A friend recently shared this meme on facebook.
It’s true! K-pop: light and fluffy. K-movie: many of them surprisingly dark and brutal. But I confess, despite having lived here for four years, I still consume very little in the way of either Korean music or movies.
Most of my students are very much into K-pop. Nine times out of ten for the girls it’s BTS, or sometimes Wanna One. I tried watching some of their videos but it does nothing for me. Though I imagine thirty-nine-year-old British guys are not their target audience!
On the girl group side, Twice and Blackpink are also immensely popular. I watched some of their videos too. Easy on the eye, forgettable on the ears.
I still hold that PSY is the best thing to break out from the K-music scene onto the international stage. Unlike the achingly sincere love ballads that come from Korea’s numerous idol groups, there’s a sense of satire and inventiveness to PSY’s music. Megahit ‘Gangnam style’ for example is lampooning the trendy and wealthy Gangnam district in Seoul.
This is another of my favorites. Seeing as representations of the North and its leadership can still be a very sensitive topic in the South, it’s surprisingly subversive in all the best ways.
Kiha and the faces are also worth a listen to. I’d never heard of them until I saw them live the very first time I was living in Busan, back when I was in the hostel in Haeundae and in my first week had a free music festival and pool party on the beach!
As for movies, until last night I could count the number of Korean movies I’d seen on one hand.
The Tower – People are trapped by fire at the top of a newly opened skyscraper and a group of heroic firefighters are trying to rescue them. Very much a Hollywood style disaster movie, though it contained a brief but surprisingly gruesome scene with people trapped inside a burning elevator.
The Host – Mutant monster rampaging on the banks of the Han river in Seoul. Also the American military are up to no good. If you take a walk along the Han river you can find a life size replica of the monster.
Train to Busan – Known as 부산역 (Busan station) in Korea. Zombies on a train! Spoiler – The train never makes it to Busan.
Okja – It’s set half in Korea and half in the USA. But the directors Korean so I’m counting it. What at first glance looks like a kid’s movie about a little girl and her cute giant GMO pig friend turns into something much more varied in tone, with a strong animal liberation theme.
Parasite – Big Oscar winner. If you haven’t seen this yet, then why not?
Yesterday I was taking a stroll down cinema street in Marine city. This is a seaside walk featuring loads of Korean movie posters and actor bio’s spread along the sea wall.
Scrolling the movies, I came across a cheerful looking poster of a cartoon fish leaping from a restaurant fish tank. It looked very much like a kiddie friendly animation. Called 바닥 (Padak), I decided to watch it that evening.
It is NOT a children’s film! It turned out to be much darker, deeper and more interesting than the poster suggested. Fortunately, I’d googled the movie beforehand and knew what to expect and so hadn’t suggested watching it with my niece and nephew.
It follows a mackerel plucked from the ocean and dumped into a seafood restaurant tank where the other fish are just waiting to be butchered. It’s like Finding Nemo had that Pixar classic been filled with horror, hopelessness and fish based gore, with added trippy 2d animated musical numbers.
Those live sea food restaurants with their tanks outside of sad looking fish, crab and squid awaiting their fate are ubiquitous in the port city of Busan. Numerous reviews said Padak would put you off seafood for life, which is no bad thing in my opinion.