Archive for the ‘Entertain Me’ Category

We Love Korea Because…

In Entertain Me on April 12, 2012 at 9:26 pm

So there has a been a lack of the usual topics rolling out at Inconseoulable of late, due to a few extra projects that are on the go.  One of which is happily completed!

My friend Doyoung Kim, of the band DMZ Picnic, and I have put together a video of what we know and love about Korea.  Nothing is for nothing these days and this is for a competition run by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, so I will go ahead and shamelessly ask for your support to just check it out.  We had a quite a time putting it together, and it’s pretty much a 3 minute glimpse of what a Korean day can throw at you.

Thanks as always for your support 🙂


K-Pop Fan Clubs: Friend, Foe and Fear

In Entertain Me on March 2, 2012 at 11:37 pm

One could not pretend to know anything about Korea without at least acknowledging the existence of K-Pop and it’s impressive influence.  Even if you’re  personally not a fan of the music, hat-tips must go to its sheer success and sustainability.  Hallyu remains the driving force behind getting Korea whispered on the lips of residents in far flung lands.  Whilst we could spend endless hours picking apart just what makes K-Pop the object of obsessions and passionate followings, there’s one aspect that divides and in many respects frightens.  The K-Pop Fan Club.

Photo Credit

Perhaps you drop into conversation that you are a fan of a particular musician.  You have all their albums, follow them on twitter, and you make a point of going to all their concerts.   You would consider yourself to be….a fan.  But in reality you haven’t even scratched the surface of what it means to be a true K-Pop Fan. What is  so different from K-Pop Fan Clubs from those of other artists?  For a start, K-Pop is so accessible and personal that fans can feel close and attached to their idols.  Artists hold Fan Meetings regularly, appear on TV almost daily, and make appearances in shopping malls and random public places at the drop of a hat.  We can know their every move, their personal habits, we can feel like we’ve known ‘Oppa’ forever.  K-Pop Stars do not have the same celebrity airs and graces that international artists have, which can disconnect fans from feeling like they really matter.  Sure fans are the first to be thanked after a Grammy win, but fans are really just an intangible entity.  Korean artists are acutely aware of how important the fan base is to their success or demise, and do everything possible to connect with them.  And they are rewarded with a fierce, sometimes unnerving loyalty.

You might think if you joined the Facebook group page of your favourite K-Pop artist that you are in the fan club.  Alas, no it’s a far more demanding commitment than that.  Every artist’s fan club has their own specific name such as Big Bang has V.I.P, the Wondergirls have Wonderful, and 2PM has Hottest (because all-important record label owner JYP considers 2pm to be the hottest time of the day.)  TVXQ, also known as DBSK, has the club Cassiopeia, which has the largest membership in the world, and has been in the Guinness Book of World Records twice.  If you are in a fan club, you are not permitted to be a fan of anyone else.  Loyalty is key.  You must also love and support all members and not criticize them, though you might have a ‘bias’ or a favorite member.

Above:  The After School official colour was released as ‘Pearl Periwinkle’ – Photo Credit

Not only does each club get a name, they also get a unique color.  How does an industry with dozens apon dozens of clubs manage to get their own colour you say?  With descriptions such as Pastel Rose (Girl’s Generation) and Pearlescent Sky Blue (SHINee).  For a full list of colours and names check here.  It may sound like it’s going a bit far, but at concerts where many different artists perform, it’s essential to display the correct colour for your club or you may be mistaken for a different fan.  The travesty of such a confusion cannot be underestimated.

And this is where we come to the dark side of K-Pop fan clubs.  Korea is of course home to netizen culture, and the internet provides the perfect platform for obsession to take root and flourish.   The ease in which fans  and anti-fans can create forums and websites, both for and against their idols, leads to vicious rivalries and expressions of hatred.  Internet fans have a make, break or obliterate power that manifests from unstable personal projections.   Some of the more infamous incidents include a crip vs blood-esque showdown between rival fan clubs at the 2008 Dream concert, which resulted in 20 people hospitalized.  All because of a ripped poster.  TVXQ member Junho was allegedly poisoned by a crazed anti-fan who put glue in his drink, and there have been numerous accounts of threats and malicious objects sent to members of other groups.  For a more detailed list of the work of anti fans check here.

Photo Credit

Perhaps one of the saddest  examples of the power and cruelty of anti-fans was the speculation over Epik-High member Tablo’s education credentials.  Amidst a scandal of other stars forging their university qualifications, Tablo’s Stanford achievements were not only called into question but he and his family relentlessly vilified.  No matter what he did to prove his innocence, the netizens had a rebuke.   It reached a point where his family were receiving threats and he could no longer walk down the street for fear of being accosted.  A full and incredulous account of the story can be found here at the Stanford Alumni Magazine.

Fan club rivalries and anti-fans are a force to be feared, and a K-Pop star needs a thick skin not to succumb to their onslaughts.  They can be so overt in their hatred, they may even create suicide petitions calling for ‘offending’ stars to just end it themselves.  What is so frightening is that the offenses themselves are either unfounded, non-existent, or so minor as not to warrant the blood curdling battle cries of those who have been ‘wronged’.  2PM leader Park Jay Beom reportedly had anti-fans demanding his suicide after an anti-Korea posting on his My Space page, years before he became a pop-star, was picked up and publicized.  Nevermind the fact he was an American born teenager in Korea at the time, and bound to have had a few cultural angry days.

But fan clubs are not all bad.  Their role is also for the promotion of their idols and participating in charitable works.  The father of Korean pop, Seo Taiji, has recently had a forest in Brazil protected and named after him by his fan club.  The ‘Seo Taiji Forest’ cost a whopping 38 million won collected from his dedicated fan base.  The Japanese fans  U-Know recently donated 22 million won to the Gwangju Community Chest of Korea, to assist students of low income families.  Some of the more popular group fan clubs such as ELF of Super Junior, have been donating rice on the birthdays of members in their honor.  Ironically, a small faction of Jay Park’s fan club donated a million won to help a 5 year old boy with mental and physical disabilities.  It goes to show that the fans will fight for you, just as hard as the anti fans will fight against you.

It remains that K-pop stars are at the mercy of fans and their internet connections.  It’s all part and parcel for the entity that is the Korean pop industry, and entertainment companies are old pro’s at how to shape and mold their images.

She’s Not That Into You…or Is She?

In Entertain Me on January 31, 2012 at 10:49 pm

On an idle day of channel surfing I unsuspectingly landed on the Men’s Channel XTM and found a show I couldn’t turn away from.  On first appearances it seemed like just another game show, but what stopped my trigger happy remote finger was the conveyor belt of women performing an array of bizarre songs and dances.  Confused?  I sure was, so let me explain what I think I have figured out.

The show is called 그녀는 당신에게 반하지 않았다…which basically translates to That Girl is Not That Into You.  It starts with a male contestant who is positioned behind a podium and he is presented with 12 women, some of whom would like to date him and others who do not.  Those that don’t will still lie through their teeth to get him to choose them.

Photo Source

The women are zoomed out on a conveyor belt and the male contestant will press a pass or fail button, thus whittling down the lady suitors to 4 finalists through a series of challenges.  After girls are pitted against each other for things like ‘best sexy dance’ or ‘show us your aegyo’, they are two by two put into a water booth.  The male contestant makes his pick and drenches the loser  to ‘ooohs’ and ‘awwws’ from a sympathetic crowd.  When he finally gets down to one lucky lady, he himself goes into the booth and finds out if she is a ‘good girl’ or a ‘bad girl’.  If his women screening skills are not up to scratch he himself becomes soggy Sam.

Photo Source

Now it can be said that we have all sorts of similarly degrading and ego deflating date shows, but this program shines up some interesting Korean social trends.  Where ‘Blind Date’ shows might have contestants behind a screen so we can ask questions to find ‘inner beauty’, this show puts appearance as number one.  Women get chosen on what they look like, how they dress, how they move along the conveyor belt of love.  Moreover there is no direct conversation between the male contestant and his girlfriend wannabes.  As they slide across the screen, the women talk and ask questions of ‘Oppa’, but his only response is an obnoxious buzzer.  And of course, there is the obligatory plastic surgery test where a doctor pokes and prods noses and eyelids to determine who’s had a nip or tuck.

You could be forgiven for thinking this to be a male chauvinistic program, but the more I watch this show it’s the women who make me uneasy.  Some women who choose to come on the show have no intentions of dating the contestant, they just want to see if they can fool him into believing they do.  They put on their best performance, professing their sincerity and telling him things he wants to hear.  I for one can’t tell the saints from liars, so I can only imagine how he feels.

When they finally confess their undying disinterest to the audience, a common reason emerges as to why they would do this.  It was their boyfriend’s idea!  Many women say they watch the show with their boyfriend, and either he suggests it, or the women see it as some kind of challenge.  One women said quote “I saw the other women do it and I thought, ‘this is easy I can do that!'”.  What does this say about the morality and self respect of women, where we pride ourselves in being able to fool men into believing we like them?  It’s hard enough to guess the true intentions of one another when dating, how are we ever going to trust people when we can see just how easily they can lie?




Hits From Someone Else’s Bong

In Entertain Me on April 26, 2011 at 12:13 am

It just goes to show that sometimes research can only go so far, but conversation sometimes yields the most interesting facts of all.  As a quick follow up to my recent post about the Seo Taeji and E Jiah scandal, I was recently educated on the musical accomplishments of Taeji and the Boys.  Turns out, as acclaimed as they may be, they were also accused of stealing.  Not unusual in the Korean music industry, as a number of artists have been drawn up on charges of pinching true musicians’ talent.  Sometimes it’s a stretch and sometimes it’s blatantly obvious.

Whilst not all of Taeji and the Boys’ stylings are from other sources, this song simply cannot be reasoned away.  During the fabulous 90’s with Hammer Pants and Kriss Kross making us Jump, Jump, Seo Taeji was clearly listening to far too much Cypress Hill.  Maybe he thought nobody would notice, but quite honestly I’m not sure how.  Of all the artists to copy, Cypress Hill is hardly the inconspicuous choice.  Yet it’s still refreshing to see that 90’s hip hop was thriving across all cultures, even if it were somewhat replicated.  To know that people of my generation from Korea are also familiar with similarly embarrassing 90’s hip hop dance moves, actually makes me feel closer.  They might not be exactly the same as Vanilla Ice or Marky Mark…..but they’re awfully close.   I’ll let you be the judge on the Cypress Hill connection.

Married for 14 Years and Nobody Knew

In Entertain Me, In The News on April 23, 2011 at 3:28 pm

If there’s one absolute about Korean society, it’s that news scandals about Korean celebrities travel at warp speed.  Usually they consist of plastic surgery suspicions, forged university qualifications, and of course the sordid world of who’s dating who.  This week, however, the celebrity scandal equivalent of an atomic bomb dropped on the news and social networking communities.  One of Korea’s most famous musicians, 39 year old Seo Tae Ji managed to conceal a marriage of 14 years and subsequent divorce 5 years since to actress E Ji-Ah.   And we’re only just now finding out about it.  Hats off to them for perhaps the longest running well kept secret in celebrity history.

So, when? How? Why? And for people like me who are not quite up to date on my Korean celebrities….Who??  For the purposes of a good story, let me fill you in on the background by starting with the Who.

Who is Seo Taeji?  Actually the more I read about him, the more I am intrigued.  During the 90’s Seo was the front man of a rock/metal/alternative music group known as “Seo Taeji and Boys”.  A high-school dropout who believed school was a system that did nothing but corrupt the minds of youth, his music was anti-establishment and provoked rebellion in a culture with few such peers.  The band’s songs ranged from unification, anti-cramming, gangs and runaways, and in 1994 their third album was accused of having backwards satanic messages.  Controversial, certainly, but Seo and the Boys had a massive following.  Despite attempts in 1995 to have their 4th album censored, support for the band led to the system of pre-censorship being abolished.  The group emotionally retired in 1996 at the height of their success to which Seo reasoned his drive for perfection as a fatal flaw, much to the devastation of Korean fans.

But still, who is Seo Taeji the man?  He comes off as mysterious and secretive, not surprising given the recent revelations.  His bio reads with a stutter, as there are frequent periods of absence where he simply disappears for years at a time.  He is intensely personal and few people seem to know anything about his private life.  Regarding his marriage and divorce, not his company nor his closest friends had a clue, stating he would often just leave to different countries and so nobody knew anything about him.  Others say he created his mysterious persona to sell records, as his solo career recently included a “Mystery Project” with singles thus title themed such as “Bermuda Triangle” and “Wormhole”.   While E Jiah’s camp has issued a formal statement about recent events, still nobody even knows where Seo Taeji is, and his silence only fuels the curiosity.

And E Jiah?  Who is she?  She is a similarly curious creature who is no stranger to mystery.  She has even been called an “Alien” in the media and there has often been rumors as to her private life.  I guess now we know why.  Born in South Korea, she moved to the US in elementary school to study, where she first met Seo Taeji at a concert at age 15.   As Seo returned to Korea, the pair began their mysterious long distance relationship, and married 4 years later when E was 20.  No doubt Seo Taeji’s music commitments, and from what we can conclude his fickle lifestyle, the relationship ended in 2006.   E debuted into the drama scene in 2007 in a drama called “Legend” and has been in a number of successful dramas such as “Beethoven Virus” and “Athena: Goddess of War”.

And here’s where the dirty laundry comes out.  E Jiah is currently dating another Korean celebrity, 37 year old actor Jung Woo-Sung, who like every other person surrounding the lives of E and Seo, knew nothing of the decade and a half marriage.  How did it finally come out?  Money. E Jiah has officially filed for a divorce settlement of 5.5 billion won (roughly $5.4 million) as the pair could not come to an agreement privately.  All of Korea is abuzz with the details of this story, including sensationalist rumors that they actually have two kids together.    Korea’s once “President of Culture”, a successful new actress and a long standing heart throb.  How could nobody have known?

“Even She Has a Fault….Her Healthy Looking Legs!”

In Entertain Me, In The News, The Social Fabric on April 1, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Those of us who have lived in western countries, especially during those crucial formative teenage years, have of course been well versed in the evils of media manipulation and its negative impact on self image.  To us it’s old hat.  Radicals on both sides of the body image fence wage war, while the moderates claim one way and act another.  I too am no saint; whilst telling one friend they should not be so silly as to punish themselves with a senseless diet, I might in the same day skip lunch. The point being, that body image and how one deals with it is nobody’s crisis but their own, and it’s a battle won by the individual.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t be aware of what’s going on out there.  Today I came across a video clip posted by Arirang, Korea’s English news media and entertainment network.  Their company statement is “Korea for the world, the world for Korea.”  As a rule I don’t get upset or outraged by many things, and I can usually see both sides of an argument no matter how polarized they may be.  But this one had me flummoxed.  The clip may be viewed here. Those that are easily offended are cautioned. 

For those who’d prefer not to be unnecessarily fumed, I’ll mention a few choice quotes.  The segment critically evaluates the lower bodies of famous, and by all accounts attractive, Korean stars.  It uses the word “healthy” as some kind of code word for “fat and undesirable”, and suggests in no uncertain terms for such ‘afflicted’ stars to do something about it.  One such disturbing caption described the actress’s legs as “Her fatal fault!  Her thick ankles and calf muscles.” Until now I have never heard the sentence “….even she has a fault….her healthy looking legs.” Nevermind the fact that I literally cannot discern how such a conclusion can be drawn.  The standard is so unrealistically set, that I for one cannot quite get my mind to imagine what it must be.  The images that are being described as ‘sturdy’ and ‘well developed’, are slim and shapely.

It is a concern that the face of Korea’s international media is reporting in such  a socially irresponsible manner.  Korea’s social image is not what it was 30, 20 or even 10 years ago.  The new generation is forging a new identity, post democratization and mid globalization.  Until the 1970’s, full figured women were considered sexually desirable, exhibiting that they were more likely to produce healthy sons.  This was a notion held by western societies almost a century ago, and has since been well and truly discarded.  In Korea’s accelerated social development, Koreans now face these  same dilemmas but in a culturally conflicted context. The media, as has been well documented, plays a key role in shaping society’s image of itself, and as such should be carefully monitored.  Arirang’s reporting was careless, and not to mention insulting to the women it profiled.

Unfortunately, the consequence of unrealistic media body image portrayal is the effect on the average citizen.  Dr. Kim Joon Ki traveled to Japan in 1991 to study eating disorders, where today anorexia afflicts 1 in every 100 young Japanese women, a figure comparable to the US.  Before she went to Japan, Dr. Kim had encountered only 1 anorexia patient in Korea.  Within 2 years of opening her own private eating disorder clinic, she saw over 200 patients, half of which presented with bulemia.  Korea’s national obsession over image and attractiveness is overt and unabashed, and this may be why Arirang reporters may get away with such shameful behaviour.  Because it’s what men and women are actually thinking.

In 1996, a survey of 469 college women revealed some frightening statistics.  of all the women, 55.9% were underweight, and of these women, 74% felt like they needed to lose wight in order to look attractive.  57.6% engaged in excessive dieting.  Whilst the survey scope was not extensive, it still speaks volumes.

Despite the rise in cases of eating disorders in recent years, Dr. Kim says they are still relatively rare.  Korea still has not reached the crisis point witnessed in Japan or the US, but that does not give cause for complacency.  Media outlets which are permitted to run their agendas unchecked and unchallenged will send those numbers soaring.  Korea should expect more from its agencies and use its pop culture supremacy to lead by example.  One thing I respect most about Korea is its ability to change. Here’s hoping that in this regard it changes for the better.



Fear Eats the Seoul

In Entertain Me, The Social Fabric on March 5, 2011 at 1:41 pm

I’ve never met an ESL teacher in Korea that has not had some kind of gripe about their school, boss, kids, landlady, landlady that is their boss who owns the school their kid goes to…

But now there is a film that may work out that aggression, told from one who knows it first hand. Nick Calder has thrown off the shackles of an easy stereotype, and committed himself to doing what he loves whilst still educating the Korean masses.  His first film “Fear Eats the Seoul” is a bloody horror with monsters and demons, as metaphoric as any would wish to take it.  Currently in post production, there is already a buzz amongst the expat community anxious to support someone breaking the mold.

Korean society is a swiftly evolving creature, that if you close your eyes for a few years you may not recognize it when you open them again.  It’s quite impressive to watch, but watching is not enough.  The expat community has a task to keep up with this change, and challenge its own existence within Korean society.  There’s no secret that the ESL teacher reputation is not altogether glorious, assumptions made about money makers and 24 hour party people.  Whilst this may still hold true to some measure, there is an increasing number of expats who are trying to make a greater contribution.  The point is, realizing that you can.  There is not a lot of information out there about how to go about exploiting your talents and skills without selling your soul to schools. But that makes the challenge all the more rewarding.  Being a part of diversifying Korea’s culture in a positive and constructive way is inspiring in itself.

A great percentage of teachers that come here are not teachers at all, and it can be easy to forget what it was you once were before you arrived.  Nick summed it up perfectly in an interview with Sugar and Thunder.

“It came from hating my last job as a preschool ESL teacher and feeling like I had become complacent. There are situations in Korea that I can’t help but culturally clash with, including teaching English to 18 month old babies. I was very unhappy because I had no clue what I was doing in the classroom anymore. It dawned on me that I was venturing so far from the path I once set out to take. And ultimately making decent money and having a free place was not enough. My dream kept bubbling to the surface while I was trying to push it down for the sake of a comfortable lifestyle.

So I finally quit that job and found a part-time one and my own place, which opened up my mind and my time to follow my own path. It became clear then that money was not as important if I was able to do what I was passionate about. So I finally accepted I AM a filmmaker and if that is so, I should start making some films.”

Well said.  There are people out there doing it, and they are sources of inspiration.  I’m not the biggest horror genre fan out there, but I will be waiting with bated breath for the release of this film because it marks another kind of triumph.  Small or big, however you want to see it, just see it.

Waking Life

In Entertain Me on February 25, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Whilst idly trawling various events websites in search of new local delights, I came across the Laughing Tree Gallery.  A recently new space in Haebongcheon opened by American artist Adam Lofbomm and his wife Jessica, it promises to open its doors to the creative expat community.  One of the gallery’s regular highlights is its 8mm: Art Cinema screenings.  This unique bi-weekly showing of vintage and artistic films will sure to gain popularity in the coming months.  I for one will be fronting up for the March 30th screening of “Waking Life”, a film exploring the dream phenomenon.  I look forward to keeping an eye on the many exciting developments to come out of this space.

Running Man

In Entertain Me on February 21, 2011 at 2:58 pm

I’ve been watching a lot of Korean TV of late, playing the visa-number-waiting-game.  It’s no secret that my language ability is less than fluent, but I find that doesn’t necessarily make much of a difference.  I particularly enjoy the abundance of variety shows, which are entertaining in the visual art of slapstick.  I often get drawn in by the members and their commitment to their challenges, and before I know it I’ve watched an entire show without being 100 percent sure of what the rules were.  I laugh when they laugh, because it seems like they are having more fun making the show than I am watching it.  My favourite show at the minute, which never fails to have me stitches, laughing shamelessly out loud alone in my studio, is “Running Man”.  I guarantee you, not understanding Korean is not an issue for this hilarious entertainment….though I have discovered a very thoughtful individual who has links to the subtitled shows.  It’s a demanding schedule for the participants of this show, as they begin filming at midnight and are presented with a number of physically taxing challenges throughout the wee hours of the morning.  All for our benefit.  The ridiculousness of the missions only gets better with each episode, and I am guaranteed a giggle from this gem of a show.  Perhaps it’s not for everyone, it’s certainly not an intellectually stimulating hour of your life, but when you already think too much, Running Man is just the right tonic.