Archive for November, 2009

30
Nov
09

Eccentric Kim Jong-il

The Mirror has an article highlighting some of the more eccentric antics of North Korea’s leader.

14
Nov
09

North Korea will take its turn for show and tell at the UN in December

(Source: CNN.com)

On 7 December North Korea will take its turn at the front of the UN class to talk about its human rights situation. This session is part of the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a four-year cycle during which time all countries who are State Parties to the UN take a turn to have their human rights record discussed.

The process of the UPR goes beyond the review session in December. The process for North Korea began at the beginning of 2009 when initial submissions from civil society was submitted to the UN. Later in the year North Korea itself submitted a document about its human rights record and the UN submitted a briefing based on the recommendations given to North Korea in the past by various treaty bodies to which North Korea is a State Party.

The format of the December session is not a ‘committee of experts’ criticising North Korea and then handing out a list of recommendations which North Korea has no intention of implementing. Such as you see for sessions related to international law which North Korea has signed up to. Rather, it is a peer review. State Parties sign up in advance that they wish to say something during the session. A selected troika of countries will Chair the session. As a State Party’s name is called out the representative will say something about North Korea’s human rights, ask a question and then probably give a recommendation. For example: “The country of X welcomes that North Korea amended its constitution to include something or other on human rights. We would like to ask how many people are in prison camps in North Korea, which we hear are very bad places. We recommend that North Korea shut down the prison camps.”

After several state parties have a turn, North Korea can respond. For example: “Thanks for noticing our token effort to include human rights in the constitution. We have no prison camps therefore we don’t need to close any of them down. Stop interfering in our country.” And so it will go on for about three hours.

After that the recommendations will be written up. North Korea will respond in writing to say which recommendations it accepts, rejects or will think about. And later on there are chances to see how they are going. And in four years, North Korea will be reviewed again.

For the dedicated, the main UPR session in December will be live webcast.

13
Nov
09

London Korean Film Festival – A Frozen Flower

Tonight was the final night of movies for the LKFF being shown at the Barbican. The series of Bong Joon-ho’s movies goes on at the BFI until 14 November and some movies will be shown at Broadway Cinema in Nottingham until 18 November. The final movie at the Barbican was A Frozen Flower directed by Yoo Ha. This is an historical drama done with too much melodrama. It was a bit much for the mostly non-Korean audience and got a few laughs during scenes which were probably not supposed to be funny. It was just really too much. The story was predictable and a bit cliché. But it wasn’t all bad, the costumes and scenery were all striking and the fighting scenes were decent except for some parts of the final fight scene, which were not credible.

The LKFF, for me anyway, is over. My top three movies of the LKFF, in no particular order, are

  1. Kim’s Daughters
  2. Private Eye
  3. Scandal Makers

My two least favourite movies of the LKFF were:

  1. Dream (I think I’m done with movies by Kim Ki-duk)
  2. A Frozen Flower

Notice how I smoothly added a countdown list at the end there – that’s one of the tips for good blogging.

12
Nov
09

London Korean Film Festival – Private Eye and Scandal Makers

Tonight is the penultimate evening for the LKFF. We stayed for both movies beginning with Park Dae-min’s feature film debut, Private Eye. This is a murder mystery set in early 19th Century Seoul. It includes allusions to other great detective stories (Sherlock Holmes and Poe were the two I spotted but there could have been more) and story unfolds smoothly and at a decent clip.

The second movie was Scandal Makers directed by Kang Hyung-chul and starring Cha Tae-hyun. After watching a series of Korean movies that were either violent, depressing or both, it was a great pleasure to watch this movie. Kang plays Nam Hyun-soo a bachelor and b-grade celebrity who finds out he is the father of a teenage woman who herself has become a single mother. Fearing scandal that would end his mediocre career and comfortable lifestyle he tries to keep things under wraps. The movie avoids becoming a soppy ‘young man realises importance of family’ movie in the Disney style. It’s funny and well-made if perhaps a bit culturally specific given that in many countries the revelation of a young man having fathered a child in his younger days would barely raise any eyebrows.

11
Nov
09

Pusan International Film Festival – a retrospective series 3

Next morning we have a fine Korean breakfast with Mi-youn’s parents. Her father grows his own bean sprouts so we had bean sprout soup which was the best I ever tasted. After breakfast I get ready wearing my hip-hop pants green chord top my hair in a high half pony and a pale make-up look. I am spending the morning and some of the afternoon alone as Mi-youn has to go to a wedding. So I head off alone but there is no trouble finding my way back to the festival. It was easy.

My first movie is “The Goal Club”, a Thai film and it was fantastic. The best movie of the whole weekend and the best I’ve seen in a while. These poor Thai boys get involved in an illegal gambling ring and start cheating the system to make more money for themselves. At the end of the movie there is a short blurb about gambling rings and their cost on society.

The move over, I opt for ice-cream for lunch – a smarties mcflurry from Maccas, not as nice as the oreo’s one.

The next movie ins YongSanGun an old 1960s Korean movie about a King in the Chosun period who tries move the grave of his mother who was poisoned and deposed so he can honor her but the court doesn’t allow it. He eventually finds out the truth of his mother’s death and about those who conspired to have her deposed. He orders hundreds to be killed over the matter. The movie was so long and boring but the story itself was interesting. I rushed out as soon as it was over and met Mi-youn. We go straight to see our next session which is short Korean films.

These ones were more abstract and ‘arty’ then the first lot The first one didn’t even have English subtitles so I really missed its point. But mostly it was some Korean guy in New York with a bird cage on his head. The symbolism of this was completely lost on me.

Another one was called ‘Black and White’ and it was two guys who break into a house, get sprung by the father, who is an ex-army man and they have a sword fight in the dark and all die. The point was it was shot in black and white and every so often someone in the film would turn a light on in the house so the scene would go from being mostly black to stark whites. It was quite clever.

Another odd one was a lady who cooked dinner for two, ate alone. We kept getting shots of pictures of her and her husband and then her crying and in the end he is lying dead on the floor with a pencil in his neck. Huh!?? Very strange.

After these films we didn’t hang around for the discussion. Instead we went to check out the souvenirs. They had more stuff than the previous day. I picked out two book markers. Mi-youn was having a hard time deciding. In the end I bought her a book and she bought me this book and some stickers. The book I bought Mi-youn and her gift to me was equal value so it was a fair deal. The volunteers on the stand were very amused to see us buy each other a gift and swap like that. It was a nice ‘feel-good’ idea.

Then it was time to catch the train. We got to the station, picked up the ticket and even had time for a fast-food all-fat burger at Lotteria. Wasn’t I just there??

I left Mi-youn and boarded the train only to be rudely kicked out of my seat (see sour note at back) but in my new seat I got to meet a very nice fighter pilot in the Korean army. A bit cute too but only 22.

The rest of the trip was uneventful except the new man in the seat next to me kept making odd sucking noises. I don’t how or why.

On arriving in Seoul I had no money for a taxi. I tired a couple of bank tellers but apparently my card is “invalid for this service”. In the end I had to walk home. Thankfully its not far and only took 30-40 minutes. Even more thankfully Seoul is pretty safe so I could actually do that.

So that ends my recollection of my trip to the Pusan International Film Festival 2001.

What Fun!

Sour note: Just as my great (almost) weekend closes I have a rotten encounter with a dumb ajoshi. He changed my ticket with his, I don’t know why. But just as its too far to walk back, my car being the opposite end of the train, I realise his ticket ends before mine. I absolutely totally and definitely refuse to get out of this seat. And I hope from now on not to fall for that stupid trick again. And when I got to my new seat there were two girls too scared to talk to a foreigner even when I spoke in Korean. I hope the rest of the trip is better than the start…off we go!!

That is the final instalment of the my travel diary from the PIFF 2001.

11
Nov
09

London Korean Film Festival – Kim’s Daughters

Tonight was part of the retrospective of Korean cinema featuring the movies of Yu Hyun-mok. The first movie, (I didn’t see the second one) was Kim’s Daughters. The movie follows the young adult life of three daughters of a family which is cursed by the death of their great grandmother (or some such relative) who poisoned herself with arsenic. The family legend had it that death by arsenic would curse the family and lead to their ultimate ruin. Fast forward a couple of generations and we have Kim’s daughters. They live in a time when the Japanese are increasing their influence in Korea. The father is struggling to make money and losing the family money. The youngest daughter is sleeping, before marriage, with the house servant. The second daughter isnt’ doing much and our main heroine, Yong-bin, is studying in Seoul and trying hard to keep a thin veneer of respectability on the family. She pretty much fails.

I liked this film alot. Before the screening we had an introduction by some guy who explained that Yu was very much dedicated to realism and showing the harsh realities of life based on his own life experiences. This movie does exactly that, it is gritty, poignent and realistic.  A great film if perhaps not ‘enjoyable’.

10
Nov
09

Pusan International Film Festival – a retrospective series 2

We slept in Saturday morning and work up mid morning. There was a full Korean breakfast waiting with Japjae too. Then we got ready to head out. I chose to wear me dark green thin corduroys with black t-shirt and my hair blow dried and down.

We leave home to the subway station. Its not far and no transfers. Still we are chatting all the time. Mi-youn is worried it will be too crowded and claustrophobic. Me, I’m hoping for a crowd. its all about atmosphere. In the end we are both satisfied – a good crowd but not suffocating. We are standing in the middle of the crowd having only just arrived when Arirang TV asks me for an interview. Mi-youn, on my behalf, agrees straight away. As they are setting up a Korean channel joins in as well! They just ask a couple of questions about why I came, what I think of PIFF, etc. I got  a bit tongue tied but hopefully no-one will notice. Anyway it was perfect to make the whole thing really feel like a festival, a special event. Next I get my picture with some costumed promoters of the new Harry Potter movie. We change our reservation slips to tickets and then go and enjoy a coffee before our first movie.

The first movie for us in ‘Unfinished Song’. An Iranian film about a researcher from Tehran trying to record old folkloric songs of Iran. These songs were sung by women but women are banned from singing in public so the old songs are being forgotten. The researcher hears of a Lady called Hayran who is the only woman who knows the songs. He has trouble  finding her and when he finally tracks her, she is in prison….for gleemanship. And so it goes and then he discovers a dark history with her and his father. It ends sadly when she is about to sing for the researcher to record and he mentions that his father is dead. She starts crying and cannot sing. The end. It was a really great movie.  And to our pleasure/surprise the director showed up even though it was not scheduled. He thanked us for coming and after the movie I got him to sign my Film2.0 magazine over the section about his movie and Mi-youn and I got a photo with him. Fantastic!

There was also an older famous actress in the crown. Mi-youn pointed her out.

There is time before the next movie session so Mi-youn leads the way to a very old, delicious noodle house. Its not big nor classy but the grub is good and its the first I’ve actually liked the fish flavoured water. It was really  nice with the noodles.

Then back to the main area to wander the stalls, get my large Film2.0 bag for throwing lots of useless pamphlets in. We also pick out a t-shirt each and Mi-youn buys one for Sun-je (formally Joseph but Mi-youn’s father told her to change his name apparently it was bad karma or some such).

The next session was Korean short films. In order, Acid Rain, 8849m, A Music Box, Once…Something, and Round. The first was about a loser Korean salaryman who, after a drinking night with work mates picks up a girl prostitute and taker her to a yeogwan. After the deed is done he finds he is out of cash to pay her. They fight and the owner comes in and drags the man to a 24 hour teller but its out of order. Eventually he calls a work mate lady to come help him out. She does. But when the owner gets back he tells the girl he didn’t get the money. The loser guy is driving home and he gets a call…from his wife.

8849m is two guys climbing a mountain in a (real) snow storm. One guy dies but the other perseveres up to the top of the mountain. At the summit he wants to take a photo of him, the view and the Korean flag. He makes several unsuccessful attempts and then the camera freezes up. He puts it in his clothes to warm it but during the wait he too dies of frostbite.

A Music Box was a non-speaking deal and it appeared to be a bit of a ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” thing. It was a lady who took some pills and then cut her wrists but had flashbacks of a pretty young girl dancing and a young woman who I guess was her when she was younger. It was in black and white.

The next one, oddly was Polish actors but directed by a Korean. I didn’t really get this one either. A girl seems to remember being kidnapped when she was young and her husband’s older brother comes to visit and tells a story of a girlfriend of his who lost a baby in a miscarriage and later kidnapped a girl. But the older brother was too young for the girl’s memory of being kidnapped to match the story so I was a little confused.

The last movie in the set “Round” was quite good. It was two boxers preparing for a fight but it also showed bits of them being interviewed after the fight. You didn’t find out until the end who won. It was well done. The lights came on in the theatre and in walked one of the boxers from the movie. Both the boxers in the movie are boxers in real life.

Then the directors of each film came out front, plus the main actor from 8849m for a question and answer session. I got Mi-youn to ask why the interview scenes in the last movie were black and white but the rest was in colour. I expected an answer about artistic interpretation but in fact he said that he originally taped the interviews in black and white and when he did some movie trick to add the colour it came out all green so he kept it in black and white. A technical error.  Mi-youn also asked his age cause he looked so young. He is 28 and married.

That was the final session for the day so we left the cinema and decided to go for a wander around some nearby markets before dinner. It didn’t take long and it was surprisingly empty. However, outside the cinema there was a stage set up and they were doing some show with stars from the movie “The Last Winter” but it was too crowded to see anything. Walking away from the market there were more police guarding a van which we supposed had some celebrities inside but after 2 minutes we got tired of waiting and walking on.

We went for Solluntang for dinner. It was a nice place with delicious kimchi. Except at one pint the waiter tossed a four shelf high trolley of dirty dishes right up against our table. It was crazy. There was heaps of room to put the trolley rather than cramming it right up against our table…..ah, Korea.

After dinner Mi-youn promised to take me to Texas Street, an infamous place for drugs, prostitutes, and crime. There are many Russian and U.S Navy people who frequent the place and it has a reputation far worse than Itaewon. I found out why. In Itaewon there are prostitutes, drugs and crime but there are also lots of people just out to have some fun. In Texas Street the only people out were the drug sellers, prostitutes and Navy boys looking for something. No general crowd to conceal or dilute their presence. It was definitely more seedy than I expected. Mi-youn really didn’t like it so we didn’t stay for a drink. We left Texas Street.

We caught the train planning to head to a place I’d never been before to have a couple of beers but it was getting a bit late and the place was quite far. We aborted that plan and instead went to Seomyun and Hollywood. My second time to Hollywood. We take a seat at the bar, where most people are. The waiter gets a beer for me and June Bug cocktail for Mi-youn. He impressively opens my beer using his forearm and shakes Mi-youn’s cocktail by flinging it and twisting it and generally giving a little cocktail performance. Ahhhhhh…..my first beer in over a month. How sweet that golden taste. Now the drunk man across the bar keeps staring at me. Mi-youn notices this too. Oh, well he is also looking quite drunk so we assume he is harmless and sure enough a bit later he losses interest in staring at me.

Another waiter, a young hip-hop clad 22 year old comes over and listens in on our conversation but he can’t speak English. He is a cutey and tells me how beautiful I am. What a sweetie!! Only two beers but with another big day ahead its time to head home. In the doorway of Mi-youn’s house, every night a po-ja-ma-ja is set up. I think its wonderful.

We get home and her parents are there so I give them my ‘thank-you-for-letting-me-stay’ gifts. A bottle of red wine and some Aussie coasters. We decided to open the bottle for a quick nightcap. I chat a little to Mi-youn’s father and then we watch a little of a video of Mi-youn’s Mother’s recent trip to China. The scenery was spectacular.

My glass empty and time for bed. I’m asleep in 2 minutes.




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