Tuesday, August 28, 2012

KOREAN MOVIES: Kim Ki-duk’s 2012 Film “Pieta”

Kim Ki-duk’s 2012 Film “Pietà” (김기덕, 피에타)
by MovieGoerK

Kim Ki-duk, a Korean movie director and star of international movie festival circuit, appeared on a cable TV Talk Show, "Baik Ji-yeon's People Inside” (PI) Episode 226 (aired on 8/23/2012) and chatted about his latest movie "Pietà."  Along the way, he also talked little bit about his movie making philosophy and his perspective on the life itself. Also, in the show, Actress Jo Min-soo who played one of title roles in the movie, joined the chat and shared her thoughts about the movie. Together, they talked about the movie more in detail. Based on what I know and understand, the movie features one of the baddest woman (Jo Min-soo) in the movie history. Opposite Jo Min-soo, Actor Lee Jung-jin plays a merciless henchman for a cruel loan shark. Who could be badder than him?  The woman is supposed to be badder than this already bad henchman. Is she going to be like another Hee-jin in the movie "The Isle"? The movie will be world premiered during the 69th Venice International Film festival (August 29 – September 8, 2012).

Filmed in 21 days of incredibly hard work during one of the coldest February-March of Korean history, the movie has many of Kim's signature features such as toughness, cruelty, darkness, confusion, betrayal, violence, fantasy, and hope. After editing the movie, Kim Ki-duk first released a 2-minute trailer in early July 2012, and a very short synopsis. The movie was originally scheduled to go public at the end of August but the invitation from the Venice International Film Festival (VIFF) to be one of the feature films in competition section changed the plan and postponed the release date to early September. Since July, Kim has gradually unveiled his movie through trailers, newspaper interviews and small public promotional events. Although the VIFF's invitation boosted the movie's public exposure and interest, Kim’s still played a very cautious and calculated game in marketing his movie throughout this summer.

And again, we get to witness Kim appear on this "shallow" talk show, "Strong Hearts" (SH), as he is determined to utilize the public appearance as one of the marketing pitches for his movie contrary to his previous reclusive attitudes. Of course, this kind of movie marketing is nothing new in the Korean entertainment industry.  But the news that Kim will make his first ever appearance on the show surprised me. The man has been known for his shy personality and hermit-like life style for a long time. And his relationship with the general public and film industry members have been rough at best, rocky at worst.  He has so far directed and produced all of his 18 movies but has not been successful commercially as most of them flopped at box office except a few. I don't know what made him change his mind this year but he appeared on PI already and is scheduled to appear on SH next week.

On PI, he already hinted his departure from his long standing position to keep himself away from public exposure and it was evident that he's now a changed man and becoming more aggressive in his marketing strategies.  As I absolutely feel for this passionate movie director, I hope him to continuously work in this field; but on the other hand, I also feel bad because he’s been deprived of opportunities to promote his “small” films.  The Korean movie industry has been dominated by way too commercial-minded executives for decades, and no wonder why he’s been upset.  I’m feeling little uneasy because I understand why Kim had to change and at the same time because I hate to see him change. However, I hope the movie "Pietà" hit the bull's eye so that this talented movie maker can continue to produce many more movies for years to come.

 This blog post was contributed by MovieGoerK.

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

ZILLY TALKZ: How To Register For Korean TV Network Accounts

At Mowee's request, I'm posting how to create "non-Korean" or "non-Resident" accounts for the Korean TV networks.  BTW, Mowee, did you know MBS has the world channel on Youtube for the non-Korean users?  Here's the link: 

1.  MBC

Here's how to create a "non-Korean" or "non-Resident" MBC account.  First go to  (Click on the image to see the full size version.)

Then you'll see the terms of service agreement; just scroll down and do as shown below.

Then the next page will ask you to enter your personal information.  Note that when you click on the second blank to enter your ID, a pop-up window will appear. Then enter your preferred ID in the blank.  If you have any kind of message when you click the confirmation button in purple, this means someone's already using the ID.  In that case, try a different ID.

Now, you'll see the following page that means you're done with this registration process.

When you go to the main page, you will see the button that reads 로그인 (log in). Click this button whenever you want to log in.

2.  KBS

Here's how to create a "non-Korean" or "non-Resident" KBS account.  First go to  (Click on the image to see the full size version.)

KBS offers English instructions.

Then the next page will ask you to enter your personal information for identification check.  I recommend you to provide your passport number instead of social security number (SSN).  If you click on SSN, you'll get the following message:
Foreign membership valid proof of identification (passport, national identification card, driver's license) must be confirmed sign-up process of the submission is complete.
FAX to submit proof of identification to confirm the receipt and processing of an average week or so it may take time.
How to submit proof of identification to select FAX, and applying for membership within a week after the proof is not submitted by FAX to join will be canceled.

3.  SBS

Here's how to create a "non-Korean" or "non-Resident" SBS account.  First go to  (Click on the image to see the full size version.)

Then the terms of service agreement will appear; then click,

Then the next page will ask you to enter your personal information.  Note that when you enter your home phone number, enter your country code and area number in the first blank, then the first three digits of your phone number in the middle, then the last four digits in the third blank.  SBS requires you to send them the image of your identification card either by email or by fax.

Remember!  Always look for the button that reads 로그인 (log in) when you visit the network's main page. Click this button whenever you want to log in.  Good luck!

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How To Register For a DAUM Account
How To Register For a NAVER Account

Saturday, August 25, 2012

KOREAN MUSIC: PSY Sings Gangnam Style Live

PSY was featured on MBC's "Music Core" aired today (8/25/2012) but in fact, the performance was filmed during his own show "The Heumbbeok Show" (8/11/2012).  The word heumbbeok (흠뻑) has such meanings as "soaked, entrenched, drenched, saturated...." and I think this show is a must see!  In the following video, you will witness how PSY makes the crowd go wild as always; he's an iconic figure in the Korean music industry and nicknamed the King of Performance. BTW, the Korean audience are known to sing along the song in perfect unison, which is called Ddechang (떼창, "group singing") in Korea. Ddechang is a slang word.

[LIVE] PSY performs Gangnam Style (8/11/2012)
(Air date: 8/25/2012)

KOREAN MUSIC: Lee Hayi Updates (6)

Hello!  Lee Hayi fans out there!  Here's the long-awaited performances by Hayi on the second night of 2012 All That Skate Summer (August 24~26).  She opened the second half of the show with Carrie Underwood's "Good Girl" and sang a duet with Park Jimin on Rihanna's "We Found Love" for the curtain call.

(fan cam) Lee Hayi: Carrie Underwood's "Good Girl" (8/24/2012)

(fan cam) Lee Hayi & Park Jimin: Rihanna's "We Found Love" (8/25/2012)

Bonus: Here's our beautiful Kim Yuna, the 2010 Olympic Champion and 2009 World Champion, revisiting her 2006-2007 short program "El Tango de Roxanne."  She executed a triple salchow, a triple lutz, and a double axel; it was her first time in many years doing the triple lutz in the gala or ice show.  She seemed a little slower than before (and she popped the lutz on the second night of the show) but I'm sure she'll be back in perfect shape to compete in no time. (UPDATE: Yuna nailed her 3 lutz on the third night of the show.)

(Official Video) Kim Yuna: "El Tango de Roxanne" (August 24~26, 2002)

Baek Yerin, the other member of a new JYP duo 15&,
sings "Listen" at age 10

KOREAN LANGUAGE: What is Oppan (Oppa) in Gangnam Style?

PSY: "Oppan Gangnam Style"

"Oppan Gangnam style," the hook of the song "Gangnam Style," can literally translate to "I'm Gangnam style," in which "oppa" is a Korean referring expression used by females to call older males such as older male friends or older brothers. However, the narrator in the song refers to himself in the third person.  It's annoying and creepy most of the time, right?  But in this song, it was intentionally used to make him look ridiculous.

"Oppan" is not a single word but a noun phrase, a shortened form of "oppa + neun." Unlike English which has a relatively fixed SVO (subject-verb-object) word order, Korean has a relatively free SOV word order in which the subject and the object can also be freely omitted.  So, "loosely" speaking for the sake of quick and easy explanation, Koreans use case markers (or particles) to tell which noun is a subject and which noun is an object.  The subject marker "-"(-i) is used after a noun that ends with a consonant (e.g., hyung-i) and "-" (-ka) is used after a noun that ends with a vowel (e.g., oppa-ka); the object marker "-"(-eul) is used after a noun that ends with a consonant (e.g., hyung-eul) and "-" (-reul) is used after a noun that ends with a vowel (e.g., oppa-reul).
(i) Hyung-i wayo. "(My) older brother is coming." (used by men)
(ii) Oppa-ka wayo. "(My) older brother is coming." (used by women )
(iii) Hyung-eul ddaragayo.
 "(I'm) following (my) older brother." (used by men)
(iv) Oppa-reul ddaragayo.
 "(I'm) following (my) older brother." (used by women )
Korean also has two types of topic markers: "-"(-eun) comes after a noun that ends with a consonant (e.g., hyung-eun) and "-"(-neun) comes after a noun that ends with a vowel (e.g., oppa-neun).  Korean topic markers are basically used (i) to specify the topic of a sentence or (ii) to deliver a contrastive meaning.
(i) Oppa-neun Gangnam style(-iya).
 "Speaking of oppa (=me), I am Gangnam style."
(ii) Oppa-ka sagwa-neun meogeo.
"I don't eat other fruit, but I eat apples."
Thus, in this song, "oppan" (오빤) is a shortened form of the noun phrase "oppa-neun" (오빠는) and the hook "Oppan Gangnam style" translates to "Speaking of oppa (=me), I like Gangnam style life."  And the hook in Hyun-a's version of the song, "Oppan ddak nae style," translates to "Speaking of oppa (=you), you're exactly my type (of guy)"; and the rest of the lyrics is pretty much the same as in PSY's original version.

Related Posts:  Psy Craze and My Blog
                          PSY’s “Gangnam Style” and "Gangnam Oppa" in “Architecture 101” (1)
                          PSY Sings Gangnam Style Live

Friday, August 24, 2012

KOREAN MOVIES: PSY’s “Gangnam Style” and "Gangnam Oppa" in “Architecture 101” (3)

 Gangnam Kids: The Rise of Nouveaux Riches

I was born and raised in Gangbuk district but wasn’t even aware of that; I was just a kid living in Seoul.  While growing up, I usually watched Korean TV dramas with my mom, who was (and still is) a great fan of Kim Suhyun, an author and 50+ year veteran writer for TV dramas. Kim’s dramas were (and still are) either family-oriented comedies or complicated love stories involving infidelities, which of course were so far from appropriate for my age at that time that I actually didn’t understand most of the scenes. One thing I noticed as I'd gotten a little older though was most of her dramas featured a snobby rich mother who didn't approve of her son's girl friend from a poor or lower-middle class family. Whenever she answered the phone, she used the phrase, “This is Gahoe-dong (가회동) or Pyungchang-dong (평창동) or Sungbuk-dong (성북동)…,” which are rich villages, located in the heart of old Seoul, i.e., Jongno-gu and Sungbuk-gu, in so-called Gangbuk, until the late 80’s and early 90’s; and even at that time, it came across my little mind that those neighborhoods were very wealthy areas.

Gahoe-dong "Bukchon Maeul" in Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
(Photo: Donga Ilbo)

When I was in high school, I had a chance to participate in extracurricular activities involving female students from various schools. There, I made friends with three girls and one Saturday afternoon, four of us met in Myeongdong, Jung-gu, Gangbuk, which is the center of present-day Seoul. When having a late lunch together in Shinsegae department store, one of the girls told me, “You are quite well-dressed for a Gangbuk-ae (강북애, “kid living in Gangbuk”). She went to Eunkwang Girls' High School located in Gangnam.  I really didn’t get it first, so I asked her what she meant and she said with a shrug, “Well, you know the way Gangbuk kids dress.” 

Not until that moment did I realize they called us Gangbuk-ae-deul (강북애들, “kids living in Gangbuk”) when we didn’t call them Gangnam-ae-deul (강남애들, “kids living in Gangnam”). I’d thought I was one of those Seoul kids until then.  And I still didn’t get it. Gangnam, as I remembered the place, was just a sticky, muddy field I once visited with my parents when I was very little. As described in Yoon Soo-il’s 1982 mega hit Apateu (아파트, “An Apartment”), I still vaguely remember seeing a ghastly apartment complex standing alone in the middle of reed and pear fields. And as I look back on those days now, I'm quite sure it was her parents who put such words into her mouth. For one, teenagers from my generation (compared to now) were much less sophisticated to say such things; and for two, the level of polarization between Gangnam and the rest of Seoul was not as extreme as today. Seriously, I really couldn’t figure any difference between me and her in terms of everything at that time but they were already starting to act like douchebags.

Rodeo Drive, Apgujeong-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea
(Photo: Korea Tourism Organization)

Among those who multiplied their fortune over the short term through real estate in the 70’s and 80’s were native Gangnam residents and people outside the area who were adept at a variety of money-making activities. In the early 90’s, I left Korea to study in the United States and learned about massive regional shifts in economic activity and population, mainly from Gangbuk to Gangnam, from the Korean TV news, dramas, and shows I watched on the VHS tapes I rented from Korean video rental stores. And accordingly, Kim Suhyun’s stereotypical snobby rich mothers gradually dropped their use of such phrases I described above but started living in Gangnam district, i.e., in such villages as Apgujeong-dong, Cheongdam-dong, Yangjae-dong, or Dogok-dong.  (Click to learn more about Gangbuk and Gangnam of Seoul city.)  Lee Kunhee (Chairman of Samsung Electronics) and Bang Sanghoon (Korean media mogul) respectively own and live in the most expensive and the fourth most expensive mansion in Korea located in Gangbuk and not a few jaebols or chaebols (a term to refer to business conglomerates) still live in Gangbuk.  But the majority of them are gradually moving into Gangnam (mostly into Dogok-dong or Cheongdam-dong) even at this moment.

And such new words as Orenji-jok (오렌지족, “the orange tribe”) or Yata-jok (야타족, “the hey-get-on tribe”) were coined to describe the “consumer” Gangnam society, represented by the Galleria department store and Rodeo Drive located in Apgujeong-dong. Back then in Korea, luxury import cars were still rarae aves but it was just a piece of cake for the Gangnam kids to own them. Some of them were just blowing their parents’ money, bumming around with no job and some of them were Yuhaksaeng (유학생, “students studying overseas, esp., in the US”) visiting Korea during summer or winter break.  They were called Orenji-jok (“the orange tribe”).  Just like luxury import cars, oranges were a rare item in Korea in the 90’s and I still vividly remember my mom, while visiting me in the US, asking me why I didn’t eat oranges when the fruit was so cheap everywhere – I don’t like oranges ‘cause they are too hard to peel.

According to the Donga Ilbo article, there are two prevailing views as to the origins of this term: (i) When the Gangnam kids made advances to attractive girls they encountered, they beckoned to them with their hands holding oranges they always had in their cars; or (ii) a Gangnam kid went to a local grocery store for oranges but the lady owner handed him Gyul (, “mandarin orange”) instead so he reprimanded her for her ignorance.  They were also called Yata-jok (“the hey-get-in tribe”) as they were known to come onto girls they found attractive while driving, by yelling Ya! Ta! (“Hey! Get in (my car)!”)

The 2012 Korean movie “Architecture 101” basically revolves around two college freshmen, Seungmin and Seoyeon (Lee Jehoon and Bae Suzy) who first met each other taking Architecture 101 in the spring of 1995. (In South Korea, the new academic year starts in March.)  And it was less than 2 years before the 1997 Asian financial crisis, aka “IMF crisis” in Korea which derived from the fact the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had approved a 21 billion US dollar loan for Korea.  At the beginning of the movie, Seungmin finds out Seoyeon lives in his neighborhood, Jeongneung, located in Gangbuk.  And there is our Gangnam oppa, Jaewook, who couldn’t care less about the world outside Gangnam.  Just like the Korean peninsula is divided along the demarcation line, the city of Seoul is seemingly divided along the Han River.

(Click to read the final part of this series)

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

KOREAN MUSIC: My Blog Cited in the Atlantic Article

Max Fisher, an associate editor at The Atlantic, cited my blog in his recent article on Psy's "Gangnam Style." I think it's worth the read although I don't entirely agree with the article, especially some quotes from Adrian Hong - he's absolutely wrong about Korean satire, for example.  Contrary to his belief, Korea has a looooooooooong history of nuanced satire, from Hyangga poetry of Silla (57 BC – 935 AD) to Pansori which was formed in the early 18th century at the very latest or Madangnori, traditional outdoor performances (and/or theatrical version of Pansori), and to the songs by the Taiji Boys, to name a few.

I'll give you the link:  Gangnam Style, Dissected: The Subversive Message Within South Korea's Music Video Sensation.

I want to share with you the following comments my blog readers left on this post:

(Judith Mopalia) I am not Korean and don't speak Korean, but I've immersed myself in Korean culture for the last year, and it does seem to me that Adrian Hong knows a different Korea than the one I fell in love with. One of the first things that attracted me was the rich sense of irony that comes through in so much of the Shilla and Koryo poetry. And many of the k-pop idols that he is so dismissive of do, in fact, write their own songs. He has made the mistake of writing about things he knows little about and assuming that his pre-conceived prejudices are facts.

The main thing I have learned from my obsession with Korea is that there is probably not another country in the world so consistently misinterpreted, misunderstood and misrepresented as Korea - especially by people who purport to know about Korea. I hope I don't become one of those.  Your blog is a treasure, and the Gangnam style article was one of the best. Thank you.
(Anonymous)  I wanted to put my two cents in this Gangnam Style phenomenon.

On Korean satire. Although Korea has a really long history, and has a written history of feudal dynasty that covers two millennia, the power group basically remained unchanged. There were kingdoms after kingdoms from Three Kingdoms, Unified Silla, Gorye Kingdom and Joseon Kingdom, but there never was a grassroots overthrow of present kingdom by ordinary folks. It was always coup-de-tat type of political and military maneuver by inside power elite that brought the downfall of one kingdom and beginning of another. In due course, the ordinary folks who suffered mostly were unable to record their sentiments because most of them were illiterate. Those old Hyangga we know were written by literate and well educated elites. These type of satire written by elite group are gentle and hideously nuanced because the composers and writers feared retaliation by powerfuls.

On the other hand, satiric activities including the songs and dance these illiterate folks enjoyed were transmitted by oral traditions. Korean oral tradition has a long history, and the one of element one can find in these type of ordinary folks' satire is "humor". Korea has long been ruled by a "Shame Morality" system, and one has to accept his or her own fate no matter how harsh the life is. Unable to let out their general frustration and sad sentiments (so-called 'Han'), these ordinary folks turend their talents and aspirations to create music and dance of self-mockery and self-reflection. Pansori is a musical translation of these oral tradition.  Knowing this Korean tradition, Psy showed his remarkable talent to combine all the elements he learned and knew instinctively.

On horse ride dance. If you listen or watch carefully to most of Western music and dance, you will notice that they are basically composed of high and low pitches and movements. These pitches and movements are  basically resembling that of man on a horse back. Western people were mostly nomads (hunters)-converted-to-settlers. They loved to roam and live freely around small villages they formed throughout the great plain area of northern Europe. This pattern changed ever since the pierce Mongolian attack led by Khans, and they started to form bigger castles to defend themselves better. Anyway, these Western music and dance probably started as leisure to resemble the daily lives of these nomadic people.  And it is no wonder the Western music and dance resembles the movement of horse and human heart beat, high and low. They danced in the night after hard working day with cheerful music.

In Eastern Asia, it is fully grown barley riding the wind the music and dance resembles basically, long and short pitches without much regard to high and low. I am sure there are different type of music and dance in different part of the world, resembling the unique nature of their own. For example, in central Africa, the key probably is man on a foot. In northern Europe or Bahamas, the elements of sea waves may make important part of music's rhythm.

Psy's music beat and horse  dance probably have awaken the nostalgia of Western people buried deeper within. And these Western people who have been stressed by bad economy for a long time may needed some cheerful music with foreign  lyrics, so that they can just enjoy the beat. Also, Psy's music has some  exotic elements not founded in the Western music, so the people may be more inclined to hear the music.

On Gangnam. Korea is a mountaineous country. Because there so many mountains and hills, Korean people built their castles around the mountains for their defense. Old Seoul (Gangbuk) was built using small mountians as corner-stones (or walls). That is why Gangnam was not included from its inception. Also, Gangnam is a relatively flat land located on the lower part of the river. So this part of Gangnam is susceptible to flood in the summer. This part of Gangnam land still suffers from flood even in these modern days. So even some 40 years ago, Gangnam was not a part of Seoul. There were farmers living there. And they had land.  And as the urbanization began to expand, these farmers made fortunes by selling their land and became over-night riches. They became 졸부 (jol-bu), a Korean term referring to an over-night rich who is not culturally refined or morally sophisticated.

And here is a serious part. As a nation, Korea is suffering from tension in three level, South-North conflict, Regionalism, and Social Class conflict. Although there are some highly-educated Liberals living out there in Gangnam area, many of Gangnam residents are rich and hardline conservatives from certain region of Korea. These typical Gangnam residents epitomize the greater tensions felt in Korea. Because they usually use all these personal advantages like wealth, status, information and connections for betterment of family only, like skipping out of military duties, luxury life style and advantage over education, they are becoming easy target for mass jeering and mockery from the folks who are not Gangnam style, as Korean economy began to suffer.

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

KOREAN SHOWS: Infinite's Sunggyu Wins on KBS's "Immortal Songs" Part One

The singers on today's "Immortal Songs" (8/18/2012) paid tribute to the 70’s legendary folk singer and songwriter Lee Janghee.  Lee had to write songs using three different pseudonyms such as Kim Yihwan, Lee Kyung-ae, and Lee Wonho during the 70's and 80's as most of his songs and himself were banned by military censorship authorities (1963~1987).  Lee is best known for his straightforward yet poetic lyrics, eloquent simplicity, and understated tone and I think Hong Kyungmin and Sunggyu (of Infinite), among all other singers, performed true to the spirit of his original versions.

Sunggyu chose to sing Na geudae-ege modu deuriri (나 그대에게 모두 드리리, “I Will Give You Everything”) from the soundtrack of the 1974 Korean film, Byeoldeure gohyang (별들의 고향, “The Stars’ Heavenly Home”), which was made based on the renowned Korean novelist Choi Inho's newspaper novel of the same title (published daily from1972 through 1973).

Sunggyu: I Will Give You Everything (1974)
on KBS's "The Immortal Songs" (8/18/2012)

English Lyrics:  I Will Give You Everything

My dear, I have something to tell you.
Tonight, suddenly, I want to tell you something:
I will give you everything -
This love of mine that is bursting.
For you, there's nothing I can't do.
I can even bring to you two handful of stars.
My dear, I have something to give you.
Tonight, suddenly, I want to give you something.

For you, there's nothing I can't do.
I can even bring to you two handful of stars.
My dear, I will give you everything -
This love of mine that is bursting.
Written by Lee Janghee
Translated by ONSEMIRO

Choi Inho later revealed that the title of his newspaper novel was originally Byeoldeure mudeom (별들의 무덤, “The Stars’ Graves”); but the editor wasn't happy with it because the newspaper was delivered in the morning and he was afraid the title might offend its readers at the start of the day. This novel (and also the movie) is about an innocent middle-class woman whose life was ruined by men, representing male chauvinism and the old beliefs about female premarital virginity that had been portrayed, either overtly or tacitly, as ideal in Korea until the end of the 20th century.  Those beliefs are labeled as Sungyeol ideologi (순결 이데올로기 , which literally means “(female) virginity ideology”).

Original Version: Lee Janghee (English Subtitles)
Na geudae-ege modu deuriri " I Will Give You Everything " (1974)

Friday, August 17, 2012

KOREAN SHOWS: KBS's "Overnight Trips" Goes to the Dokdo Islets of Korea

CAST: (from left)  Ju Won (actor/musical actor), Uhm Taewoong (actor), 
Lee Sugeun (Comedian), Cha Taehyun (actor), Sung Shikyung (singer), 

Kim Seungwoo (actor), and 
Kim Jongmin (singer)

Second or third generation Koreans abroad sail across the East Sea, with the cast of KBS's "Overnight Trips," to visit the Dokdo islets.  They are: Daniel Jihoon Lee from BRAZIL, Marco Shiwoo Park from BOLIVIA, David Haksoon Kim from FRANCE, John Jongmyung Lee from AUSTRIA, Kirill Golovanov from RUSSIA, Alexandr Li from KAZAKHSTAN, and Richard Seunpyung Yang from the UNITED STATES.

This episode aired on August 12, 2012, 3 days before the Korean Independence Day, aka, Gwangbokjeol, which literally translates to “’Restoration of the Light’ Day.”  It is the national holiday of Korea that commemorates the liberation of Korea from Japan, following the Japanese surrender to the United States and its Allies in World War II on August 15, 1945.

FYI, the Dokdo islets are the easternmost point in Korea and History of the Three Kingdoms (1145) and Annals of King Sejong (1454) describe that the islets belong to Korea.  Korea's sovereignty over the islets really matters to its people considering the fact Japan’s annexation of Dokdo in 1906 was its first step toward invading and dominating Korea.

KBS's Overnight Trips: Dokdo Episode

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

KOREAN MUSIC: PSY’s “Gangnam Style” and "Gangnam Oppa" in “Architecture 101” (2)

 Behind the Scenes: PSY and Making of Gangnam Style

In 2001 when PSY first showed up in the Korean music scene, he was immediately nicknamed Yeopgi Gasu (엽기가수, “Bizarre Singer”) because he was not a rapper/singer who had a cookie cutter appearance and also whose music was not geared towards cookie cutter lyrics or styles of his generation. (Click to see the young, cute, and thinner PSY perform his debut title Sae (, “Bird”) which sampled Bananarama’s 1986 version of “Venus.”) His looks are always over the top tacky just like those Korean Teutoteu (트로트, “Trot,” a word derived from “foxtrot”) singers, his lyrics are comic and satirical, and his music is uniquely fun and exhilarating.

PSY & Korean Teuroteu singers:
lockwise from top left) PSY, Hyun Cheol,
Tae Jina, and Song Daegwan

PSY’s real name is Park Jaesang and as the title of his studio debut album released in 2001, “PSY from the Psycho World,” explains itself, he adopted his stage name by taking just the first syllable of the word “Psycho.”  Who in the world would call himself "Psycho"?  In real life, the answer may be a mass murderer or something but in PSY’s world, it’s playful self-mockery and self-delight; his lyrics are marked by a willfully tacky sense of humor and a willful air of self-mockery.  BTW, on SBS’s “Good Morning” aired on July 4, 2012, he said he used to live next door to Jo Pidi (조피디, “Cho PD” or “PD Cho”) while studying in Boston, Massachusetts, and there he first came up with his stage name Park Sajang (박사장, “Park CEO” or “CEO Park” ).  Maybe he wanted to emulate Cho PD?  FYI, PSY was involved in Cho PD’s second studio album “In Stardom Version 2.0” released in 1999.

PSY explained on MBC’s “Radio Star” (aired on July 25) why he chose to make “Gangnam Style” the title track of his 6th album:  “I just wanted to go back to my old self the masses loved me for when I first made my singing debut with the song ‘Bird’.”  Yang Hyunseok (YG) said in an interview with Star News (7/28/2012), “His marriage, family, and two-time military service turned PSY into a man in every way.  But the things is, he works his musical magic when he loses himself while performing on stage.  His music has become too goody-goody since his 2002 hit “Champion.”  Of course, his music is now more mature but at the same time it’s true his unique musical style his fans first fell in love with has been gradually diluted. So I told him, while he was working on his 6th album, to forget about looking cool but stick to his initial reserve.  I said, ‘Lose you on stage.  Be a psycho.  Be a screwball. Live up to your stage name.’”

Following YG’s advice, PSY decided to add another song “Gangnam Style” to the album to prove he’s still a screwball and psycho.  He received choreography ideas for the song from Korea’s renowned choreographers and the horse riding dance was one of them.  It was one of the favorite 80’s dance moves.  YG said in an interview that it was one of his specialty dances too and thought it would make people in their thirties or forties feel nostalgic for those days.  So he advised to choose it for the song.  “When the likes of PSY or Big Bang work (on the album, songs or anything), I should leave them alone. ‘Cause they can not only handle it themselves but do it better than me.  But sometimes I see something missing, and that’s when I put in my two cents.  It’s like a single point lesson if you will,” added YG.

While reading YG interview, I was reminded of his “salt metaphor” he had used on SBS’s “K-pop Star” and “The Healing Camp.”

“This salt metaphor has been dwelling on my mind since I became a producer. We add in salt, just 1/1000 of the rich beef bone soup. But without it, it’s really hard to eat the soup. I don’t train my singers in person, but whenever I feel any YGE kid is a little to “bland,” I add some salt to him…..  And YGE has professional choreographers.  I leave them alone.  My job is to check the outcome of their work which is usually 80-90% satisfactory.  But sometimes when they’re stuck at a dead-end, I give them a tip.  For example, I said no, about 30 times, to the choreography for the part that goes “Eheheheheheheheh” in 2NE1’s debut track “Fire.” And eventually I came up with the idea for the part – the hands-up dance.  I always think the simple way.  I created the jump rope dance and baby dance for Bing Bang’s 'Last Farewell' just like that.  I’m the mediator between artists and fans.  I make it easier for masses to understand ‘cause professionals’ choreographies are sometimes too hard.” (Watch YG on “The Healing Camp”: Part 1 & Part 2.)

In an interview with Star News (7/18/2012), PSY said he owes YG most sincere thanks for the ultra mega success of the song: “When it comes to music, YG always provides a clear-eared appraisal.  He’s very stingy with compliments.  When I was working on “Gangnam Style,” for example, no matter what I did, he was never satisfied, which made me want to try harder ‘out of spite.’ And just like that, he brought out the best in me.  In this respect, I think he's a great producer.  In supporting, directing, and supervising the singers, he’s probably one of top three best producers in Asia.”

Making of MV "Gangnam Style"

In the above footage, PSY said he felt pathetic himself while filming each and every scene in the MV.  In fact, the scenes were meant to show crazy, pathetic, and also pleasantly deviant behaviors of people.  And all those episodes in the MV were conceived by him.  He wanted to make the most PSY-ish MV that matches “Gangnam Style,” the most PSY-ish song.  (YG was in charge of the final editing of the MV.)

The MV features Yoo Jaeseok, the most popular TV personality and show presenter in South Korea. In the MV, he had a one on one dance battle with PSY in the parking structure.  Yoo’s character represents a 90’s clubber in Apgujeondong of Gangnam, i.e., Apgujeong Nalrari (압구정 날라리), who actually lives in Suyuri of Gangbuk.  This character originated from its self-titled song “Apgujeong Nalrari,” on which Yoo had dueted with Lee Jeok on MBC’s “Infinity Challenge” last year.  (Click to watch them perform.)  Yoo made a guest appearance in the MV at PSY’s request.

(UPDATE: PSY recently revealed on MBC's Infinity Challenge (aired on December 15, 2012) that he first asked Yoo to collaborate with him as his 6th album was meant to be collaborative; in fact, all the other songs but "Gangnam Style" featured on his 6th album were made in collaboration with other musicians such as G-Dragon, Sung Sikyung, LeeSsang, Kim Jinpyo, Lena Park, and Yoon Dohyun (of YB). But Yoo a previous commitment that clashed with PSY's offer on his timetable, which was none other than his collaboration on the song “Apgujeong Nalrari” with Lee Jeok. So instead, Yoo promised to make a gratuitous cameo appearance in PSY's music video and kept his words.)

On the other hand, Noh Hongcheol, one of the leading TV personalities and show presenters, came together with Yoo to see them film the video, just for fun, and ended up filming together with them, again, gratuitously.  That’s why he appears in the MV, wearing his usual clothing.  FYI, Noh’s dance move is known as Jeojil Daenseu (저질댄스, “Nasty Dance”) and is his signature move.  (Guess some of you may wonder who the mini-me of PSY in the video is.  The boy is Hwang Minwoo, who's a 7-year-old former Korea's Got Talent contestant.  Click to watch him having a dance battle with Jay Park (aka, Park Jaebeom) on SBS's "Star King" (7/8/2012).  The actual dance battle starts at about 1:26 into the video.)

A Youtube user nicknamed Myoldnamesdontwork asked me about one part of the song's music video featuring Big Bang's Daesung and Seungri: "so tell me what is this part 0:49 in this video is representing??? and there is like an explosion....totally random to me..." So I thought I'd better post my answer here too and here it is:
There you see two grandpas play Korean chess called “Janggi” together, which used to be one of Korea’s everyday life scenes. Whenever the village elders played Korean chess outdoors, the villagers including kids were gathered to look on or to kibitz just like PSY does in the MV. I think Janggi is still part of rural fun and games but in modern Korean cities and especially in Gangnam, such heartwarming scenes are disappearing.
In the MV, (i) the grandpas stand up and watch PSY walk away, which I think symbolizes the younger generations’ attention that is being drawn away from age-old traditions; and (ii) the explosion symbolizes the extinction of such traditions -- especially in Gangnam because the grandpas are under a bridge over the Han River. Actually, this part of the MV was the hardest for me to understand and remember, my interpretation may not be perfectly right even though I’m quite confident it is.

BTW, upon first listen, I thought the song was like “DJ DOC’s ‘I’m a Man like This" meets Baha Men’s ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’.”  My sister, who is an ultra hardcore mega fan of the song, never agreed with me and even got briefly mad at me.  DJ DOC’s “I’m a Man like This” was composed by PSY and Yoo Geonhyung (of “The Untitle”) and its lyrics were written by PSY and Lee Haneul (of “DJ DOC”).  PSY was making the song for his own album but when Lee first listened to it, he instantly fell in love with it.  And according to his own words, he literally robbed PSY of the song.  “I’m a Man like This” became an instant mega hit upon its release and (methinks) PSY might have felt deprived of a great opportunity to make it big.  I might be totally wrong as my sister said, but let’s just enjoy yet another self-mocking song performed by DJ DOC.

(Click to read the third part of this series)

Related Posts:  

KOREAN HISTORY: Korean Independence Day (aka, Korean Liberation Day)

광복절 (Gwangbokjeol)

Google KOREA logo image posted on August 15, 2012
to celebrate 
 Korean Liberation Day

Korean Independence (Liberation) Day, commonly known as Gwangbokjeol1 (광복절(光復節)) or Pariro2 or Pal-Il-O (팔일오, “The Fifteenth of August”), commemorates the liberation of Korea from Japan, following the Japanese surrender to the United States and its Allies in World War II on August 15, 1945.  On August 8, 1945, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and took Manchuria and Korea on the same day.  To top it off, the United States deployed two nuclear weapons and had the first one, Little Boy, on the city of Hiroshima on August 6 and the second one, Fat Man, over Nagasaki on August 9. On August 15, 1945, Japan surrendered unconditionally.  But in a tragic and ironic turn of fate, the Japanese surrender and the Soviet landing on the Korean Peninsula eventually led Korea to the seemingly permanent division which was initially meant to be temporary.  In fact, it was inevitable considering the fact the liberation of Korea was subject to the defeat of Japan and competition between major powers, i.e., the United States and the Soviet Union.  Korean Liberation Day also celebrates the establishment of the Republic of Korea, i.e., South Korea, in 1948 and is the national holiday of South Korea.

1. Gwangbokjeol literally translates to “’Restoration of the Light’ Day,” in which gwang (()) means “light,” bok (()) means “restore,” and jeol (()) means “national holiday.”

2.  Some of the Korean national holidays or historic events/days are customarily named in reference to the dates of their occurrence as seen below:

Yugio (yug=6 thus June; io=25)

Sailgu (sa=4 thus April;

Oilyuk (o=5 thus May); ilyuk=26)

Sibiryuk (sib=10 thus October; iryuk=26)

Sibisibi (sibi=12 thus December; sibi=12)

Oilpal (o=5 thus May; ilpal=18)

Some might think Korea’s independence was given, not earned, but during the Japanese colonial period (1910-1945), thousands of Koreans died or were killed fighting against Japanese colonial rule: There were such resistance movements as the Independence Movement, aka, March First Movement, Donghak Movement, Righteous Army, Korean Liberation Army, and the Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army, and so on and so forth; and there were so many resistance leaders and patriotic assassins such as Kim Gu, Jo Mansik, Ahn Changho, An Jung-geun, Lee Bongchang, Yoon Bong-gil, and Yu Gwansun, to name a few.  As follows is the Korean flag used by Korean Liberation Army in 1910 on which the soldiers scribbled down their names and words to express their determined will to fight against Japan.  The phrases and sentences are written either in Korean or in Chinese, some of which read:  "Independence and Autonomy," "Freedom," "We'll fight. We'll be strong," and "Pro Patria."

Under Japanese rule, especially during World War II, hundreds of thousands were trapped in forced labor in Japanese industries or as the United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it, in sex slavery, into which they were coerced, deceived, or forced and which they could never leave.  The Japanese colonial state was a highly atrocious regime.  This link will lead you to some pictures of Korean sex slaves but beware most of you will find them extremely disturbing.

BTW, during the 2012 London Olympics, Japanese designer Hiroko Koshino's uniforms for the Japanese gymnastics teams made me feel very disturbed:

(From left) Kazuhito Tanaka, Kohei Uchimura, Designer Hiroko Koshino,
Rie Tanaka and Yu Minobe. (Photo by Toshiyuki Hayashi)

When I first saw Rie Tanaka compete in that uniform, I went, “What?”  I just couldn't believe what my eyes were seeing.  And when I found out it was picked as one of the best Olympic uniforms by Entertainment Weekly (EW), I went “What the.” Bronwyn Barnes, a senior editor at EW, said they picked those Japanese uniforms ‘cause they “feature a stylized version of the nation's rising sun flag, combined with a zebra stripe motif and, naturally, crystals. Sometimes more is more.” (Link)  But Ms. Barnes, please do some reading before you write.  It’s not a stylized version of Japan's national flag.  It’s no ordinary national flag; it's their military flag, called Kyokujitsu-ki. It’s considered very offensive in China, Korea, and other East Asian countries, the victims of Japanese war crimes.  Well, there is nothing like seeing it for yourself!  This link will lead you to the pictures of  the victims of Japanese war crimes but beware most of you will find them millions times more disturbing than the previous ones.

The Axis: Japan allied itself with Nazi Germany in World War II, along with Italy.
This photo shows the Japanese "Kyokujitsu" flag and the Nazi's "swastika" flag.

In short, it’s not a stylized version of Japan's national flag, but a Japanese version of the Nazi flag.  In case you still don’t understand, I’ll put it this way: Just imagine how the Nazi victims and their family members would feel if they saw the German athletes compete in the uniforms using the Nazi's swastika symbol.

Today (8/15/2012), Kim Janghun or Kim Janghoon (김장훈), a Korean singer, philanthropist, and Dokdo islets advocate, swam from the eastern port of Uljin to Dokdo as part of a relay team to proclaim Korea's inalienable sovereignty of the islets.  According to the Yonhap news agency, before jumping into the water, he said, "I will never make such a comment as 'Dokdo is our territory' when I arrive there. It's meaningless to do so because they are undeniably our territory." (CNN Report: South Korean singer swims into island dispute with Japan)  And they safely entered Dokdo, after a 49-hour-long swimming relay through the storm and 13-foot-high waves.

It’s quite interesting and of course very annoying and disturbing that Japan’s annexation of Dokdo in 1906 was its first step toward invading and dominating Korea. (Click for more information.) Accordingly, it is really meaningful and noteworthy that Kim and others swam across the East Sea to enter Dokdo on Gwangbokjeol, Korean Independence Day, when Japan is still trying to encroach into the islets.

BTW, Korean people jokingly say, “We don’t need a passport to get into Dokdo, but you do; we don’t need international roaming in Dokdo, but you do.”  And here, “you” refers to You-Know-Who.

Kim Janghoon's relay swimming team in the waters off the Dokdo islets
Kim Janghoon's relay swimming team and other tourists
in the Dokdo islets