“Memories of Murder” Ranked in Top Non-Hollywood Horror Movies

October 31st, 2008 · Entertainment · 4 comments

The Seoul Shinmun relays the news that the serial killer drama “Memories of Murder” (살인의 추억) was ranked #5 by an American magazine called The Examiner’s list of top non-Hollywood horror movies. Unfortunately the film’s new English DVD cover was apparently designed to resemble a cheapie true crime book.

Here’s the magazine’s full list. Also, despite the fact that the Seoul Shinmun piece includes the above DVD cover, the reporter still managed to bungle the film’s name as “Memories of a Murder”.

1. 28 Days Later (UK)

2. The Eye (Hong Kong / Singapore)

3. Cure (Japan)

4. Repulsion (UK)

5. Memories of Murder (South Korea)

6. Diabolique (France)

7. Pulse (Japan)

8. The Orphanage (Spain)

9. Pan’s Labyrinth (Spain)

10. Ring (Japan)

Why Hollywood Versions of Korean Movies Suck

October 31st, 2008 · Entertainment · 20 comments

Last week on Naver this article, on the subject of Hollywood remakes of Korean films, was one of the most-viewed.

Scenes from both versions of "My Sassy Girl", "The Lake House", and for no reason at all, "24".

“My Sassy Girl”, the Hollywood remake of “엽기적인 그녀”, will land in Korea on the 30th.

“My Sassy Girl” went straight to DVD in the United States but will open in theaters here. So it might be expected to be as popular here as the original film was.

But “My Sassy Girl”, as revealed at a press conference, fails to capture the charm of the original film and has to be evaluated as just another Hollywood romantic comedy.

We are now in a situation where the news that Hollywood plans to remake a Korean film has become expected rather than surprising. Korean films are attractive in that they have different kinds of stories from the usual Hollywood fare.

But from “The Lake House” (“시월애”) to “Mirror” (“거울속으로”) to “My Sassy Girl”, many domestic fans have found it difficult to like the Hollywood remakes.

To ask why Hollywood remakes fail to live up to the standards of the originals is to ask how closely tailored Korean movies are to Korean audiences.

The first remake, “The Lake House,” generated considerable hype because of its pairing of the American stars Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, who starred together in “Speed”. The remake was faithful to the original’s theme of a love able to transcend time and space, and opened at fourth place in the box office ranking.

But despite the star performances it grossed a disappointing $52 million overseas. In Korea it was a box office disaster. The domestic media called it a retread and gave it low marks.

“Mirror” opened in seventh place at the U.S. box office and put in an ok showing for a horror movie. Disappointed fans in Korea produced tepid grosses, though it did alright in the United States.

There is little difference between this and the situation in Hollywood after the success of “Mirror”, “The Ring” and so on that led to a boom in Hollywood remakes of Japanese and Thai horror films. This is because horror movies are an established genre in America and new elements were mixed in judiciously.

“The Lake House”, “Mirror”, and “My Sassy Girl” are remakes that fit into clear genres. These were the first Hollywood remakes of Korean films and experienced clear genre success to the degree that the originals fit into simple genres.

Moreover, in the early days when remake rights were sold to Hollywood, they were sold at low prices and without rights to participate in the remake’s production. The primary reason for this is that in the process of changing Korean sentiments into American sentiments the original work loses its artistic merits.

Hollywood is aware of the seriousness of these problems.

The American movie magazine Variety reported on the 22nd that Hollywood is taking a new approach to Asian movie remakes. According to the report, Hollywood studios have purchased the rights to many Asian films but has written few new scripts or begun new productions. Compared to the past there is now a lull in new intellectual property purchases.

Whether purchasing those rights or investing in a remake, costs are similar and prospective profits are low, so the problem is that the film may do poorly in Asia.

Because of this Hollywood is considering purchasing the remake rights to Asian films and then producing them in the local language. Zak Kadison, formerly of “My Sassy Girl” studio Gold Circle and currently head of Fox Atomic, said, “Hollywood studios are going to be doing remakes in local languages.”

Fox Star Studio, the union of 20th Century Fox’s Asian division and Fox International, is an example of this.

On the other hand, in the current atmosphere there is a need for Korean films to take a strategic approach to Hollywood.

A representative of ShinChine, the company which founded “엽기적인 그녀” producer Robot Taekwon V, announced, “in the past we were grateful to be able to sell the remake rights, but now we are putting together our own international strategy.”

This is not related to the current trend that when a contract for the sale of remake rights to Hollywood is concluded there is negotiation over distribution profits. CJ Entertainment is also preparing an international strategy to participate in the production of Hollywood remakes of its films.

The original Variety article on which this piece relied can be read here. (Frankly it seems the author of the Korean piece didn’t fully understand it.) There might already be some dividends from Hollywood’s new strategy as South Korea will soon give the world Beverly Hills Ninja 2. Pay dirt!

Student Commits Suicide Over Bad Grades

October 31st, 2008 · Accidents, Crimes and Scandals, Education and ESL · 13 comments

Tragic.

A fourth-grade student in Gwangju committed suicide over his declining academic performance.

At approximately 7 pm on the 28th, Mr. Park (43) walked into his apartment in the Cheomdanji-du neighborhood and found his 10-year old son dead in his bedroom, and then alerted police.

Mr. Park told the police, “after I arrived home from work there seemed to be nobody home, so I went in to check and found my son dead.” The room where he was found contained a note reading, “mom, dad, I’m tired of living in this world so I’m killing myself. Live well.” Police are continuing to investigate and say that the boy acted “after he cried very much in his classroom after being saddened over his declining academic performance since his midterm examination.”

Face of the Day

October 30th, 2008 · Photos · 9 comments

Principal Yeong Hun-go cries as he has his hair cut at a protest calling on the Seoul Office of Education to reconsider a recent decision affecting his school.

Disabled Woman Claims Discrimination in Master’s Degree Program

October 30th, 2008 · Education and ESL, Women in Korea · 2 comments

A disabled woman in Chuncheon is alleging discrimination in the master’s degree admission process at her university.

A physically disabled woman’s desire to be admitted to a master’s degree program has experienced a severe setback despite her accomplished record of academic achievement.

In June 27-year old Ms. Lee, a first-level physically disabled student studying modern Korean history at a university in Chuncheon, was denied admission to the university’s master’s degree program.

She was shocked to be informed that she was being denied despite the clear sufficiency of her academic credentials, having graduated on scholarship for four years and met with success in a post-graduate program, and ability to complete the program.

She asked the three-person interview panel why she was being rejected but says they acted weaselly and “said there was something wrong with my research opportunity application, which was important, and just wouldn’t give a straight answer.”

Ms. Lee pointed out, “my academic credentials and ability and dissertation are clearly sufficient and I can’t understand how the interview panel couldn’t give me a single straight answer. They didn’t consider my ability at all, just my outward appearance as disabled.”

A professor on the interview panel said, “she was unable to sit for the oral examination, which is 40% of the total score, and thus received the lowest possible score for it. And foreign language competency is required for completion of the master’s program, but we were not aware of any documents which could show she met that requirement.”

The professor added, “the charge that it was because she is disabled is groundless. There are objective requirements for admission and she was evaluated on them.”

The National Human Rights Commission has accepted Ms. Lee’s complaint and plans to open an investigation, its fourth, of the university.

This second article fills in a bit more information. Ms. Lee completed four years of undergraduate work with a 4.07 (out of 4.5) GPA and two years of a post-graduate program where she had a 4.4 GPA. After the NHRC opened its investigation the school “changed its story” and now claims she was rejected for scoring 69.93 out of the required 70 points in the application process.

More Melamine Cookies Found in Korea

October 30th, 2008 · Accidents, Crimes and Scandals, Economy and Worklife, Health and Environment · 2 comments

Better not eat any of these for a while, either.

Elementary Teacher in Trouble for Switching Student

October 29th, 2008 · Accidents, Crimes and Scandals, Education and ESL · 24 comments

Another teacher in Incheon has gotten in legal trouble for using excessive corporal punishment. In May another teacher in the city apparently mistook herself for a drill sergeant.

A second-grade homeroom teacher at an elementary school in Incheon has caused a controversy by switching a 7-year old girl named N because she didn’t understand her homework, causing injuries which will take three weeks to fully heal.

According to a statement of the Incheon City Education Office on the 28th, during class on the afternoon of the 21st the teacher used a rod made from a tree branch to beat the child on her buttocks for at least 10 strikes.

The next day the girl’s mother went to the school and rebuked the teacher, and on the 27th made a report to the police. The local parents’ association then called for the teacher’s dismissal.

N has still not returned to school and is receiving treatment for her injuries as well as psychological counseling at a hospital.

A friend of N’s placed the story on an internet portal site.

The teacher, a woman, is now being criticized for excessive corporal punishment of male students.

The school has apologized and promised parents it will prevent any re-occurrences and demote the teacher to regular teacher from homeroom teacher.

The local Education Office plans to open a punishment committee once the police investigation has concluded.

The mother of N said, “the first time it happened my child couldn’t walk, and now she wakes up suddenly right in the middle of sleeping. How can someone be so cruel to a little kid?”

Ambassador Stephens Falls Short of Full Ajumma Status

October 28th, 2008 · Foreigners, Photos · 9 comments

New United States ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens recently took an excursion to Pokpo-sa temple in Busan, and while the needle on the ajumma-meter is definitely ringing, she lacks the backpack and hiking outfit necessary to really nail the look down. I would say her companion has reached 100% hiker ajummosity, but we can’t tell if there’s a tin cup and compass attached to her backpack.

Korean Schools: ‘Stay Right There! Don’t Move!’

October 28th, 2008 · Education and ESL · 0 comments

A few readers requested translation of this article about what I can only call the increasingly weird culture of public schools in South Korea. This was one of the most-viewed articles on the top Korean-language portal site Naver.com last week.

Every time 16-year old Kim Cheon-yang (not her real name), a third-year student at a middle school in Seoul, goes looking for a classmate she waits in front of the classroom door. In the past she could go right in start chatting but now she sends a text message saying “come out in the hallway for a minute”. If she goes right into the classroom to chat with her friends she will be demerited. On every classroom door is a sign reading, “no entry by students of other homerooms. Severe punishment if caught.”

The signs saying “no entry by students of other homerooms” which could be seen on classroom doors when high school seniors were studying for the university entrance examinations have recently been coming to even middle schools. Homeroom teachers usually put them up themselves or else another school employee does so. Normally they say,”no entry by students of other homerooms” but many also emphasize the punishment, saying “if you come in you’ll be cleaning the halls for a week,” or “two demerits for coming inside.” Others are cuter, saying “talk to the person you’re calling in the hallway,” “this is a class of hard-working boys and girls,” or “you’re a fool if you come in.”

The goal of these signs is to prevent theft and foster a good study environment. Schools who use them say they can do nothing else because textbooks, gym class uniforms and school materials sometimes disappear and students sometimes fight.

Some students who have been seeing the signs since the first year of middle school think of them as just part of the scenery and don’t object, but quite a few also see them as turning classrooms into dreary places.

16-year old Shin, a female student at D middle school, said, “they’re good because it’s easier to catch the thief when something gets stolen. I can get together with my friends and classmates in our free time. We have to understand that that if we go in another class we might be punished.”

Students don’t believe the signs contribute to a better study environment.

16-year old Goh, a female student at a different middle school, said, “when the high school entrance exam comes around, they crack down and put padlocks on the lockers to make a better study environment. But there are a lot of people who study in their free time so I wonder if these strict signs are really needed.” 16-year old Choi, a female student at D middle school, said, “I have to concentrate hard to get into the high school I want. A fraction of a point can make a big difference so a few problems can be very upsetting.”

Park Chel-woo of the teen organization Heemang21 (21세기청소년공동체희망) offered his analysis. “This practice is spreading from the classrooms of high school seniors to other high schoolers’ rooms and even to middle schools. Specialized high schools in particular are putting more emphasis on academic discipline for the university entrance examination.”

Lee Seung-geun, a teacher at 교문중학교 in Gyeonggi-do, pointed out that, “when you’re a teen it’s important to build close friendships, so it’s obviously not natural to psychologically discourage them from hanging out with their friends and put up boundaries among them. It’s sad how many times their activities are restricted and how much academic stress is placed on them.”

Yun Suk-ja, president of a parents’ association, finds plenty to criticize. “With school competition increasing in the face of greater school choice and transparency, they say the goal of these signs is to prevent students’ whereabouts being unaccounted for and to make a better study environment. It looks to me like one of the reasons is to increase competition for getting into good high schools and universities. Punishing or demeriting students for going into other homerooms is just an opportunistic way of making students who never object to school policies.”

One blogger wrote of his feelings on seeing such signs at his alma mater when he went there for a TOEIC class.

“There were these laminated signs on all the homeroom doors. When did they start doing this? When I was in middle school I almost always went to other homerooms in my free time. We danced, we played games, we told jokes. How can they make things so warlike?”

Notice what Yun Suk-ja sees as the real reason schools are instituting this bizarre policy — to put even more emphasis on grades. One of the things that shows how out of control study fever is in Korea is how every single educational reform intended to reduce it actually winds up being interpreted as making it even more important to study as much as possible and to the exclusion of things that normal human beings need, such as sleep and friendship. For example hagwons only became popular when school hours were drastically shortened so kids could have more free time. Then Roh Moo-hyun tried bringing in more foreign teachers so parents didn’t feel they compelled to send their kids to hagwons to get face time with a foreigner, but parents just spent even more on hagwons so their kids could have the same comparative advantage as before the influx of foreigners into public schools. Then Lee Myung-bak thought English immersion classes would obviate the need for hagwons only to give up on seeing how the idea only made parents consider hagwons even more necessary. I don’t know how you break this kind of cycle, but my guess is that it will happen only whenthere is either  some kind of amelioration of the root cause — the rigid stratification of society by educational background — or else a sudden decision as a society to stop. South Korea is known for changing fast enough to give everyone whiplash, after all.

Korean Schools: “Stay Right There! Don’t Move!”

October 28th, 2008 · Education and ESL · 12 comments

A few readers requested translation of this article about what I can only call the increasingly weird culture of public schools in South Korea. This was one of the most-viewed articles on the top Korean-language portal site Naver.com last week.

Every time 16-year old Kim Cheon-yang (not her real name), a third-year student at a middle school in Seoul, goes looking for a classmate she waits in front of the classroom door. In the past she could go right in start chatting but now she sends a text message saying “come out in the hallway for a minute”. If she goes right into the classroom to chat with her friends she will be demerited. On every classroom door is a sign reading, “no entry by students of other homerooms. Severe punishment if caught.”

The signs saying “no entry by students of other homerooms” which could be seen on classroom doors when high school seniors were studying for the university entrance examinations have recently been coming to even middle schools. Homeroom teachers usually put them up themselves or else another school employee does so. Normally they say,”no entry by students of other homerooms” but many also emphasize the punishment, saying “if you come in you’ll be cleaning the halls for a week,” or “two demerits for coming inside.” Others are cuter, saying “talk to the person you’re calling in the hallway,” “this is a class of hard-working boys and girls,” or “you’re a fool if you come in.”

The goal of these signs is to prevent theft and foster a good study environment. Schools who use them say they can do nothing else because textbooks, gym class uniforms and school materials sometimes disappear and students sometimes fight.

Some students who have been seeing the signs since the first year of middle school think of them as just part of the scenery and don’t object, but quite a few also see them as turning classrooms into dreary places.

16-year old Shin, a female student at D middle school, said, “they’re good because it’s easier to catch the thief when something gets stolen. I can get together with my friends and classmates in our free time. We have to understand that that if we go in another class we might be punished.”

Students don’t believe the signs contribute to a better study environment.

16-year old Goh, a female student at a different middle school, said, “when the high school entrance exam comes around, they crack down and put padlocks on the lockers to make a better study environment. But there are a lot of people who study in their free time so I wonder if these strict signs are really needed.” 16-year old Choi, a female student at D middle school, said, “I have to concentrate hard to get into the high school I want. A fraction of a point can make a big difference so a few problems can be very upsetting.”

Park Chel-woo of the teen organization Heemang21 (21세기청소년공동체희망) offered his analysis. “This practice is spreading from the classrooms of high school seniors to other high schoolers’ rooms and even to middle schools. Specialized high schools in particular are putting more emphasis on academic discipline for the university entrance examination.”

Lee Seung-geun, a teacher at 교문중학교 in Gyeonggi-do, pointed out that, “when you’re a teen it’s important to build close friendships, so it’s obviously not natural to psychologically discourage them from hanging out with their friends and put up boundaries among them. It’s sad how many times their activities are restricted and how much academic stress is placed on them.”

Yun Suk-ja, president of a parents’ association, finds plenty to criticize. “With school competition increasing in the face of greater school choice and transparency, they say the goal of these signs is to prevent students’ whereabouts being unaccounted for and to make a better study environment. It looks to me like one of the reasons is to increase competition for getting into good high schools and universities. Punishing or demeriting students for going into other homerooms is just an opportunistic way of making students who never object to school policies.”

One blogger wrote of his feelings on seeing such signs at his alma mater when he went there for a TOEIC class.

“There were these laminated signs on all the homeroom doors. When did they start doing this? When I was in middle school I almost always went to other homerooms in my free time. We danced, we played games, we told jokes. How can they make things so warlike?”

Notice what Yun Suk-ja sees as the real reason schools are instituting this bizarre policy — to put even more emphasis on grades. One of the things that shows how out of control study fever is in Korea is how every single educational reform intended to reduce it actually winds up being interpreted as making it even more important to study as much as possible and to the exclusion of things that normal human beings need, such as sleep and friendship. For example hagwons only became popular when school hours were drastically shortened so kids could have more free time. Then Roh Moo-hyun tried bringing in more foreign teachers so parents didn’t feel they compelled to send their kids to hagwons to get face time with a foreigner, but parents just spent even more on hagwons so their kids could have the same comparative advantage as before the influx of foreigners into public schools. Then Lee Myung-bak thought English immersion classes would obviate the need for hagwons only to give up on seeing how the idea only made parents consider hagwons even more necessary.

I don’t know how you break this kind of cycle, but my guess is that it will happen only whenthere is either  some kind of amelioration of the root cause — the rigid stratification of society by educational background — or else a sudden decision as a society to stop. South Korea is known for changing fast enough to give everyone whiplash, after all.