Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Photoblog: Cheonggyecheon

Seoul is a city that has been built almost completely within the last 50 years (seriously, Google some pictures of the place from before the Korean War), and as such, it's not a city with a whole lot of obvious places to take tourists. There's Gyeongbokgung and the rest of the Five Grand Palaces, and then there's Namsan Tower. There's also Namdaemun, but that was severely damaged by an arson a few years ago and is still under reconstruction.

I kind of like the fact that Seoul doesn't have a bunch of overpriced tourist traps with long queues that make sightseeing feel like a temper-raising day at Six Flags, but it's still nice to have a few city landmarks.

One of them is Cheonggyecheon, a very recent urban renewal project that cuts a swath of nature through the heart of Seoul. Several feet below the glass skyscrapers and wide traffic lanes is a wide, rushing stream with plenty of flora and even a little bit of fauna.

When you're down there, it's very easy to forget that you're in one of the biggest and most densely populated cities in the world.

Pictures were taken on my Fuji X10

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Reminiscing about the Beijing Olympics, and how 2008 was the year of great victories

There was something special in the air in 2008
I've concluded that I'll never see an Olympics as exciting and important as the 2008 Beijing Games. At that time, I was in Korea doing a summer internship, which made watching the events super convenient because they were going on in neighbouring China.

No Olympics will mean as much to a country as the 2008 Games meant to China. Sure, London 2012 will undoubtedly be a great party, and so will Rio 2016. But Beijing 2008 was the first and perhaps only time that I'll ever get to see an Olympics so laden with historical and cultural symbolism, mainly that of China's long-awaited return to the forefront of the international world after centuries of complacency, exploitation, and self-sabotage.

Beijing 2008 had it all. It had Usain Bolt. It had Michael Phelps. It had the Korean baseball team winning an unlikely gold medal by getting a final double play on the Cubans with bases loaded. It had Park Tae Hwan winning Korea's first ever gold medal at swimming.

But 2008 as a whole was a year of astounding and memorable victories in sports. Let's count them all.

8 Feb 2008: Giants defeat Patriots in the greatest and most dramatic Superbowl upset perhaps in NFL history. It was David vs. Goliath in perfection. On one side, you had Mr. GQ himself, Tom Brady, and his ruthless band of football machines. On the other, you had the awkward-looking and much-derided little brother of Peyton Manning, and his team that had just barely made it into the playoffs. A seemingly ludicrous guarantee of victory by Plaxico Burress, an ill-advised laughter of derision by Tom Brady upon hearing that guarantee, and a winning drive that made every neutral observer a hardcore Giants fan.

21 May 2008: Manchester United defeats Chelsea for the Champions League title. Philanderer and racist John Terry blows a glorious opportunity to give Chelsea its first ever CL title with the 5th kick in penalties, but he misses and Man Utd eventually wins. Park Ji Sung, who was arguably the team's MVP against AC Milan and Barca in prior rounds, gets to add "Champions League Medal Winner" to his illustrious resume.

4 June 2008: Detroit Red Wings defeat Pittsburgh Penguins for the Stanley Cup. A hockey fan couldn't have asked for a more marquee match-up than the storied Red Wings and the Sidney Crosby-led Penguins. The rating were through the roof for good reason, and the bitter disappointment of losing would enable the Penguins to fight back the following year to claim the Stanley Cup in an epic finals rematch.

16 June 2008: Tiger Woods wins the US Open in Torrey Pines while essentially playing on one leg. It was perhaps the most astonishing, and definitely the most courageous, victory of his phenomenal career.

17 June 2008: Boston Celtics defeat LA Lakers for the NBA championship in such a pitch-perfect clash of NBA history and contemporary greatness that the David Stern conspiracy theorists must've multiplied by several folds. Much-deserving winner and possible psychopath Kevin Garnett finally gets his ring.

29 June 2008: Spain defeats Germany in the final of Euro 2008, one of the most exciting international football tournaments in recent memory. Back then, Spain was fresh, exciting, and tragically romantic as the super-talented nation that always choked when it mattered. They finally won, though, and everybody was so happy for them.

6 July 2008: Rafael Nadal defeats Roger Federer for the Wimbledon title in what many regard as the great tennis match of all time. Five sets, two of the greatest in history, but only one winner...

16 Aug 2008: Usain Bolt wins gold in the 100m sprint, obliterating the world record and leaving behind an iconic and spellbinding image when he crosses the finish line while pounding his chest. He goes on to break the world records in the 200m and 4x100m relay, giving him an unimaginable triple crown of broken records in track's most prestigious events.

17 Aug 2008: Michael Phelps completes the Herculean task of winning his 8th gold medal in a single Games. It's pretty trendy to piss on the guy now for some reason, but the dedication and overcoming of immense pressure to pull of this feat cannot be hated on.

It's almost freakish how almost every sporting event featured all-time accomplishments or marquee matchups that lived up to the hype worthy of a finals.

But it wasn't all just great sporting events. In the political arena, the 2008 Democratic primaries between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton was more thrilling and epic than any mere athletic event.

And of course, on 4 Nov 2008, one of the greatest victories in the history of the modern world came when Sen. Obama became President-Elect of the United States.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Myeongdong Gyoja makes unreal kalguksu

Kalguksu on the left, mandu on the right
I'm no foodie, but I do enjoy eating...

Kalguksu (which literally means "knife noodles" in Korean, in reference to the way the broad and flat noodles are cut) is a popular Korean dish that consists of noodles in a broth with meat and veggies. I was never that big of a fan of it because I found it quite bland: the broth was usually too watery and weak-flavoured, so it always felt as if I were just eating hot slippery noodles that had no distinct taste.

But Myeongdong Gyoja, located in the shopping hub of Myeongdong, is perhaps Seoul's most famous kalguksu restaurant, so I decided to see if they could turn me from a hater into a lover.

Typical night scene from Myeongdong
Well, congrats to them, because I now love kalguksu, or at least their rendition of it. Really though, it's kalguksu as I've never had it before, so much so that I have to wonder if the noodles are the only thing it has in common with all those other versions that I've tried. The kalguksu at Myeongdong Gyoja has an incredibly thick broth that has a strong taste that will hit you instantly, so no weak and watery soup here! It also comes with little triangular dumplings  in it, which I've never seen done before.

The restaurant is simple, with a short menu of their specialty items, and the place is very busy. Lines usually form, but patrons eat and leave pretty quickly. You pay right after you order so that there's no bottleneck at the cash register.

Their dumplings are very good too, and their taste sort of reminded me of xiao long bao rather than the typical mandu (dumplings) that you'd get in a usual Korean restaurant.

I'll definitely going back here a few times before I leave Korea next month.

Front of the restaurant

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Romney's appreciation of America's Anglo-Saxon heritage in full display

I would really like to steer clear of politics on this blog, but the Mitt Romney Comedy Tour is just too hard to resist.

Recently, a Romney advisor said that a President Romney would be better able to appreciate the special Anglo-Saxon heritage of the US than President Obama. The fact that the US has an Anglo-Saxon heritage (among many other heritages) is undeniable, so that's not a big deal.

Link: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/OTUS/romney-disavows-anglo-saxon-remarks-white-house-pounces/story?id=16853252#.UBH-1jEe4n8

But it's not as if US-UK relations have been strained as of late, even if it isn't exactly the star-crossed lovefest that was Bush & Blair. By all accounts, Obama and British PM David Cameron get along quite well. So why on earth does Romney feel the need to march into Britain and say what he did?

Come on, this is a truly clumsy racial dog-whistle. It's obvious that Romney was trying to speak to certain demographics in America that fervently believe that someone like Barack Obama despises everything Anglo-Saxon and will either openly or surreptitiously seek to destroy all those associated with that culture. These people also believe that being an anti-colonialist (kind of like George Washington, maybe?) or a Muslim is a bad thing.

Obama secretly using his patented 2-Finger Kenyan Voodoo Witch Doctor Curse
to poison poor unsuspecting Anglo-Saxon David Cameron's hot dog

The story has a happy ending though, in that Romney does his whole graceless schtick once again and offends the leader of the UK by criticizing some of the London Games' preparation.

Link: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18563_162-57481093/gaffe-olympics-romney-rankles-brits-cameron-also-offends/

Credit to David Cameron for a Churchill-worthy zinger when he claimed that the Olympics are a lot harder to organize when it is held in a busy metropolis as opposed in the "middle of nowhere".

Take that, Salt Lake City!

Potential-President Romney, if you want to appreciate Anglo-Saxon heritage, then you probably should start with appreciating the Anglo-Saxons (and their diligent Olympics preparations efforts) first.

What's next? Will it turn out that Romney bet on Bayern Munich over Chelsea in the 2012 Champions League final?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

London Olympics: Some stories I'll be keeping an eye on

The 2012 Summer Olympics are almost upon us! Here are things that have caught my interest.

Legendary Korean defender and now
 Olympic team manager, Hong Myung Bo 
Korean Football Team

Naturally, as a Korean national football fan, I'll be keen to see how Korea will do in one of the most prestigious international tournaments in the sport. The Olympic (U23 + 3 overage players) team will be the senior team soon, so this will be a good opportunity to see what this young team can offer going ahead into the 2014 World Cup.

However, the truly important matter at stake is the issue of military exemption. Korea, unlike every other country in the world except maybe Israel, forces its male athletes to complete a 2-year military service before the age of 29. Basically, it means that the careers of most Korean athletes are artificially and drastically shortened. The issue of military service is a complex one which I won't get into, but suffice to say, the whole thing has greatly impeded the progress of Korean football.

But if Korea can earn at least a bronze medal, then everyone on the team will be exempted from mandatory service. Obviously, this is a tall task with the likes of Brazil, Spain, and Uruguay in the tournament, but Korea has a decent team and if they can put together a string of great performances, they just might find themselves in contention for a medal.

LeBron James: Crushing the haters, 
one by one
American basketball team

I normally hate anti-underdog teams, but there's a sadistic sort of joy in watching Team USA run roughshod over all the other national sides. Rarely do we get a chance to see the likes of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Tyson Chandler, and Kevin Durant play together in any meaningful game, so I relish the opportunity every four years to see the basketball gods come together to reassert their place on the pantheon.

Park Tae Hwan

I think Olympic swimming is a bit silly in the sheer number of medals it gives out for slight variations of the same goal, which is to swim faster than everyone else in the pool. Michael Phelps may have won 8 golds in Beijing, but in my opinion, Usain Bolt still accomplished the more awe-inspiring feat of shattering every track record that he ran against. It's not Usain's fault that there aren't medley relays in track and field for his medal count to balloon.

Nevertheless, I'll pay more attention to swimming this time around because there's this Korean guy named Park Tae Hwan, and he's pretty good. He already won a gold and silver in Beijing, and he'll have a chance to win about 3 medals this time. He'll nearly be a lock for the gold in the 400m freestyle, and should be very competitive in the 200m and 1500m freestyles.

Usain Bolt

Poor Usain hasn't been doing too well lately, but it'll be interesting to see if he can repeat his immortal displays from Beijing. There's nothing more exciting than the 100m sprint in the Summer Games.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Great Wall movie to star the very white Henry Cavill

You know what's another great thing about living in Asia? It's that you can watch historical movies set in Asia that star, you know, Asian people in the lead roles.

Hollywood producers are amazed
to learn that long time ago, Asia
used to be full of Asians
But Hollywood has a new film on the way about the Great Wall of China: http://www.empireonline.com/news/story.asp?NID=34230. And it's going to be directed by Edward Zwick, the director with the magical touch of somehow always finding ways to insert white male protagonists into movies about an all-black Civil War regiment, the South African diamond trade, and modernization in Japan during the Meiji Restoration.

Apparently, it's going to star Henry Cavill, that swinging duke from The Tudors. It's going to be set in the Ming Dynasty, and there will be zombies involved (yes, for real).

But I dunno... The whole zombie/vampire thing is so overdone at this point. The studio trying to make this movie should just hire me instead. I have a great idea for a script, just what Hollywood is looking for in a historical epic set in Asia.

                                                             So here it is.

"Wall of Stone, Heart of Porcelain"
Once upon a time in a mysterious but beautiful exotic land called China, Emperor Qing Qong sees that his empire is threatened by nomadic barbarians and he needs to build a wall to keep them out. Unfortunately, Emperor Qing Qong is gravely ill, his eunuch-filled court is corrupt and too Chinese to get anything done, and his only son Tai Ni Wang spends all his time being homosexual and frivolous.

So Emperor Qing Qong sends an emissary to the West who enlists the help of an ambitious and fiery architect-playboy named Lord Charles Achilles Ironballs (played by Henry Cavill). "Charlie" reluctantly makes the trip to China (having lots of sex with hot Middle Eastern and Indian babes along the way) and sees a decadent court that's incapable of getting anything done without him.

In one year, he whips up the leadership-starved nation into building the monumentally ambitious Great Wall, based on masonry blueprints that his forefathers have given him (the Ironballs clan was also secretly responsible for the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and the giant stone heads of the Olmecs). Tai Ni Wang, intensely jealous of Charlie's competence and large penis, tries unsuccessfully sabotage him at every stage.

Despite jealousy from the eunuchs and the flamboyantly weak Tai Ni Wang, Charlie prevails and constructs the beginnings of the Great Wall in no time. Meanwhile, the court's most powerful and beautiful concubine, Jade Footbind Silkflower, meets Charlie and immediately falls in rapturous love with him for some reason.

The whirlwind romance between Charlie and Jade Footbind Silkflower is threatened when her father forbids the union because he wants her to marry the child-like, sexless son of a rich aristocrat. Jade Footbind Silkflower finds herself torn between her repugnant cultural duties and the wonderful dreamy dream of marrying dreamy Charlie.

She decides to run away with Charlie, but is caught while trying to escape because she is betrayed by Tai Ni Wang (whom she thought was her friend). Charlie duels Tai Ni Wang and easily defeats him with absolutely no dramatic tension. With his dying breath, Tai Ni Wang weeps and apologizes for everything and tells Charlie that he's a god among men. Meanwhile, Jade Footbind Silkflower is sentenced to be executed before a gleeful court. Charlie makes a last-minute and eloquent plea for her life, shaming all the men in the crowd for letting such a beautiful Oriental Lotus Blossom be killed. But it is to no avail.

Until... The ailing Emperor Qing Qong reveals that Jade Footbind Silkflower is actually his secret daughter. He dies right after, which means Jade Footbind Silkflower is his only surviving child and consequently, the new empress. She quickly marries Charlie, making him the next emperor, and the whole Chinese nation bows down before him.

But Charlie is too cool to be stuck being emperor of China. He needs to be free and daring, like all Western men are. So he and Jade Footbind Silkflower leave the empire in the hands of some promising young scholar, who is entrusted by Charlie with the Super Secret Ironballs Method of Masonry. The young scholar, and subsequent new emperor of China, keeps these plans in a royal safe, and future dynasties all consult Charlie's ingenious architectural plans to expand and build the Great Wall into what it is today, as well as improve the Chinese civilization.

The last scene shows Charlie leaving on a boat, with the wind blowing in his hair and his beautiful Chinese empress-concubine smiling contently in his arms as she is so happy to have been rescued by her foreign savior from a lifetime of being Chinese. Charlie looks intensely into the horizon, wondering if the potentially great civilization he has saved will use his ingenuity for good or for evil. Only time will tell...

(Epic "Asian" music by Hans Zimmer blasts in the background while the largely non-Asian audience holds back tears about such a timeless story about love prevailing across races and cultures)


Game over. Just give me the Oscar already.

Monday, July 23, 2012

First time ever at a Korean bathhouse

Today was quite the hot and humid summer day in Seoul, so after spending an ill-advised afternoon out in this unpleasant weather, I decided to check out a Korean bathhouse (jjim-jil-bang) for the first time in my life.

When I was younger, I avoided these places like the plague whenever I was in Korea because of my monumental fear of seeing naked dudes. But having gotten over that irrational fear many years ago, I thought that nothing would be a better reprieve from a heavy, sticky day than taking a cool shower and just lounging around for a couple of hours.

A jjim-jil-bang, or at least the one I went to, is divided into two main parts. There's a shower/pool area where you can rinse yourself off and/or relax in a hot pool. There are even masseuses there, though I think you have to pay for them. This place is obviously segregated by gender. Then afterwards, you go to a common area (fully clothed, of course) where everybody can just lie around on mats in a big open area. There are also steam rooms in little igloo-shaped huts.

If you're thirsty or hungry, there are concession stands and restaurants that serve simple meals. Because of these amenities and the fact that there's no limit on how long one can stay, jjim-jil-bangs are sometimes used by late-night partiers as a crashpad. I'm not speaking from personal experience.

On a sweltering summer day, there's no refuge quite like a jjim-jil-bang. I guess I'm a convert now.

Jjim-jil-bang staples: hard-boiled eggs and shikhae (sweet rice punch)

Escaping from the summer humidity in the common area

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Some observations on "The Dark Knight Rises" (Spoilers!)

The end of a saga
I just watched The Dark Knight Rises with my friends. I liked the movie, though I'm not one of those diehard fans of Nolan's Batman trilogy. I still hold Batman Begins in the highest regard, as I thought The Dark Knight was too ham-fisted and bombastic. I'm still not sure where I'd rank The Dark Knight Rises in the trilogy, but here are just some thoughts that came to me as I watched the movie.

1) Christopher Nolan has a reputation for "fridging" his female characters, aka killing women off to motivate the men. Some accuse him of thinly-veiled misogyny, but after seeing The Dark Knight Rises, I think there's a less sinister answer: the guy just can't write female characters.

Every line that Selena Kyle had was of the flirty, pseudo-double-entendre type, even when Bane's thugs were about to assault her and Batman, or when the nuke was about to go off. It's as if Nolan and Co. don't realize that even a pretty lady like Selena Kyle would just speak normal English, as opposed to some mystically tantalizing Womanese.

2) Wasn't that one of the most awkwardly cut sex scenes we've seen in a long time? Bruce Wayne and Miranda Tate go from lightly kissing in the dark and joking about the power outage, to suddenly lying naked on the floor underneath a rug. It took me a few seconds to register that they had slept together at all. And just when I realized that, Bruce abruptly left her to go stand on top of the Empire State Building (?) in his Batman costume.

Did he ask her to leave Wayne Manor first, or...?

3) After escaping from the Black Hole of Calcutta or whatever that subterranean prison was, Bruce Wayne easily makes his way back to Gotham City. Did he have his credit card with him while in prison? Was there even an international airport in that mysterious and exotic country that he was in? Did he cross the one intact bridge to get into Gotham, and if so, how come nobody noticed or stopped him?

4) I'm fairly certain that you can't fix a herniated disk by punching someone in the spine and hanging them up for a night.

5) Is Bane a pedophile? Did he first fall in love with the little girl version of Miranda Tate?

6) How did Selena Kyle know how to drive the Batpod so well? And where did she get her high-tech gadgets? And where did she learn to fight almost as well as Batman? Was she in the League of Shadows too? Man, that place seems to be about as exclusive as Costco.

7) On the topic of Selena Kyle and superheroines in general, enough with the high heels. Fantasize in your own private, "tastefully sensual" sketches or something.

8) Does anyone seriously believe that Tom from 500 Days of Summer can deal out the daily brutal beatings required of a Batman?

9) Wouldn't the American, and probably the world, economy have been shattered by the absolute takeover of Gotham City (aka New York City) by a bunch of anarchist terrorists? Did life go on as normal in the United States while its most important and iconic city was completely taken over by a foreign entity?

10) All those football players died on the field. Well, except for the kickoff return guy. That was sad.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Photos from around my neighbourhood

Just thought I should put up some photos from around where I live. Pictures were taken on my Galaxy S2.

This is my general neighbourhood. On the left hand side are the Jamsil Park Rio Apartments, and on the right is the Seoul Asan Medical Center.

This is Cafe Has Bean, a local coffee shop I like to bike over to when I need to get any kind of work done.
Espressos are about $2.50, which is a great price in Korea. I go there a lot, so sometimes they give me free Oreos.

@Olympic Park. The wide open spaces here allow me to practice riding my bike without my hands.

Taking a momentary refuge from the metropolis @Olympic Park

Waiting at the bus stop at my nearest subway station on my way home

Friday, July 20, 2012

"I Miss You" (보고싶다) by Kim Bum Soo: Possibly the best ballad ever

I never get tired of listening to "I Miss You" by Korean singer Kim Bum Soo. It's just one of those magical songs that somehow manages to be fresh and effective even after the hundredth time you listen to it. I especially enjoy trying to sing this song at noraebangs (karaoke rooms). All I need is a little soju to help me hit those high notes.

Like 99% of Korean ballads, it's about tortured lost love and regrets and self-loathing. It was part of the soundtrack to a very popular drama series, Stairway to Heaven, which I haven't watched and probably never will because it was made 7 years ago and has likely aged quite badly. The song is now a standard in Korea, and every self-respecting balladeer has to tackle it at some point.

Heroically sparing the public from the
horrors of his visage
Now, the story of the singer, Kim Bum Soo, is quite interesting. He always had the voice of a superstar, but not the looks. Thus, early on in his career, he was relegated to doing soundtracks and rarely, if ever, appeared in public or in music videos as himself. There's the famous story of how his first album featured a cover in which his face was deliberately covered.

Okay, Kim Bum Soo may not be the best-looking guy in the world, but he's not some hideous troll. He's a perfectly normal-looking guy who has an amazing voice. That, and his artistry, are what should matter in the end.

Fortunately, he's actually become quite a visible star in Korea now, thanks to his appearance on the huge hit show, I Am A Singer, which is kind of like American Idol except that the contestants are established professional singers and not wannabe kids.

Below is a video of an acoustic version of the song. The original version is effusively emotive, so there's a kind of haunting beauty to this subdued version.

PS Transliterated from Korean to English, the song's title is pronounced "Bogoshipda".

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Why do American celebrities think they're too good for product endorsements?

Song Kang Ho, respected actor and top box office draw,
appearing in a bank commercial
In Korea, it's very common to see top stars on TV, endorsing everything from smartphones to refrigerators to laptops. In America, top stars would never deign to do something as low as endorsing products, at least in America. That's the kind of stuff they secretly do abroad. 

What the hell?

I always thought it was quite laughable that someone like, say, Shia Labeouf would ever think that he was above endorsements. Dude, you're not Laurence Olivier or something, okay? You're not a principled artiste struggling to redefine your craft against a capitalist petty bourgeoisie that seeks to neuter your fiery talent. At best, you're a somewhat talented movie actor who functions largely as an inoffensive audience surrogate for factory-line films such as the Transformers movies. Honestly, what's the difference between hawking Transformers 3 and hawking Burger King? They're both processed junk that'll shorten your lifespan if consumed too much.

There's an exception to this rule, though: American athletes, the other big group of celebrities. Top athletes covet corporate endorsements and show them off with pride. There may be some cognitive dissonance required in seeing a superhuman specimen like LeBron James wolf down McDonald's fries, but whatever. Peyton Manning endorsed Oreos, for god's sake. I don't believe for a second that that man has ever eaten an Oreo in the past 20 years, unless he believed it was a magic Oreo that would've allowed him to absorb Johnny Unitas' brain.

Shin Min Ah and Won Bin, two of Korea's biggest
stars, in an ad for instant coffee in a bottle
But if you're an American celebrity who's not an athlete, shilling is a no-no. I guess they have their artistic integrity to protect, or something.

Guess what though? The vast majority of celebrities are little more than corporate spokespeople anyway. They're out there shilling rehashed, uninspired, and downright offensive movies that were conceived in a corporate boardroom in an attempt to maximize profits from the only demographic that Hollywood apparently thinks exists in America: white guys who like da hot chickz.

Jung Woo Sung and Kim Tae Hee... Somehow, I
can't see Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts trying to
convince me of the merits of Maytag
They're out there, flashing their medically-perfected smiles and boot camp bodies to fool us into consuming consistently shoddy products. Of course, there are the acceptable product endorsements though, namely those in fashion. That, and Apple stuff. Same thing though.

Maybe I shouldn't care too much about this, but it's the pretentiousness that gets me. Plus, if Hollywood is made up of artists who would never do something as low as product endorsements, then where the hell is the art? Why do we only get circle-jerk comic book movies and maddeningly ditzy romantic comedies and white savior historic epics and modern-day blaxploitation garbage?

I also don't like the insinuation that there are different standards for international markets and for the American markets. So George Clooney the coffee pitchman is good enough for the Japanese, but not good enough for the United States? I don't see why George Clooney shouldn't feel free to star in a Folgers ad in the US, especially if that means he doesn't have to sign on to a stinker of a movie just for the money.

I'd buy a used coffin from this man
There's an episode in Entourage (yes, I watched that show... for shame) in which Vincent Chase gets a ton of money to do an ad in China. It gets him and his gang of imbeciles out of financial trouble, but of course, he could never do that in America because he's Vincent Chase the Great American Thespian (enormous suspension of disbelief required as he is played by Adrian Grenier). After all, he is Queens Boulevard!!!!!

Also, did anyone find it incredibly jarring that the show never seemed to make up its mind about Vince's ethnicity? One minute, he's playing Pablo Escobar, and the other, he's being considered for the lead in a Edith Wharton movie and getting the lead as Jay Gatsby. Those things are kinda mutually exclusive (unless you have a great make-up team and a PR staff with the stomach for a racial firestorm).

Oops, there I go again, betraying my embarrassingly in-depth knowledge of that show...

Anyway, rant over. My point? American celebrities, y'all are sellouts anyway. We won't hold it against you for doing a Mr. Clean ad. In fact, that'd be kind of awesome.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Did Jeremy Lin's popularity become a threat to the Knicks?

Can't get used to this
So it's official: JLin17 is going to be a Rocket.

Why did this happen? Some may argue that the Knicks were trying to be fiscally responsible. But come on, this is the Knicks we're talking about. Plus, according to Nate Silver — that guy who can tell the future by looking at 2 sets of numbers — Lin made $600 million for the Knicks last year.

So Dolan's trying to convince us that using up to $40 million of those profits to pay for the luxury tax three years from now was just too rich for his blood? And this is not even considering the Stretch Provision that would've greatly lessened the cap hit on the Knicks should they be forced to waive Lin due to his suckiness.

Come on now.

Or maybe Lin's still unproven? Perhaps, but he did play around 35 games at the NBA level, excelling in many of them. Rookies get huge contracts based on one good NCAA tournament that uses different rules and court measurements from the professional game. Remember, this is a guy who had the best start EVER to an NBA career in history. Surely, a guy like that is worth $5 million for a couple of years, and maybe $15 million for one year (which would be a movable expiring contract anyway).

Something doesn't seem right.

What could be the real reason? To me, it's clear that Jeremy Lin became too popular for the Knicks, at least for the current Knicks establishment. Think about it. People loved Lin because he was a repudiation of everything that the James Dolan Knicks stood for.

Yes, Melo was the one who urged D'Antoni to start Lin in the first place, but he never could've predicted Linsanity and the consequent intensifying of anti-Melo sentiment in New York. And yes, the Knicks management was initially gaga over the team's sudden success, but it never could've imagined that Lin, and not the team, would become a global sensation.

James Dolan: The man who's going
to pray every night that Lin
never ever becomes a star
Remember how Melo said that Lin's contract was "ridiculous", while J.R. Smith said that having Lin back could cause locker room problems next year? These are not the words that a happy and unified team makes in public. Melo and Smith are free to think whatever they want, but by airing their grievances in public, they were trying to poison the well. If you were Jeremy Lin, could you imagine returning to the Knicks when you knew that your teammates felt like that? 

To be fair, I can understand Melo's perspective. If he compares himself to how his peers — namely, LeBron and Wade and Bosh — are doing, he must feel wronged by the basketball gods. The Big 3 in Miami have already won a title and will probably seriously contend for "Best Team of All Time" honours when their run is through. Meanwhile, he (himself a phenomenal talent) had to play the Red-Headed Stepchild to some undrafted Harvard grad last season.

I'm sure that the Knicks appreciated Lin for all he did last season, but it was an uneasy kind of appreciation. Maybe the management and some of the jealous players realized that people liked Lin despite the Knicks, not because of them. 

The Knicks needed Lin more than Lin needed them (especially with D'Antoni gone), and that was dangerous and irritating. They were probably bitter about people like me who thought that the only non-joke of a decision that the Knicks made was one that they had no intention of making in the first place.

Lin's renegotiation with the Rockets was the last straw. I'm willing to believe that the Knicks wanted to match the initial offer because $600 million. But their resentment and insecurity bubbled to the surface when Lin tried to squeeze a further $5 million out of them, a paltry sum in the big scheme of things.

Maybe this is best for all parties involved. There was no proof last year that Lin and Melo would ever gel, and Woodson is definitely not D'Antoni. Without Lin, the Knicks get to continue trying to prove that the Dolan Method will work (not bloody likely, though). And with the Rockets, Lin gets to be the alpha dog again, just like he was during the height of Linsanity.

There's a lot of uncertainty in the air. Lin may very well prove to be unworthy of his contract. But based on his unreal play last year and his upside (both in basketball and marketing), the risk that the Knicks took would've been a well-measured one.

One thing's for sure though: the last shred of a fuck I gave about the Knicks is gone.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Intro to Korean footy

Another great perk about living in Korea is being able to watch any match played by the Korean national football team. Even meaningless friendles by underage squads are televised here. Ever since the 2002 World Cup, I've been quite the devoted follower of Korean football. In fact, if a genie could grant me three wishes, one of those wishes would be to score a goal in the World Cup as a member of the Korean national team.

Right now, Korea's in a difficult transition phase. They did quite well in the 2010 World Cup, qualifying out of their group and narrowly losing to fourth-place finisher Uruguay in the Round of 16. But a lot of the veterans retired soon afterwards, and now the U-23 team is pretty much the senior team. They're talented, but they're a bit young and a leadership core has yet to emerge definitively.

For the footy fans, here's a quick rundown of the best young Korean players.

Ki Sung Yueng (MF, Celtic)

In my opinion, KSY is the most important player for Korea. He usually plays deep in the central midfield, helping out the defense and starting attacks with pinpoint long passes. Plus, he's always good for a goal outside the box as he's got a cannon shot.

I've heard him compared to Xabi Alonso or Riccardo Montolivo. KSY plays for Celtic right now, but he's due for a move as his talents are not optimized by the rough and untechnical Scottish League.

Likely destinations are either Queens Park Rangers or Liverpool. I'd rather see him at the former than the latter as he will be more of a focal point and less of a newbie among expensive stars at a world-renowned club. Plus, he'll get to reunite with former national teammate Park Ji Sung.

Lee Chung Yong (MF, Bolton)

A skillful winger, LCY is so important to his club that when he sustained a season-long injury during last year's preseason, his team got relegated. And this was a Bolton club that had looked worthy of a Europa spot the year before.

I'm hoping that he'll get picked by a Premier League side and won't have to spend a year in the Championship. Wigan, with their young and innovative manager Roberto Martinez, would be the ideal destination, in my opinion.

What frustrates me about LCY is that he's got an incredibly weak shot. He's often able to work himself into promising situations due to his creativity and skill, but his inability to just blast the ball into the net often costs him goals.

Still, he scored 2 goals for Korea in the 2010 World Cup.

Koo Ja Cheol (MF, Augsburg)

KJC is an attacking midfielder who can pass and score a goal from anywhere around the box. After floundering for a bit at Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga, he showed himself as potentially one of the best midfielders in Germany with a stellar half-season on loan at Augsburg.

If you go look up his highlights for Augsburg, you'll see some truly spectacular long-range goals.

As captain of the Olympic team (which is basically the senior team), it seems that KJC is being groomed as the next captain of Korea.

Son Heung Min (FW, Hamburg)

At only 19 years of age, SHM hasn't quite yet established himself on the national team, and he was left off the Olympic team so that he could focus on his club career at Hamburg. In Germany, he's shown flashes of his attacking potential but injuries and inconsistency have prevented him from hitting full stride.

He had an awesome preseason a year or two ago where he was the team's leading scorer, outscoring even the great Ruud van Nistelrooy. SHM has been singled out by Franz Beckenbauer himself as potentially the next Cha Bum Keun, the great Korean striker who was a big star in the Bundesliga during the 80s.

Kim Bo Kyung (MF, Cerezo Osaka)

Another promising young attacking midfielder, KBK is often described as the next Park Ji Sung. To me, he seems to have more upside than PJS, and he could eclipse his esteemed senior counterpart in a few years.

Many expected him to go to the Premier League or the Bundesliga, but it seems that KBK is headed to the Championship to play for Cardiff City. It's an odd decision, but considering the high failure rate in the past of Korean players who made the direct jump into the top 4 European leagues, perhaps this move is a wise one that will allow him to acclimate himself to the European game before moving on to bigger things.

Hong Jeong Ho (DF, Jeju United)

While Korea boasts several promising midfielders and strikers that are either in or poised to move to Europe, most of their defenders play in Asia. The backline has been a problem recently for Korea, especially as the all-time great defenders from the 2002 World Cup squad have retired.

HJH is the most promising of the bunch. I haven't seen him play a lot since he plays in the K-League, but he's described as a big and strong ball-playing central defender.

I wanted to see him in the Olympics, but unfortunately, a leg injury has ruled him out. That's a pity. If Korea wants to do well in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, then HJH is going to have to live up to expectations.

Lee Seung Woo (FW, Infantil A Barcelona)

LSW is actually one of three young Koreans currently in the Barcelona youth academy, La Masia.

I've never seen this 14-year old play, but from reports, he is becoming one of the star players for their elite youth squads. I can't tell you how exciting it is to think that in about 5-10 years, there could be a Barcelona product starring for the Korean national team.

Some Korean movies I've had a chance to watch, Pt. 1

One of the best perks of living in Korea is having easy access to Korean films. Once in a while, a Korean movie makes it across to North America and becomes relatively easy to obtain, but these movies tend to be ones that are selected for Cannes and other prestigious film festivals. But every weekend, many movies are released in Korea that will be viewed, enjoyed, and quickly forgotten by the public, and this is the Korean cinema that interests me, as opposed to the artsy fare.

At this point, I am fed up with Hollywood and its endless parade of superhero movies, so watching what Korean cinema has to offer has been a refreshing change. Here are some of the movies that I've seen in the past year or so.

Spellbound (오싹한 연애)

The literal English translation of the title is something like "Eerie Romance", which is fitting because this romantic comedy is about a budding relationship between a woman who is haunted by ghosts, and a magician. Its pitch could be "The Sixth Sense if written by Nora Ephron (rest in peace)".

There's a sweet romance here, but there are also plenty of scares as well. So if you're watching it as a date movie (as I did), make sure that neither one of you is averse to sudden shocks involving creepy undead children.

I liked how the film showed how the heroine's supernatural affliction affected her real life. Being haunted by ghosts may be something out of the ordinary, but in the end, it's just like having a crippling mental disorder. That level of realistic treatment helped me care about the main characters of the story.

The Last Godfather ( 라스트 갓파더)

I'll come out and say it: this is the absolute worst movie I've ever watched. There are movies that have truly annoyed me, like Can't Hardly Wait, but I could at least see how some people might've liked them.

Not with this one though. I only saw it because my dad really wanted to see it, and though I know he has a putrid taste in movies, I felt bad forcing him to either go alone (my mom definitely wasn't going) or not see it at all.

Terrible mistake.

This is one of the most racist movies I've ever seen, and the saddest thing is that it was made by a Korean. A person with a serious hatred of Koreans could easily make a movie like this. The "hero" is a stumpy, mentally-handicapped buffoon of Korean descent who accidentally finds himself as the heir to an American mafia empire. Hilarity is supposed to ensue, but it excruciatingly doesn't. 

The poster is a rip-off of Once Upon a Time in America too. Absolutely nothing redeeming about this trash.

Architecture 101 (건축학개론)

Ahh, to wash the rancid taste and smell of The Last Godfather out of my senses is Architecture 101.
I love this movie. It's the story of a guy and girl who met as university freshmen who quickly developed a close friendship that, for some reason, abruptly ended. About 15 years later, they meet again and the audience finds out their backstory.

I really enjoy movies like this, ones that show and explore youth culture in Korea. The best thing about this movie is the way it lovingly pokes fun of the 90s (I supposed we're far enough removed now to cast an anthropological view of that decade).

The film is beautifully shot, and there's such a delicate balance between romance and realism. I was very happy that such an understated movie became a box office smash in Korea, and perhaps as a result, it'll be easier for foreigners to get access to this gem of a movie.

All About My Wife (내 안애의 모든 것)

What kind of weak-ass man would pay a notorious womanizer to seduce his own wife because he's too afraid to ask for a divorce?

The main character of this screwy comedy, that's who. Everything starts off well for the main couple after their Meet Cute moment in Japan when earthquake tremors conspire to bring them together. But the stagnation of marriage sets in and the husband finds that his once-lively and ambitious wife has become cynical and joyless. Too meek to ask for a divorce, he propositions a tragically poetic and soulful Lothario to win over his wife and cause HER to incite the divorce.

Unfortunately for our hero, his wife begins to turn back into the woman he fell in love with once she feels appreciated and noticed by this new man in her life, and he realizes that he's been a neglectful partner. But can he undo his own little scheme before it's too late and he loses his love forever?

This is a very good romantic comedy, one that focuses more on the periods after the cute courtship and the wedding ceremonies. It stars one of my favourite Korean actresses, Im Soo Jung, so that made me happy too.