Extra! Korea

February 18, 2013

How To Waste Talent

Filed under: music — extrakorea @ 12:25 pm

You may not have heard of a young woman named Kim Sori. She’s a K-pop singer who debuted four years ago and is still looking to break through. She has some talent.

Granted, editing was used to make her look better than she really is. Seoul Beats expressed it well:

[M]ost of her audience base is only familiar with breakdancing on a superficial level and can be easily impressed with this. What I see, however, is selective camera shots of weak to nonexistant toprock and footwork, as well as heavy reliance on the same flips and freezes over and over again. And what was up with that kicking? She’s supposed to be breakdancing, not doing capoeira!

Still, she can actually dance, as opposed to just bumping-and-grinding. Yet this is how she’s being promoted.

And yes, you saw that at 0:08.

July 31, 2011

Is it art or pornography?

Filed under: censorship — extrakorea @ 1:36 am

Let’s say that a 145-year-old oil painting is on display in the Orsay Museum in France. Wouldn’t most people would consider it to be art, even if it displayed full nudity? Now put that same picture on a blog, and it instantly becomes pornography.

That seems to the the point that Park Kyung-sin was trying to make when he posted the painting “L’Origine du Monde” (Origin of the World) [NOT SAFE FOR WORK!] by French painter Gustave Courbet on his blog.

Park was one of nine members of the Korea Communications Standards Commission which ordered a portal site operator to remove photos of a man’s penis from his own blog. Park, a Korea University law professor, disagreed with the decision, and in protest posted the famous (?) painting on his own blog (though he later removed it). He explained his actions thus:

“The photos were like this painting, Origin of the World which everybody can see at the Orsay. They neither contained any sexual narrative, nor implied sexual intercourse, except for just showing human genitals. … But it is a different issue concerning the state controlling its people and their opinions. Such control should be limited to cases causing damage to all people. … So, it may be right if only adults are allowed to see them. But if we define them as lewd material, even adults cannot see them and they are expelled from the legal boundary of expression.”

June 26, 2011

Big Bang’s Daesung accidentally killed a motorbike rider (so now what?)

Filed under: music — extrakorea @ 5:49 am

On May 31st, at around 1 am, a member of the boy band Big Bang, Daesung, was involved in a traffic accident. Daesung accidentally ran over a motorbike rider named Hyun who was lying in the street because of a previous accident. It was unclear whether or not Hyun was already dead before Daesung’s car ran him over.

On June 24th, the Yeongdeungpo Police Station held a press conference in which they revealed what they believe happened, according to an investigation by forensic scientists at the National Institute of Scientific Investigation (NISI). Hyun met a friend at a restaurant where they had some food and soju (Korean liquor). Hyun got on his motorbike and drove (presumably home). His blood alcohol level was 0.186%. (The legal limit is 0.05 percent.) Hyun collided with a lamp post and was knocked off his bike. Despite wearing a safety helmet, the impact was enough to hurt him. As he lay on the street dazed, some cars drove by him. One taxi drove by, but then pulled over. As the taxi driver was getting ready to help Hyun, Daesung (who was driving at 70-to-80 km/hr, over the speed limit of 60 km/hr) accidentally ran Hyun over and then collided with with the taxi. (Korea Times, Times again, Korea Herald, AllKPop, SeoulBeats, Joongang Daily; image and video below are from AllKPop)

So what now? Daesung is expected to face charges of involuntary manslaughter, which carry maximum penalties of five years in jail or 20 million won (approx. $20,000).

What about his career? In the short term, plans are for Big Bang to continue promotions without him (see here and here).

How about in the long term? I look to Vince Neil for comparisons and contrasts. In 1984, Neil, the lead singer for the heavy metal band Motley Crue, drove while under the influence of alcohol, leading to a head-on collision that killed a passenger of his car and brain damage to two passengers of the other car. Neil was sentenced to to 30 days in jail, five years probation, $2.6 million in restitution to the victims of the crash and 200 hours of community service. In 1989, Motley Crue released Dr. Feelgood, which became Crue’s most successful album ever. However, I don’t think that Daesung’s career can recover the way that Neil’s did. Crue was a heavy metal band with a reputation for being “bad boys.” Daesung, on the other hand, is part of K-pop. Members of Korean boy bands and girl groups have public images that are tightly controlled by their agencies because the Korean public is intolerant of anything controversial. When actor Hong Seok-cheon came out of the closet, he was immediately fired from all of his acting jobs, and he remains the only prominent Korean actor to have come out of the closet. By contrast, Lada Gaga has not only come out of the closet as a bisexual person, but the title track of her latest album has lyrics that say, “I was born this way …” For this reason, whenever K-pop stars appear on TV shows, it’s always to talk about their “ideal type” (seriously, how many f***ing times do they ask that question?) or to tell funny stories, like how one of their members fell asleep in a toilet cubicle. It’s never, and never will be, about their opinions or anything else that gives them any depth of character. It’s all superficial, all about S-lines, V-lines, “chocolate abs,” and the like. Recall that Krystal, a member of the girl group f(x), was savaged by netizens for allegedly not showing enough interest in what an elder was saying. Just imagine if she had, for example, told her elder, “I’m sorry but I disagree with your viewpoint on same-sex marriages.”

This brings me to my next point. Why do Korean entertainment agencies love boy bands and girl groups? Because their members are interchangeable and expendable. Unlike music bands which have guitarists, drummers, and singers, all members of K-pop groups do the same thing, that is, sing and dance. If a member leaves or is kicked out, the group can continue. Look at how the Wonder Girls and 2PM have continued on without Sun-mi and Park Jae-bom (now known as Jay Park). Jewelry continues to exist, but without a single original member. The same thing happened to Baby Vox. Dong-bang-shin-ki (DBSK, known as TVXQ in Japan) is now a duo now that three of the original five members have left to form their own group, JYJ. When it looked like three of the five members of KARA would leave the group, their entertainment agency filed to trademark the group’s name. To entertainment agencies, boy bands are girl groups are just money-making machines, and individual members are just replaceable cogs. Can you imagine the Rolling Stones without Keith Richards or Mick Jagger? Of course not. How about the Who without Roger Daltrey or Pete Townshend? Or the Beatles without one of the original members (and yes, that includes Ringo). Led Zeppelin chose to break up after John Bonham passed away. Yes, Deep Purple and Guns n’ Roses don’t have Ritchie Blackmore or Slash anymore, but unsurprisingly, they haven’t been very successful, critically or commercially, without them. In K-pop boy bands and girl groups, however, all members do the same thing (singing and dancing), and so if any members leave, the agency has a queue of trainees ready to replace them.

Of the “Big Three” entertainment agencies, YG Entertainment seems to me to be the most humane and the most caring of their artists and of their music, so I expect them to be as supportive of Daesung as possible. However, they are a company, not a charity, and despite their ambitions abroad, they live or die in Korea, by Korean society’s rules. As much as I’d like to see Korean society forgive Daesung for making a mistake that any young man his age could have made, I don’t expect it.

Some of you might recall that Daesung had the misfortune of being in another car accident in August 2009 (it was his manager who was driving). He strikes me as a true artist who takes his craft seriously and tries to broaden his horizons. He starred in the Korean version of Cats.

He’s also made trot songs. (Trot could be described as a kind of dance music for middle-aged Koreans, and is somewhat similar to Japan’s enka.) The first time I heard him sing “너무 섹시! 너무 귀엽다!” (at 2:15 of the video below) I almost fell out my seat laughing.

June 17, 2011

After School’s Bekah leaves group, UEE gets solo album

Filed under: music, What the hell?! — extrakorea @ 10:10 am

It’s been announced that Bekah, of the girl group After School, is “graduating” from the group to “return to Hawaii to pursue her original dream of becoming a designer.” “Graduating” is just a nicely-dressed-up way of saying that she’s leaving the group. If her true dream was designing, then why did she ever go through the trouble of becoming a singer? Maybe for the same reasons that Sun-mi left the Wonder Girls, just before the Girls sank without a ripple in America. I say this because I found After School’s latest song, Shampoo, to be very forgettable.

Meanwhile, another member of the same group, UEE (who was named by vocal professionals as the third-worst singer in all of K-pop) is going to release a solo album. Why UEE and not, say, Jung-ah, who can really sing? It’s too late for Bekah, who can also actually sing.

Because UEE is the money-maker of the group, famous for being an actress in dramas and her “honey thighs.” Speaking of such, her new drama, Birdie Buddy, will begin airing in mid-August. As you might expect, we get plenty of footage of her in mini-skirts which show off her pretty legs (not to mention the back end of her panties –starts at 0:15 of the video).

If you want to see real golfers doing something interesting (and for charity) then check out the Golf Boys.

American Airlines to offer Samsung Galaxy tablet as in-flight entertainment

Filed under: technology, travel — extrakorea @ 9:28 am

In-flight movies and music aren’t enough to relieve the boredom of long flights? American Airlines is offering passengers the use of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1″ tablet. AA isn’t the first to offer a tablet computer to customers, as Australian airline Jetstar has been letting customers use iPads since last June, for a $10 (Australian) fee. AA will offer their tablets for free … for business class or first class travelers. It’s not clear whether or not unwashed peons will have to cough up money for the privilege.

June 4, 2011

Hong-dae club encourages one-night stands by paying for drinks and motel fees?

Filed under: drinking, rapid cultural change, What the hell?!, youth — extrakorea @ 10:19 am

A dance club in Hong-dae has been encouraging customers to hook up in one-night stands. The flyer below was for its second “sex party,” the first one having been held in March.

I figured that it was to drum up business, but then I read this:

This club even offers to pay for the drinks and motel fees if clubbers find their partners for the night, encouraging people to actively engage in sexual activity.

How does a club manage to turn any profits if it gives its drinks away for free? Exorbitant entrance fees? They’d have to be at least as much as a motel room just to break even.

I also found this to be funny.

People who came across the poster online expressed shock and disbelief. “I naturally assumed that nightlife in Hongdae has changed, but this is going too far. This club is bringing down the already bad image of clubbing culture. It should cancel the event,” said one netizen.

I have news for the pimply-faced, teenage netizens who are suffering from “shock and disbelief”: People have been hooking up for one-night stands at Hong-dae clubs for years and years. This is simply the first time that a club has been openly encouraging it.

Students suspected of sexually assaulting classmate on “school field trip” (Membership Training?)

Filed under: crime, drinking, education, gender equality, youth — extrakorea @ 9:40 am

Three medical students of Korea University have been accused of molesting, taking indecent photographs of, and raping a female classmate. The alleged sexual assault took place during what has been described as a “school trip” and a “field trip.” I’m assuming that it’s what’s called an “MT” in South Korea, an acronym for “Membership Training.” (No actually “training” goes on at these trips –more like games, drinking, chatting, drinking …) I’ve written before about sexual assaults on MTs, as has the Grand Narrative blog. Also, in the comments thread of this blog post, someone asked

Have you ever heard of a sexual assault on a Korean University campus?

to which a commenter by the username of Darth Babaganoosh responded

Yep. Happens all the time at events such as MT. Just because it’s not reported to the police or in the newspaper doesn’t mean people on campus don’t talk.

Harrassment, sex-for-grades, the occasional assault… they all buzz about campus. They’re open secrets. People know, but don’t say anything.

And incidents do find their way into the newspapers. For example

Freshmen at Sejong have University complained that they had to participate in an inappropriate game during a department’s welcoming party last February.

According to students who attended, some games went too far to the extent they felt humiliated. One game had them compete in making the most sexual pose they could come up with, while others also included sexual pranks.

I don’t know how widespread this kind of thing is, but I think it’s fair to assume that for every incident that makes it into the newspapers, there are many that don’t.

May 29, 2011

Documentary film The True Taste Show may be banned

Filed under: censorship, food, legal issues, movies — extrakorea @ 1:48 pm

Remember the upcoming documentary, The True Taste Show, in which the filmmaker alleges that restaurants pay for positive reviews on food review shows that are scripted?

On Wednesday, MBC filed an injunction with Seoul Nambu District Court to request a ban on screening the film. The network is among those identified in the film as introducing “top restaurants” that paid to be on the respective programs rather than being actual favorite restaurants.

The maker of the documentary is taking it in stride.

Director Kim Jae-hwan said he was not greatly concerned, adding, “MBC’s injunction will be a lot of help at the box office.”

[ ... snip ... ]

“When the court hearing begins, I will provide evidence, including recordings of promotional agency officials commissioned by the production company to handle liaison efforts between entertainers and restaurants,” Kim added.

Where and when can you watch it (provided that it doesn’t get banned by the douche-nozzles at MBC)?

It will be opening on June 2 at ten theaters nationwide, including the CGV in Seoul’s Daehangno neighborhood and the Lotte Cinema outside Konkuk University.

May 24, 2011

Will the fur fly? Lee Hyo-ri vs. fashion house Fendi

Filed under: celebrities, rapid cultural change — extrakorea @ 10:50 am

On June 2nd, on the new “floating island” in Seoul’s Han River, fashion house Fendi will hold a major fashion show. The Seoul government is hoping that it will be a successful debut for the man-made islands, and herald Seoul in as a “design city.” (Hey, let’s all be thankful that they didn’t use the word “hub” (“a hub of fashion”) or “mecca” (“a mecca of fashion”)!) The show was to showcase 60 pieces from its fall/winter collection, including 20 limited-edition fur items, be broadcast live on the Internet, and to feature high-profile guests, including foreign celebrities and fashion leaders.

However, animal rights activists are protesting against the show because of the fur pieces. After initially telling Fendi to remove all fur from the show, the Seoul government reached a compromise in which the show will scale back the number of fur pieces featured.

This isn’t enough for the animal rights activists, including singer and animal lover Lee Hyo-ri, who wrote about her disapproval on her Twitter account. Activists plan to protest outside the venue.

May 19, 2011

Prostitutes protest for their right to a livelihood

Filed under: prostitution — extrakorea @ 12:52 pm

On Sunday, May 15th, dozens of prostitutes wearing white surgical masks and red caps held a three-hour protest in front of Times Square, a shopping mall in front of Yeongdeungpo, Seoul.

The opening of Times Square forced the closing of 30 brothels, so that only about 50 remain. The prostitutes criticized the looming possible closure of the remaining brothels.

“What can we do if the government drives us out of our job? This job is the last option for us, and there is no alternative,” 29-year-old Kim Eun-jung (alias) working in a brothel in Yeongdeungpo told The Korea Times.

“It’s a matter of survival for us.”

They also claimed that crackdowns only force the business underground, whereby exploitation becomes a more serious problem, and criticized efforts at rehabilitation by the government as half-hearted and inadequate.

Last Wednesday [May 11th], they also held a press conference at the Korea Press Center in central Seoul, asking for the abolishment or revision of the 2004 Act on the Prevention of the Sex Trade and Protection of its Victims, which reinforced penalties for prostitution.

[ ... snip ... ]

Prostitutes argue that the law fails to reflect the reality and will only worsen the situation.

“The special law fails to reflect the reality. It can’t root out prostitution, but rather pushes the sex trade further underground,” Kim said.

“As such, sex workers can be exploited. A lot of Korean prostitutes choose to go abroad to work, where their human rights can be easily violated and they have to work without proper protection.”

[ ... snip ... ]

She also criticized the government’s efforts to help sex workers change their jobs.

“We also want to change our jobs. But the subsidy of 400,000 won a month and the rehabilitation programs proposed by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family are too unrealistic to reflect our situation,” Kim said.

They also acknowledged that the present red-light districts are unsightly and that it’s understandable to want to remove them, but that their business should be regulated, not outlawed.

Sex workers believe proper regulation is necessary instead of “meaningless” efforts to outlaw prostitution.

“We also know the big brothel districts in Seoul are an eyesore, which need to be removed, but we also need to survive,” said Kang Hyun-jin, director of the Hanteoh Women Workers Federation (HWWF), a nationwide group of prostitutes.

“The special law can’t root out prostitution, which I personally think is impossible,” Kang said, citing a survey result.

[ ... snip ... ]

“Our demand is that the special law should be amended to reflect the reality and the government should properly regulate prostitution so that it can take place in designated areas, which aren’t necessarily central areas of the city, and we think it can minimize the negative aspects of prostitution,” Kang said.

On Tuesday afternoon, another protest was held, and this time the demonstrators (numbering about 450 this time) wore white funeral clothes, garish red paint, or makeup that made them look like Heath Ledger’s version of the Joker.

Yeongdeungpo isn’t the only district experiencing persecution.

Pimps in Cheongnyangni in the northeastern part of Seoul have clashed with police as they try to pick up customers in front of a major department store nearby.

Those pimps aren’t guys dressed in purple jackets and feathered hats. They’re ajummas, and as you know, you don’t get between an ajumma and her livelihood if you want your nads intact.

As I’ve written about before, the reason for these closures isn’t “moral outrage,” but the fact that these areas now sit on very valuable land.

A decade ago, the price of real estate for 3.3 sq. m of land around the red light district in Yongsan was W30-50 million (US$1=W1,090). Now, it has soared to more than W150 million. A 54-story skyscraper and a sprawling apartment complex are scheduled to be built in the red light district area in Cheongnyangni, while 35 and 40-story buildings will be built in Yongsan.

[ ... snip ... ]

The red light district in front of Yongsan Station near central Seoul used to house around 120 brothels, but only six or seven remain and even they will be shut down next month.

Cheongnyangni is also sitting on valuable land, which is right next to large shopping malls and an E-Mart (Korea’s version of Wall-Mart).

I think the determination being shown in these protests might have to do with the way that Yongsan was closed down with nary a whimper. I guess the sex workers figure that they had better draw a line in the sand, or else Yeongdeungpo will be next, followed by Cheongnyangni.

These red-light districts have been around since at least the early 1970s. The following is from page 137 of Michael Breen’s The Koreans:

“It was during the first ever North-South talks in Seoul in the early 1970s.

[ ... snip ... ]

Obviously the cars carrying the North Korean officials did not swing through the red-light areas, nor the poor districts, nor past the huge American military base near the center of the city.”

I think that they were amongst the first areas built up during the post-war reconstruction. The buildings are old-style (e.g. arched tiles on the roofs). They are/were located near major train stations, which would have been the most important transportation infrastructure after the Korean War. Cheongnyangni and Yongsan are major train stations. There was a brothel area near Seoul station. Other cities like Daejeon have brothel districts near their train stations.

Here is a quote from Kang Hyun-jin that I found interesting.

“In the past, officials from ward offices used to visit us to teach us English so that we could serve U.S. soldiers when there were big military drills taking place. They boosted the business to earn dollars, and now they try to abolish it all of sudden because they believe we are a rich country.”

I think that Park Chung-hee once referred to such sex workers as “patriots” because of the way they earned American dollars for Korea. I think I read that in Micheal Breen’s writings, but I can’t find it.

Interestingly, the first article that I linked to was written by Kim Tae-jong, who wrote a previous article that I discussed before.

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