Monday, March 31, 2014

More Manshin Screenings

If you haven't caught a screening of the fabulous Manshin yet then do not fear, for Indieplus have extended their English subtitled showings for a few more days:

Monday 31st March - 12:30 and 20:10
Tuesday 1st April - 14:20 and 18:10
Wednesday 2nd April - 16:10
Thursday 3rd April - 14:10
Friday 4th April - 12:30
Saturday 5th April - 10:30 and 18:50
Sunday 6th April - 10:30 and 18:00

More info on the screenings can be found here.

For those not interested in fascinating documentaries about shamans, here are some cherry blossoms:





Saturday, March 22, 2014

Seven Reasons Why You Need To Go See Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits




Yesterday I popped down to the Indieplus Cinema near Sinsa Station to see the morning screening of Park Chan-kyong's "Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits" (만신) and I was blown away. It's a beautiful, tragic, uplifting, mysterious cross between a documentary and a biopic.

You need to see this film.

Here are the seven reasons why:

7. "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" isn't out till next Wednesday. What better way to prepare yourself for the next story in Marvel's odyssey than by diving into the mystical world of superstition and shamanism. You won't need your brain when you see good old Cap' next week, so you might as well use it now.

6. Every year we're lucky to get a small number of Korean films shown on the big screen in Seoul with English subtitles, but those screenings are few and far between. Movies are meant to be watched in the cinema, not on your tv or smart phone, so make the effort. Plus you can't find Park's previous award winning film on DVD anywhere (or at least I can't seem to get a hold of the fabulous Anyang, Paradise City). Documentaries are not usually great money makers and there's a chance that once this subtitled run ends it may be hard to catch a glimpse of this flick again. Also, Indieplus is a fantastic tiny venue that needs your support. The tickets are cheap, the screening room is cosy and the projection quality is fabulous.

5. Ever worry that documentaries might be a little dry? A little too intellectual? Fear not, Park's style takes the viewer on a narrative journey that feels close to watching a drama. Talking heads do appear, but much of the time is spent in the world of the shaman, with plenty of well acted reconstructions.

4. Which brings us to the performers. Moon So-ri (A Good Lawyer's Wife, Forever The Moment, Oasis, Peppermint Candy) is on top form, Kim Sae-ron (the kid from The Man From Nowhere) proves her serious drama skills and Ryu Hyeon-kyoung (Petty Romance, Cyrano Agency) shows that she can do more than just light comedy. All three performers are outstandingly good at recreating one woman's journey through the twentieth century to become one of Korea's greatest shamans.

3. Park Chan-kyong is one of the best documentary makers and visual artists in Korea. Did you see "Bitter, Sweet, Seoul"? That incredible hourlong tribute to the capital of Korea made up of videos sent in by residents and visitors. That was all down to Park Chan-kyong and his brother Park Chan-wook. It's a beautiful tribute to this bustling metropolis and it doesn't shy away from the more uncomfortable elements of our city. If you haven't seen it then go watch it now and then go watch "Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits".

2. Haven't you seen it already? No? If you have any interest in Korean history or culture, then "Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits" offers you a window into a part of Korea that doesn't get talked about enough. Until the 1970's shamanism was a big part of everyday life, there were gods and spirits everywhere, and the role of the shaman was one of the most important in the village. This film gives you a condensed history of shamanism in the twentieth century, its almost complete disappearance thanks to the sweeping modernisations of Korea forty years ago, and its rebirth. There's plenty of archival and new footage giving you a glimpse of ceremonies from the recent past, and the reconstructed dramatic scenes also offer insight into what shamanism in Korea used to be.

1. Kim Geum-hwa - Important Intangible Cultural Property #82, she is the "National Shaman" and this is her film. Based on her autobiography "Silk Flower Nomsae", it tells her story from her perspective and allows us to understand what made her become a shaman, and what impact it has had on her life. She opens the film with a prayer to the gods of cinema and filmmaking, asking them to bless the production, bless everyone involved and bless those in the cinema watching. She invites us into her life and bears her beautiful soul. We are allowed glimpses into traditional rituals and performances that show off her extraordinary talents and put some of the stuffy, staged shaman related performances you might see at the National Gugak Center to shame. Through her words, her experiences and her rituals we become connected to Korea, to the land and to the spirits around us. No matter what your belief, this film will leave you astonished, amazed and impressed with the life of Kim Geum-hwa and all that she has done.

Convinced? I hope so. I urge, implore and beg you to take advantage of these screenings while they last and to go see what may be one of the best films of 2014. The Seven Stars will be waiting for you.

Indieplus have updated their screening schedule, with extra showings added through till the 30th of March:

Sunday 23rd March - 13:00
Monday 24th March - 12:30 and 18:40
Tuesday 25th March - 12:30 and 18:20
Wednesday 26th March - 16:00
Thursday 27th March - 11:30 and 17:20
Friday 28th March - 13:30 and 19:20 (with a guest visit from the director himself)
Saturday 29th March - 14:30 and 18:20
Sunday 30th March - 14:30 and 18:20

Photo credit: Hangukyeonghwa







Friday, March 21, 2014

Kolleen Park's Kaboom And Becoming a K-Performance Supporter


My return to regular blogging has also meant a foray into a group run by the Korean Tourism Organization known as the K-Performance Supporters - a large number of people from all over the world who in return for free tickets to performances in Korea agree to write about them, share their experiences and support Korean performances. Last night was the opening event of their "third season" and I, along with a horde of other theatre fans, was invited to down to Jongno for food and theatrical fun.


The evening started out near Jongno-3-ga at the Jongno Cinecore building. This has been the home of Korean non-verbal performances for many years and is conveniently located next to a branch of Peggy Pie, so one can fulfil one's thirst for entertainment and hunger for puff pastry. It's a quick walk from Jongno-3-ga station and just across the road from Insa-dong and Tapgol Park, so even though I arrived a little too early there was plenty to do...


The first event of the evening was a slap-up feast at VIPS. We were allowed to buffet to our heart's content (with an hour time limit) and had free reign to sit wherever we chose. I ended up on a lovely table filled with bloggers from the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, France and Indonesia and it was great to sit, chat and make new acquaintances. 


Once dinner was done, we made our way up to the fourth floor where we were given a ticket each and had the chance to get our photos taken using the special Kaboom machines. Using pictures of the performers as a background you were able to take snaps of yourself and your new friends that would later be used in the show and have them emailed to you (though as of now, almost twenty four hours later my email has yet to arrive...). Once our images had been recorded it was off into the theatre for the welcoming ceremony and a very welcome goodie bag (filled with a K-Performance pamphlet, a smartphone holder thingy, a snazzy three colour pen and a usb drive. Thanks KTO!).



Speeches were made, prizes were given to the best bloggers of last season and the person who cheered the loudest got two free tickets to see Fanta-stick (a "Fusion Gukak Music Show"). Thanks to my years of training as a professional loudmouth I succeeded in nabbing the tickets for myself and I look forward to seeing what "fusion gukak music" mixed with fizzy drinks and sticks looks like.


Finally it was show time and we all sat down and waited for "Kaboom! 케쎄라쎄라" to start. Directed by Kolleen Park, the show brings together four different groups for your performing pleasure (all quotes taken from the Kaboom pamphlet):

Morning of Owl - "World's number 1 B-boy team"
Va Va Voom - "Female trio that touches the soul, fusion Korean classical music"
Magic Trunk - "Storytelling magic show"
PID (Performance in the Darkness) - "You can't take your eyes off it, black light laser performance!"

The seventy minute show is comprised of five minute sets where each group get to show off their own skills, sometimes working together, sometimes on their own. It's a little like Kolleen's own Korea's Got Talent, except there are no sob stories or red buttons to press if you don't enjoy the acts. Thanks to each sequence being relatively short, you don't have to worry if one particular performance doesn't float your boat, but at the same time there are no extended sequences meaning you never quite have time to settle into any of the four groups.

Morning of Owl offered some impressive b-boy skills that were sometimes combined with more traditional music and occasionally veered towards contemporary dance. They are a talented bunch of boys and I think there's a lot of potential in mixing traditional Korean movements and music with the frenzied spins, kicks and body pops of breakdancing. Hopefully they'll get their own full show at some point so we can see how far they can take their ideas.

Va Va Voom gave good performances on traditional zithers and drums, switching instruments, playing to the crowd and performing well, but they were drowned out by the recorded K-pop instrumentals accompanying them. I would have liked to be able to hear them better, but perhaps I need to just head to the National Gugak Centre whenever I want my fill of jjangu and gayageum.

Magic Trunk managed to combine a simple tragic story with some old tricks done well. Nothing new or original for magic fans, but they pulled off each trick with panache and it's always great to see quick changes and other flashy routines done with style.

PID were the showstoppers. Without a doubt the most exciting team of the night, they offered just two dance sequences but stole the show with their fabulous choreography, amazing lighting and astonishingly good timing. Their final sequence of dancing day-glo robots brought the house down and I would have been happy to spend the whole 70 minutes in their company. PID alone are worth the ticket price (though in my case I didn't have to pay).

There's no story or real flow to the show, just different acts doing their thing. The Kaboom pamphlet proclaims "Forget about stories. Enjoy pure pleasure beyond your imagination" and there were indeed moments of pure pleasure in my evening, though I do wish it had been a more cohesive sequence of acts and not just a series of unrelated incidents.

If you're looking for a fun night at the theatre that doesn't require much thought, but will leave you buzzing, then "Kaboom! 케쎄라쎄라" is the show for you. Go for the "black laser light show" and enjoy whatever other bits take your fancy.



"Kaboom! 케쎄라쎄라" is on Thursday and Friday at 8.00pm, Saturday at 3.00pm and 7.00pm and Sunday at 3.00pm. More info can be found on their website, but the English section didn't work when using chrome on my mac... For tickets and some information in English head here. Tickets range from 40,000 won to 80,000 won, but you can get 50% off until the 30th of April thanks to K-Performance's special deal.

I'm looking forward to other events with the K-Performance Supporters and getting a chance to mix, mingle and chat with people I wouldn't otherwise ever get to meet, but I do have one thing to ask all of them and anyone who wants to go to the theatre in Korea. If there is an announcement before the show (in this case in both English and Korean) asking you to turn off your phones and not take pictures, then please put your cameras away and make sure that your phone is switched off. Last night I sat almost at the very back of the theatre, and I kept being distracted by some audience members who tried to take pictures or were checking their phones throughout the show. The ushers were rushing around trying to tell them to stop and my eyes were continually drawn to the little rectangles of brightness within the dark auditorium. It was only a few people, but it was enough to diminish my enjoyment of the show.

I can also tell you that the hard working teams on stage could probably see each and every person who used a camera or a phone. I'm a theatre performer and when I'm under bright lights on stage I can still see every single person who choose to disobey the rules and use a device. It's off-putting, annoying and is the bane of theatre professionals everywhere. We want to give you the best show we can, but when there are distractions like that in the audience it makes the job of entertaining you much harder. I urge everyone reading this to please follow each productions' wishes and if they ask you to turn off your phones and not take photos, do as they ask.

Thank you Korea Tourism Organization, the K-Performance Supporters and the cast and crew of "Kaboom! 케쎄라쎄라" for making it a night to remember and I look forward to seeing more theatre this year!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

English Subtitled Shamans Ahoy!


Photo credit: Indieplus

Really exciting news for fans of documentary cinema living in Seoul. Park Chan-kyong's "Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits" is being shown with English subtitles this week at Indieplus near Sinsa station in Gangnam.

Park is the younger brother of Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Stoker and JSA to name a few) and his last solo feature length film "Anyang, Paradise City" (released in 2010) was a stunning mix of documentary footage and fiction detailing life in Anyang and some troubling stories from its past.

"Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits" focuses on Kim Geum-hwa, a "national shaman". For anyone interested in Korean shamanism or the traditions of this peninsula, this promises to be a worthwhile watch.

The film will be screened with English subtitles at the following times this week:

Tuesday 18th March - 12:20 and 20:10
Wednesday 19th March - 12:20 and 16:00
Thursday 20th March - 16:20
Friday 21st March - 10:20
Saturday 22nd March - 14:20 and 20:20
Sunday 23rd March - 13:00

Indieplus have said that screenings will continue beyond the 23rd March, no detailed schedule as yet. More info can be found at the Indieplus website.



Friday, March 14, 2014

One Man's Song Silenced After Eighty Years

Photo credit: Naver News

Do you know this man? If you're not familiar with Korean traditional music then you most likely haven't seen him before. If you read The Korea Times you might have seen his picture in the paper this week or caught something about him on the tv news.

His name was 이은관 (Lee Eun-gwan) and he passed away on Wednesday 12th March 2014 at the age of 97. Apart from a couple of brief mentions in the aforementioned newspaper, hardly anyone in the English speaking world seems to be talking about his death and it feels like something needs to be said, a moment needs to be taken to recognise his contributions to Korea and to Korean music.

So, here we go...

Lee Eun-gwan was born on the 27th November 1917 in Icheon-gun in Gangwon Province. He spent most of his youth in Cheolwon-gun, Gangwon Province. His training in traditional music began by focusing on 서도소리 (Seodosori), folk songs from the Seodo region (the Pyeongan and Hwanghae provinces now located in North Korea), before specialising in 배뱅이굿 (Baebengigut) an hour long story song performance. He started performing Baebaengigut at the age of 17 and spent the next eighty years of his life dedicated to that song. He sang other ditties during that time, but he was known for and celebrated for his interpretation of this traditional work.

Dr. Roald Maliangkay describes the story of the song in his article "Baebaengi Debuts In Australia":
The story told is that of a minister Choe, a former shaman, and his wife, who after a long time of prayer finally becomes pregnant. The child, a girl, grows up quickly but when she is in her teens she falls in love with a monk who comes to her house to beg for food. After hiding him (and making love to him) in her bedroom for days, the monk leaves her to return to his temple. Because he doesn¡¯t come back like he promises, the girl falls ill and dies. Devastated, her parents decide to organize a contest and award all their possessions to the shaman who can help them speak to the spirit of their girl in the afterworld. A poor vagabond hears of the contest and decides to pretend he is a shaman. Shamans from all provinces of Korea come to perform for the parents, but they all fail to convince. Using his great wit, the libertine manages to pass the tests and deceive both the parents and the crowd to win the award.

You can listen to the whole thing here if you so wish:


This is a recording of Lee Eun-gwan (at the age of 77) singing Baebaengigut back in 1994. It's almost an hour long and probably only the most dedicated fans of Korean traditional music would take the time to listen to the whole thing, but I urge you to take a couple of minutes, listen to a few sections, try and get the feel for the piece.

It's an astonishing feat - one man accompanied by a gong and a drum, telling the same story he has told year after year, decade after decade. A life dedicated to Baebaengigut, a commitment to one particular performance. He may have had dalliances with other songs, but throughout his whole life he always remained faithful to this work, coming back again and again to this tragic tale of ill-fated love and deception. Eighty years dedicated to one song.

Here he is, last year, at the age of 96 giving it his all on the Korean traditional music channel:


Not bad going for a nonagenarian...

Back in his younger days he was a movie star and could draw in the crowds. If you watch this video clip from the 55 second mark (though if you watch form the start you'll get to see Lisa Kelly in Korean language news presenter mode) you'll see a brief glimpse of him about to perform to a sea of faces all eager to hear him sing. Below is the poster for his big movie from 1957 - Baebaengigut.

Photo Credit: Fabiano

I wish I had got to see him perform Baebaengigut live, but that chance is gone and it's a firm reminder that I need to get my act together, get to the theatre or the madang more often and celebrate this kind of performer while they are still around to hear the applause. I urge you to do the same.

All we have left of Lee Eun-gwan are the audio and video recordings scattered across the internet or in the homes of collectors. His eighty years of song may be silenced, but the echoes of the past will remain for much much longer and I hope others unfamiliar with Baebaengigut will come to appreciate it in the future.



Thursday, March 13, 2014

Celebrating 9 Years of Adverts in the New York Times


There's an advert in the latest New York Times for Bulgogi (Thanks to Roboseyo and Zenkimchi for bringing it to my attention). A celebration of sportsmanship, good food and chopstick skills, it's from the same people who have brought us so much pleasure over the past nine years with printed adverts in diverse publications ranging from the New York Times to the Washington Post to the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times.

It feels like the right time to celebrate some of those adverts from the past nine years. The following are all taken from http://www.forthenextgeneration.com/

Way back in 2005, we were all young and foolish, and curious to find out more about Dokdo and the East Sea...


Published 27th July 2005 in the New York Times


Published 21st November 2005 in the New York Times


In 2007 the focus changed to Comfort Women:


Published 17th April 2007 in the Washington Post


But in 2008 it was back to Dokdo and the East Sea, with the addition of Goguryeo:


Published 9th July 2008 in the New York Times


Published 11th August 2008 in the New York Times


Published 25th August 2008 in the Washington Post


2009 was all about journalistic mistakes and delicious rice dishes:


Published 6th May 2009 in the Wall Street Journal

Published 11th May 2009 in the New York Times

Published 12th May in the Washington Post

Published 21st December 2009 in the New York Times


The start of a new decade brought a new focus on language learning:


Published 28th April 2010 in the Wall Street Journal

Published 26th May 2010 in the Wall Street Journal


However, 2011 saw some old favourites return and the exciting promise of a yacht race:


Published 22nd February 2011 in the New York Times

Published 26th April 2011 in the Wall Street Journal

Published 5th November 2011 in the Wall Street Journal

Published 29th December 2011 in the Wall Street Journal


2012 gave us puzzles to solve and new words to learn, and asked for apologies:


Published 1st March 2012 in the New York Times

Published 14th March 2012 in the Wall Street Journal

Published 29th May 2012 in the New York Times


Finally, 2013 was the year to eat, drink and be merry:

Published 13th February 2013 in the New York Times

Published 28th March 2013 in the New York Times

Published 21st May 2013 in the New York Times


Seo Kyoung-deok posted the following on his me2day account today:

추신수 선수와 뉴욕타임스에 불고기 광고를 올렸습니다. 올해부터는 고기류에 더 집중하려구요. 특히 이제부턴 대한민국을 대표하는 세계적인 스포츠스타와 함께 한식을 널리 알려볼 생각입니다. 또한 이영애와 무한도전의 비빔밥광고,김윤진의 김치광고, 송일국의 막걸리광고 등을 묶어 '한식아트북'을 제작해 조만간 전세계 주요도서관에 다 기증할 예정입니다. 우리의 한식이 세계인들의 입맛을 사로잡는 그날까지 쭉~^^

If my tenuous grasp of Korean serves me well then it looks like we can expect a greater focus on meat, with world famous Korean sport stars joined together with Korean food. Lee Young-ae will continue her promotion of Bibimbap (alongside the cast of Infinite Challenge) and one of the stars of the tv series Lost, Kim Yoon-jin, will be celebrating Kimchi. Plus there will be a "Hanshik Artbook" to tantalise our eyes.

You can download these images and many more here (including some spiffy videos and posters and other things).

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Bossam Tacos



One of my regular guilty pleasures is a trip to Vatos in Itaewon, it's only a five minute walk from home and there's a guarantee of good beer and a good bellyful of food. I've never been to Mexico, so I make no claims about the authenticity of the food, all I know is that it tastes pretty damn good. Plus they have Magpie's Pale Ale on tap...

Their latest invention is the braised belly pork taco with vinegared red pepper paste, a divine combination of Mexican and Korean flavours that are well worth trying.

My expanding waistline is a testament to the quality of the food.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hello Again...

This blog has been quiet... too quiet.

I've been busy and with only fourteen posts in the last twenty months, I've been lax! Perhaps this will be the start of a renewed and revitalised blog, with much more to come! Though it may be best not to hold your breath.

Life has been rather hectic and immensely rewarding over the last year and a half. I've transitioned from full time performer to full time director and occasional show off at Latt Children's Theatre and we're just about to start work on our latest production - Twelve Singing Animals. We start rehearsals in twelve days time and if you fancy coming along and boogieing down to the hottest English language children's musical about the Asian zodiac in town then we'll be open on October 12th.

Alternatively, if you fancy listening to my dulcet tones on a regular basis then you can find me polluting the airwaves five minutes at a time, five days a week on Travel Bug, Arirang radio's morning show. I've been doing a corner for the past year and a half called Culture Note, where they kindly let me witter on about all sorts of topics.

And now back to some semi-regular blogging!




Thursday, May 23, 2013

Yellow Dust




Jaundiced smoggy skies greeted me on the way home tonight. It looks as if the yellow dust is making an unwelcome return. Nowhere near danger levels yet, but still eye-stingingly frustrating.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Psy's Gentleman Gets A Much More Genteel Makeover

I'm not keen on Psy's latest pop creation, but at least this cover version I spotted on Reddit has some charm about it...

Psy's "Gentleman" done 1920's style:



The Korean may be almost unintelligible, but it's a great deal better than the original.