Permission to Exist

The film Permission to Exist releases December of this year, into a pop culture climate where documentary films and miniseries are bingeably popular, but its journey to screen traces far back, to a time before Tiger King and the Fyre Festival. An independent, crowdsourced production directed by Kelley Katzenmeyer, this broad look at the human cost of South Korea’s intense education system has a personal touch and an empathetic eye, but loses narrative momentum in its hard balance of styles and subjects. Katzenmeyer introduces herself within the film early on as a Korean exchange student dating a boy named Dabin who’s under extreme pressure to rate a perfect score on the national exam and gain access to a prestigious university. Though she keeps the focus of the story on others, her presence is felt as a curious outsider making sense of a foreign concept for the rest of us. If you’re interested in Korean culture, Permission to Exist is a no-brainer, a definitive film document on the subject to stand alone should Netflix or Hulu one day replicate it, because of the director’s unique perspective. … More Permission to Exist

And Have Another Irene

Still me, still trying to make sense of this — my feelings as we spiral toward the end of the United States. I just feel awful. I’ve been thinking about this all day. Barely got any sleep last night. There’s a lot of stressors in my life — like with everyone — but this has been the most vibrating needle in my eye, and that’s my fault. I made the mistake of reading as many news stories about it as I could, including from gossip site AllKpop. What I couldn’t stand about that one was how much people seemed to delight in the thought of Irene’s end. How do you even find out about someone like Irene and decide you don’t like her? There are K-pop groups I don’t really like, but I don’t even think about them. I wrote up that last post before I had a sense for people like that. … More And Have Another Irene

My Statement on the Irene Situation

Christ, a finger wag in word form. Words don’t have hips or hands to put on those hips, and yet, there they are: “My Statement on the Irene Situation.” Your reaction to that is my reaction to the whole thing. And what is the “whole thing,” even? How far does this frustration stretch back? To the beginning of cancel culture? To Tiger Woods on the television apologizing to you for his infidelity? I don’t want to be one of those people who gleefully “cancels” until the canceling becomes inconvenient. Donovan and I have spoken extensively on the subject on our podcast Questions: We Don’t Have Answers — inconclusively, as you might expect. But here’s a collision of cancel culture and idol culture that I need to untangle before I spontaneously combust. … More My Statement on the Irene Situation

Three the Korean Way (Why Revenge?)

Gosh, I remember — and don’t you dare deny that this happened — I remember when Parasite was at the height of its celebration, and one of the ideas floating around online was that Korean cinema isn’t only defined by violence and revenge. And if you look, a lot of the blockbusters of the past few years were romantic-comedies or historical dramas. However, my experience with Korean film is absolutely defined by violence and revenge. That’s how it was marketed, that’s what got me interested. So consider this a disproportionate response to something I saw on Twitter a year ago. I think Korean revenge is important. And today, I want to explore three of its examples and ask the question that bubbles at the edges of your mind while in the throes of these films: why? That scurrilous online claim had to come from somewhere — why is there so much Korean revenge? And should revenge define the nation’s cinema? … More Three the Korean Way (Why Revenge?)

The Royal Tailor

A lot of the Korean pop culture I’ve witnessed so far eschews context, even before exportation to America. There’s a propulsive energy to movies like Parasite and The Handmaiden, like “Wowzer, where did that come from?” and you’ll see highly-paid and highly-respected Korean celebrities doing absurd things in the name of cinema (or variety shows). A film like The Royal Tailor doesn’t stop to observe its absurdity, doesn’t replicate the audience to lie prostrate before it and be judged, and this allows the earnest deliveries of lines like “I’ll make sure your clothes never see the light of day!” The magic trick, then, is that this line is a gut punch. … More The Royal Tailor

#Alive

Zombie movies stopped being weird a long, long time ago. And I don’t mean “millions of Milla Jovovich clones” weird — though before I fall into this visible trap for genre snobbery, is that any better or worse than Return of the Living Dead III’s zombie power loaders? To my mind, still, there’s a difference between Paul W.S. Anderson and Brian Yuzna. There’s a difference between in-groups and out-groups, the names made in the heyday — teeth cut, conventions defined, practical effects — who attach to a classic like Re-Animator, itself apiece with Evil Dead 2 and Dead Alive and the original Return of the Living Dead — the good ones. Whenever a zombie movie passes before my eyes — or I watch a zombie movie, whatever — all of this history trots out again for parade, all this embittered narrative and stolen history, borderline appropriation / vandalism of our darkest realms, us — genre champions — for coercion into the mainstream. What you call perhaps the last bastion against genre monopoly by superheroes I call… the rape of the natural world! … More #Alive

Top 5 K-Pop Songs

Yes, this is the absolutely definitive top five K-pop songs of all time, according to someone who’s been listening to K-pop for, like, a year. I trust that this list will evolve as I continue on in my Koreaboo journey, so maybe I’ll make it a recurring feature. There’s just something about this music that makes me want to surrender to hyperbole, to shout superlatives and classify things as number one best, not to evangelize but simply to accurately express my feelings. And this isn’t a one-way thing, man. I need to know your top K-pop songs, however you reach me. Email, Twitter, a thrown brick upon the temple, message wrapped around it. Two notes before we begin: first, I’m doing one song per group, so that this doesn’t become a Red Velvet show. And second, you may be frustrated to discover that all these songs are by girl groups. Whenever I say “K-pop,” you know, on the street, a brick in your hand, that’s pretty much what I’m talking about, though that obviously makes for somewhat serious omissions. Whatever! Everybody ready? … More Top 5 K-Pop Songs

K-Pop Pick of the Day: “Dumhdurum”

I love everything about this song — the music itself, of course, and also the MV. The colors, the lavish detail, the frowny-girl scowls, and even Naeun’s cornrows (speaking of appropriative). This is a really bold outing for Apink, as far as I’ve seen (having missed a few of their more recent evolutionary steps, namely “%%”). It pops. There’s a big synchronized hair whip in the choreography, and I think that’s the quintessence of the piece. It’s fast and fun — it’s a real jolt. And it’s lean, maintaining a consistent vibe throughout, rather than peaks and valleys. … More K-Pop Pick of the Day: “Dumhdurum”

K-Pop Pick of the Day: “Jelly”

I have mixed feelings about “Monster.” I know — who asked me, right? Who am I? Well, how about Seulgi’s number one fan? That’s right. Now don’t you look silly. It’s got a certain earworm quality, and it is growing on me, maybe more like a parasite than what I’m used to. Even before you see the video, the cynic in me feels like they’re playing it safe for the new subunit, double-dipping into that “Psycho” bucket. And look, I love “Psycho,” but it’s a belter. “Monster” is far more low-key, as if “sexy” necessarily comes at the expense of “energy.” With a growing understanding of other groups, the label that most characterizes Red Velvet to me — in music and personality — is weird. These girls are some of the weirdest people I’ve ever beheld, with that conversation in Vietnam about crushing crickets to feed to the baby chicken ripped straight out of A Scanner Darkly*. Undoubtedly, that’s part of the charm, and that’s what’s reflected in the eclectic music. … More K-Pop Pick of the Day: “Jelly”