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[YEAR-END REVIEW]Looking back on Korean culture scene

2006/12/27 Source

Popsters go solo to ride Korean Wave

One of the most conspicuous phenomena of 2006 was the "going-solo" trend among former boy band and girl band members. In fact, this year's K-pop scene has been crowded with what seems like an endless procession of "first solo albums".

Son Ho-young and Kim Tae-wu, former members of now disbanded G.O.D., released their solo debut albums in October, only a few weeks apart. Son has taken a sexier image with his debut album "Yes", which features a mixture of R&B and hip-hop tracks, while Kim showed off his strong vocals in his album "Solo Special". Aside from those two, Jun Jin of all-male pop group Shinhwa, Brian Joo of male R&B duo Fly to the Sky, former Baby Vox member Kan Mi-youn and girl group Sugar's Ayoomi stood alone as solo singers this year. Unlike G.O.D., whose members went solo after their groups disbanded, several members of Shinhwa have taken on solo careers while their group is enjoying a hiatus.

Encouraged by K-pop's massive success in Asia, Korean entertainment companies are making a big push in the pop music's biggest and most important market in the world: the United States.

Pop star Rain's Madison Square Garden concert in October attracted some 40,000 fans, about a quarter of who were non-Korean. In May, he took Asia by storm, selected by Time magazine as one of the world's 100 most influential people.

Se7en, the strongest rival of Rain, also performed in the United States, joining the 10th anniversary concert of his agency YG Family, which was in New York in the same month. The singer is currently working on his upcoming U.S. debut album, together with Grammy Award-winning producer Rich Harrison.

Throughout the year, Japanese pop musicians' popularity has been winning the hearts of young Koreans, encouraging some of the hottest J-pop musicians to visit the country for the promotion of their albums and concerts. Among them was Goto Maki, a former member of girl group Morning Musume, another sexy female singer Koda Kumi as well as popular boy band ARASHI.

In March, Britney Spears' songwriters accused sexy K-pop icon Lee Hyori of plagiarism, claiming that her comeback hit "Get Ya" ripped off Spears' "Do Something". While this is not the first time the Korean pop industry has been accused of pilfering, it is the first time the copyright holder has formally complained.

Shin Jung-hyun, 66, "the Godfather of Korean rock music", had a series of retirement concert during the year, bidding farewell to the stage. His farewell tour was covered by the foreign press, including the New York Times.

By Lee Yong-sung

Blockbusters set records despite fears of quota cut

The thriving Korean movie industry got off to a tumultuous start earlier this year due to the heated dispute over the government's decision to halve the screen quota days from 146 days to 73 days. The reduced quota went into effect in July as planned, despite continued protests from filmmakers and actors. Established in 1996, the quota has been used to encourage local theaters to screen local films and help maintain their position against Hollywood movies in the Korean market. But the logic has been questioned by government officials and critics partly because domestic filmmakers have made great strides in recent years on the strength of the Korean Wave and are now commanding over 50 percent of a market valued at $1.54 billion. The country's trade officials claim Korean films do not need such protectionist measures, favoring reduced quota days for home-grown flicks.

An embarrassing development for local filmmakers who are still opposing the cut is a series of record box-office hits by local movies led by "The King and the Clown", a small-budget film that turned out to be a smash hit.

"The King and the Clown", a period drama centered on a notorious 15th-century monarch and a troupe of entertainers invited to his court, sold a record 12.3 million tickets, shattering previous box-office records.

The new record, however, did not last long. Director Bong Joon-ho's "The Host", released in July, attracted 13 million viewers, rewriting the history of the Korean film industry.

The dramatic advent of 10-million blockbusters has been powered by the rapid growth of multiplexes across the nation. Currently, three multiplex operators - CGV, Lotte and Megabox - are staging fierce competition to stay ahead in the game, expanding their theater networks at a breakneck pace.

But critics also noted that some Korean blockbusters monopolized the theaters when they were released by dominant distributors. "The Host" secured a whopping 630 theater screens across the nation, sparking complaints from other Korean filmmakers.

Another notable trade of 2006 was the popularity of star directors including Bong Joon-ho. Director Choi Dong-hoon also solidified his fame by turning "Tazza: The High Rollers" into a commercial hit in the second half that lured a total of 6.8 million viewers.

However, award-winning director Park Chan-wook failed to impress both critics and mainstream viewers. Park had won both critical acclaim and commercial success with his vengeance series, notably "Old Boy" and "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance", but his latest flick, "I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK", flopped at the box office even though the high-profile film starred top-rated stars such as Jung Ji-hoon who is also known as Rain.

By Yang Sung-jin

Historical dramas a huge hit on TV

Historical dramas have ruled TV screens this year with all three major broadcast stations in Korea rushing to produce epic drama series. Perhaps influenced by the heated dispute over the history of Goguryeo between China and Korea, most of epic dramas are set in the Goguyreo period (37 B.C.-A.D. 668).

The smash-hit MBC drama "Jumong", which is still garnering an average 40-something percent viewing rating, is one example demonstrating the "craze for Sageuk, or historical dramas", here. The drama, based on the founding myth of Goguyreo, received explosive popularity among TV viewers thanks to its heroic character played by Song Il-gook while mixing comedy and pathos in the drama.

KBS's "Dae Jo Yeong", played by Choi Soo-jong, and SBS's epic drama "Yeongaesomun", played by Yoo Dong-geun, also enjoyed popularity.

The craze for historical dramas is likely to continue next year with "Taewangsasingi" ("The Legend"), which is currently being made and is scheduled to air through MBC. The 20-episode drama will highlight the reign of King Gwanggaeto, who expanded the territory of Goguryeo as far as northern Manchuria. Korean Wave star Bae Yong-joon takes the role of the king.

In line with the historical drama boom, another primetime KBS drama "Hwangjin-i" with 24 episodes about the life of gisaeng, a female entertainer during the Joseon dynasty, has garnered an average viewer rating of 20.1 percent since its debut two months ago. Featuring actress Ha Ji-won as Hwang and actor Kim Jae-won as Kim Jeong-han, Hwang's lover, the drama depicts Hwang's ill-fated love and overflowing talents combined with a detailed description of the lives of gisaeng with beautifully colored sets and costumes.

By Cho Chung-un

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