Korean Culture in Media: Movies

You may have noticed from my Saturday music video series that I’m a fan of K-pop, or Korean pop music.  I’ve started getting into other Korean media as well, including movies and TV shows; it’s very easy now thanks to the Internet.  It’s been really fascinating, because in addition to being good entertainment, I’ve been learning a lot about Korean culture.  Some things obliquely touched on by these shows include:

  • societal views on marriage, homosexuality, and gender roles
  • Korean relations with and attitudes towards foreign countries (especially Japan, North Korea, the US, and Europe)
  • forms of address
  • social/economic classes
  • food! (types as well as meal customs)

I’ve also learned some basic Korean vocab (yes, no, what, okay, really; I already knew love, crazy, and everyone from K-pop songs).  This is already more than I learned watching LOST for 6 years.


Oldboy (2003) PosterOldboy (Park Chan-wook, 2003)

This may be the Korean movie best-known to Americans; it is highly acclaimed, having won the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.

Describing it in one word, I would say this movie is intense.  Based on a Japanese manga of the same name, it tells the story of Oh Dae-su, a man who is mysteriously imprisoned for 15 years and then just as mysteriously released.  There’s lots of revenge going on all over the place.  The twisted, bloody, violent kind.

Oldboy keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time, and the ending will make you want to watch it again right away.  One famous scene is particular is the “hallway fight scene” where Oh Dae-su takes on a group of thugs, and the action travels in one shot down the hallway for almost 3 min, with the men getting more and more exhausted.  You can see its influence in many other movies; many people thought of it when viewing the hallway fight scene in the recent Daredevil show.

Commitment (2013) PosterCommitment (Park Hong-soo, 2013)

I admit, I only watched this because it happened to be on Netflix and I saw that it starred Choi Seung-hyun, better know as rapper T.O.P from the K-pop group BIGBANG.

It turned out to be a very enjoyable action spy thriller, quite entertaining if a bit generic.  T.O.P’s character is the son of a failed North Korean operative who is then himself sent into the field to basically atone for his father’s failure, but gets caught between rival North Korean cabals as well as South Korean intelligence.

I was looking forward to listening to T.O.P’s beautiful low voice for several hours, but his character ironically turned out to be rather taciturn.  I thought he was pretty good in the role; I probably 90% believed his action scenes.

Tomorrow we’ll be talking Korean TV shows!

Marvel continues to print money

*Spoilers for Daredevil and Avengers: Age of Ultron*


In a city that I drive through on my commute, there’s a man named Wilson who’s running for city council.  I see lots of navy signs in yards with “Wilson” in big classic white letters, and every time my heart does a little jump of panic, until I remember that “Wilson” is his last name, not his first, and his last name is not Fisk.

I started watching Daredevil the day it came out on Netflix; I got through 3 episodes that night.  The first was good, the second had that beautiful hallway fight scene, and by the third I knew I was hooked because I was talking to the TV and calling the main character “Matty.”

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect beforehand, but what I saw was a better version of Arrow, which is itself a good Batman TV show.  This is the story not of a superhero, but of a vigilante.  I was surprised by the level of graphic violence (and my cats hated the sudden yelling and gunfire every 20 min).  The characters (and the Catholicism) feel real.  The acting was engaging.  It passes the Mako Mori test with flying colors.

Yet even as Daredevil pulls you into despair with copious glasses of alcohol, serious bodily injury, and investigative journalism paranoia, it gives you an odious character named Marci and then scolds you for hating her, because people can choose to do good as well as evil, and people can change.  I still hope Foggy dumps her.

My few complaints: needs more Stick et al., and Rosario Dawson’s character Claire kinda got dropped in the middle.  The sound mixing on the fight scenes was weird, but I liked it because it gave the illusion of heightened senses.

There will be a second season, and I foresee Vanessa becoming very, very scary.


Avengers: Age of Ultron was only my 2nd most anticipated movie this year.  (But that’s not saying much as the 1st is Star Wars.)  In short, it neither exceeded nor fell short of my expectations.  It was pretty much exactly what I expected: a big story that was highly entertaining.

I found this movie darker than the first Avengers because villain is actually coming from within (specifically from within Tony Stark).  I loved Ultron’s quips, but he suffers slightly compared to Loki, because Loki already had a whole movie of character development before Avengers, and Ultron isn’t even “alive” when Avengers 2 starts.

The dialogue was sufficiently witty to keep me smiling the whole way.  (“Language!” is the new “On your left!” in our house.)  In only time I felt this work against the movie was Ultron’s “Oh, man” as he falls from the jet at the end; it’s right after Quicksilver’s death, and we’ve barely had time to process that before we’re having smart-ass remarks thrown in our face again.  The movie in general could have used some more to breathe; I daresay we’re all awaiting the director’s cut on Blu-ray.

My highlight: this was the best Scarlet Witch I could have asked for in the MCU.  Loved her look, her character arc, and her accent wasn’t even atrocious.

This movie had a lot of work to do with setting up future movies for Phase 3 of the MCU, and honestly it did a great job of it; I am excited for CA3: Civil War and Black Panther especially.

My lingering question: where the f was Nick Fury hiding a goddamn hellicarrier?