuit, while winning numerous awards on its way (among others, Jeonju International Film Festival – Audience Critics’ Prize, Seoul Independent Film Festival – Jury Prize) the film is now preparing for its theatrical release on January 30th. The film has also won the Audience Award, at last year’s Chewsock Film Festival – as the name implies, a film festival for expats bored during the Chuseok holiday in Korea – proving that the honesty of this deeply personal documentary and universal theme of yearning for a place in this world, transcends language barriers and cultural differences, while its subtle commentary on the differences between Eastern and Western cultures seem to speak to the experiences of expats in Korea.

To cater to the needs of foreigners, English subtitles will be provided for all screenings at the KT&G Sangsang Madang Theater in Hongdae district, and Indieplus near Sinsa Station. One other theater in Seoul ― IndieSpace near Gwanghwamun Station ― will also provide English subs for screenings from Jan. 29 to Feb. 1, during the Lunar New Year Holiday(Sulnal).

*KT&G SangsangMadang Cinema (Hongdae) : 02-330-6200

*INDIEPLUS (Sinsa) : 02-3447-0650

*INDIESPACE (Gwangwhamoon) : 02-738-0366

*For more info on Screenings with English subtitles :

*More info on film: (Korean with some English) (Korean) (Korean)

A Queer Week in Seoul!

Gay Short Film Festival plus 11th Annual Queer (Lesbian) Culture Festival(Sources: left, right)

Sorry for the late notice, but this week features the both the 11th Annual Queer (Lesbian) Culture Festival and the 2nd Gay Short Film Festival, both in Seoul (I’m unsure if they’re related). See Psyched in S.Korea and The Kimchi Queen respectively for further details.

Update: The Kimchi Queen has expanded upon the information about the Queer (Lesbian) Culture Festival also.

Why the Japanese Don’t Illegally Download Music. Much.

Bodacious Space Pirates(Source)

For all their passion, home-grown fans are not paying enough for K-Pop.

The CD industry is stagnant, and digital music sites are seen as vastly underpriced, with some charging just a few cents a song.

Bernie Cho, head of music distribution label DFSB Kollective, says online music sellers have dropped their prices too low in a bid to compete with pirated music sites….

….With downward pressure on music prices at home, “Many top artists make more money from one week in Japan than they do in one year in Korea.”

(BBC, June 2011)

With many implications for the Korean music industry, and raising many questions about the curious preferential treatment given Korean fans over international ones, I’ve been quoting Bernie ever since. So too Sony Pictures chief Michael Lynton and Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore on movies, the latter of whom suggested that cultural differences are the main reason that Koreans illegally download so much more of them than the Japanese:

…governments around the world are subsidizing and promoting the ubiquity of high speed broadband to make their economies more efficient and competitive. With this increase in speed, content will travel that much more easily on the Internet. But without restraints, much of that content will be contraband.

I’ve already seen it happen in South Korea, which has one of the most highly developed broadband networks in the world. But piracy has also become so highly developed there that we and virtually every other studio has recently had to curtail or close down our home entertainment businesses. It’s hard to sell a legal DVD when it can be stolen without any repercussions.

(Michael Lynton, The Telegraph, May 2009; source, below)

Iron Man 2 Japanese Poster…Paramount is holding back the release of “Iron Man 2” in Japan for several weeks, having little fear about the country being swamped with bootleg copies of the film.

However, when it comes to Korea, it’s a different story. “For better or worse, there are certain countries — notably like Korea — where it’s culturally acceptable to download movies online pretty much right away,” said Moore. “By the third week of a movie’s release, you’re starting to see a large part of the audience who will start consuming the film online. It’s why Korea has almost no home video business anymore.”

(Rob Moore, Los Angeles Times, May 2010; via The Marmot’s Hole)

Given Lynton and Moore’s frustrations, readers — and myself — can be forgiven for accepting that culture must have something to do with it, and that this would necessarily apply to music too. However, I’ve just finished reading Ian Condry’s brilliant Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization (2006), a must-read for all Japanese and — yes — Korean music fans (I’ll explain in a review later this month), who adds two crucial economic and technological reasons that few outsiders to Japan would be aware of:

Ian Condry Hip-Hop Japan(Source)

Two other aspects that distinguish Japan’s music market are rental CD shops and low rates of online piracy. These characteristics further demonstrate that abstract markets do not operate separately from their concrete settings. In Japan, recorded music sale rose steadily during the postwar period, peaked in 1998, and then began a sharp decline that continued through 2004. The start of the decline coincided with the emergence of Napster in 1999, but there are reason to think that online piracy offers only a partial explanation for the decline in sales. As I discuss elsewhere, online piracy is less prevalent in Japan than in the United States. In Japan, most young people access the Internet using cell phones, which as yet tend to have neither broadband connections not substantial hard drives. In addition, ubiquitous CD rental shops make it relatively easy and inexpensive to sample new music without relying on unauthorized downloads. CD prices are high in Japan, generally between ¥2,500 and ¥3000 (US $23-27), but renting a CD is very cheap, generally around ¥300 ($3). The widening availability of CD burners contributes to this “sneaker net” for passing around music and also limits the attractiveness of online file sharing. This suggests that the lack of online piracy arises less from a national respect for copyright than from the combination of a business setting in which rental shops make it easy for consumers to sample music cheaply and a technology environment dominated by Internet-ready cell phones that make downloading over peer-to-peer networks unfeasible.

(pages 190-191; my emphasis)

Written well before smartphones had made their debut, clearly that description is a little dated. Indeed, by 2012, the Recording Industry Association of Japan estimated that only 1 in 10 music downloads were legally purchased, prompting the Japanese government to introduce harsh fines and jail times* for — uniquely — the illegal downloading (rather than the more usual uploading) of content, which in turn provoked an attack on government websites by Anonymous.

However, the Japanese are notorious for stubbornly sticking to outdated technology. Common-sense dictates that looking only at digital downloads would give a very skewed impression of the Japanese music market, which is still the second biggest in the world.

Japan Smartphone(Source)

For just last week, Japan Realtime reported that CD sales are booming:

“The Japanese market is very different from the rest of the world,” said Mr. Minewaki [CEO of Tower Records Japan]…

….While global sales of physical CDs have been plunging under pressure from the digital download market, Japanese CD sales bucked this trend in 2012 with a 9% rise from a year earlier, according to the Recording Industry Association of Japan. Tower Records Japan is majority-owned by Japan’s largest wireless carrier NTT DoCoMo Inc.

Mr. Minewaki said CDs continue to do well in Japan because of legal constraints that curbs rapid discounting, a lag in consumers switching from feature phones to smartphones, and the popularity of rental CD shops where consumers can rent then copy music, a cheaper alternative than buying songs or albums online.

But the compact disc business isn’t completely immune to the marching popularity of digital downloads…

Meanwhile, here in Korea, I don’t think I’ve even touched a CD in the last year. Although I do have hundreds, being 37 years old and all…

How about yourself? Are CD rental stores also still around in Japan?

*Like most articles praising the rapid rise of the Korean digital music market and the supposed success of Korean anti-piracy efforts, this article completely fails to mention how absurdly cheap Korean digital tracks are, as noted by Bernie Cho in the opening quote.