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[YEAR-END REVIEW]Prominent figures in arts, entertainment

2006/12/28 Source

Director Bong Joon-ho sets new standard

By Yang Sung-jin

Director Bong Joon-ho enjoyed the most memorable moment of 2006. His latest feature film "The Host", released in July, sold a record 13 million tickets, setting a new standard for filmmaking and CGI effects.

The film features a monster emerging from the Han River in Seoul, with family members struggling to protect each other while a series of increasingly depressing events unfolds around them.

High-quality computer graphics and solid performances by main cast members including Song Gang-ho impressed both critics and mainstream viewers here. Particularly noticeable is director Bong's cinematic sensibility that incorporated cutting-edge technology into the most universal theme of affection among family members.

The film is now set to greet American moviegoers in February - a new development for the Korean Wave directors. Until now, famous Korean stars and directors focused on Asian markets, but Bong opened up a new possibility of targeting the biggest filmmaking market of the world. Director Bong is now planning to produce his next film in English in order to enter the North American market faster.

In November, Bong attracted strong publicity in the United States because "The Host" draws on real-life scandal involving an American worker at the U.S. military base in Seoul.

"The Host" begins with a controversial scene where an American coroner orders his Korean subordinate to dump formaldehyde down a drain that flows to the Han River, leading to the creation of the monster. The scene is based on a real-life event that actually occurred here in 2000.

Director Bong, born in 1969, is one of the most promising film directors and often compared with the award-winning Park Chan-wook. A graduate of the Korean Academy of Film Arts, Bong directed a host of critically-acclaimed short films before his feature film debut "Barking Dogs Never Bite" in 2000.

The talented director's momentum took off in 2003 when his second feature film, "Memories of Murder", turned out to be a huge commercial hit with critics praising Bong's innovative style and approach.

Recently, director Bong flew to Los Angeles to attend the American Film Market and the AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival. At the AFM, Universal bought the remake right for Bong's creature blockbuster "The Host" for $600,000.

The film was released in Japan in September amid growing interest toward Korean films. "The Host" also made it to other key international film markets including France, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Britain and Australia.

Director Bong's imaginative filmmaking techniques also appealed to young Korean filmmaker wannabes. On Tuesday, he took part in the opening ceremony of the second University Film Festival of Korea in Seoul and received the "Director of the Year" award.

"I also had many doubts about myself. But please believe that you have talent, and be confident when you set out to make a film", he said at the ceremony held at Myeongbo Theater in downtown Seoul.

Veterans return to revive Korean performing arts

By Cho Chung-un

Foreign productions and musicals have ruled the country's performing arts scene throughout the year enlarging the size of the arts market. At the same time, however, this unequal growth has caused a major recession for other types of performing arts such as choreography and theatrical drama.

However, the future of the country's performing arts seems not that hopeless. There are a number of dedicated artists who tried to revitalize the stagnant performing arts scene by nurturing homegrown productions.

Song Seung-hwan, the producer of "Nanta", the Korean-made smash-hit nonverbal percussion performance, is one of those dedicated artists who have played a leading role in showcasing Korean culture both at home and abroad.

Nanta is about four Korean chefs preparing a wedding dinner in a restaurant. They play highly energetic Korean traditional percussion music "Samulnori", with cutting boards, chopping knives, stew pans and all kinds of utensils.

This year, "Nanta", which has performed more than 8,300 times in and out of the country since its premiere in 1997, has drawn more than one million of the foreign tourists that have visited Korea. Also, the five-member show with the English title "Cookin" has sent performing troupes to about 150 cities in 25 countries including the stages Off-Broadway in New York.

Song, 49, co-chairman of the show's production company PMC Production, didn't stop with the success of "Nanta".

He continued to produce other creative non-verbal presentations like "Dokkebi Storm" and "B-boy Korea" saying he will make shows to target the international market.

"The reason why we are focusing on nonverbal performances is to find a larger market abroad. It is true for Korean performances that the language barrier is the biggest problem when making inroads into foreign markets and therefore, we are seeking a nonverbal performance as an easy way to get there", said Song at a recent news conference.

Drama was definitely the most disappointing sector in the field of performing arts. In an attempt to draw audiences to live theater and revive the country's lagging drama industry veteran actors announced their return to the stage.

Kim Hye-ja, one of Korea's most seasoned actresses, returned to the stage with the Pulitzer Prize winning drama "Doubt" early this month at a mid-sized theater in Daehangro, the cultural Mecca of Seoul.

Kim, who debuted as a TV actress in 1962, has won a number of best actress trophies during her 43 years career. "Doubt" was her first theatrical drama in six years since she finished the one woman show "Shirley Valentine" in 2001. In "Doubt", Kim, 64, took the role of tenacious Sister Aloysius, a formidable nun who runs a grammar school in the Bronx - accusing Father Flynn of molesting some of the boys in the school.

Kim was not the only actor who returned to theatrical stage.

Park Jung-ja and Son Sook, two veteran theater actresses and influential figures in the country's cultural scene, are scheduled to return to the stage with "Agnes of God". Park, 64, takes on the role of Mother Miriam Ruth while Sohn, 62, plays Martha Livingstone, the court-appointed psychiatrist who investigates the miracle pregnancy through science.

None of the three actresses suggest they are on a mission to revive a stagnant drama theater industry. They rather point out that drama is the origin of acting and performing and the place where they continue to learn about life as actors. This obviously sets an example for TV stars of the younger generation who easily forget about the essence of acting and also for audiences who miss quality performances in small theaters.

Pioneer of video art passes into history

By Hwang You-mee

In January this year, the world suffered the loss of Paik Nam-june (1932-2006). Touted as the pioneer of video art, the Korean born artist studied art history in Tokyo before moving to Germany, where he met John Cage while studying music. Paik spent the late 1950s and early 60s in Germany exploring avant-garde music and Fluxus, the neo-Dada movement along with the founder of the anti-art movement Joseph Voice.

It was in the 1960s that Paik switched from electronic music and performance to television sets, which evolved into video installations. With the visual equipment, he processed moving images, combining, distorting and scrambling them, "turning the medium inside out".

In 1965, the same year he debuted in New York's art scene, the effervescent "rebel from the East" exhibited the first installation of works using a video recorder and four years later, started his sculptural works using multiple television monitors.

Paik was a man of contradiction: he was rooted in classical music yet explored avant-garde music; his works employed cutting-edge techniques but never lost humanity; they were at the same time kitsch and pop oriented yet resonated profound sensibility.

The free-spirited artist is credited with paving the way for a novel genre as well as for pushing the boundaries of contemporary art as a whole.

His works are included in the permanent collection of established museums across the world including Guggenheim Museum, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art; Smithsonian American Art Museum; Kunstalle Dusseldorf, Germany; and Centre Pompidou, Paris. The remains of the universal artist were also placed in three cities - New York, Berlin and Seoul.

Samsung Museum of Art Leeum's director general, Hong Ra-hee, was recently named as the most influential figure in Korea's art scene by a local art monthly for two consecutive years. Not that this needs to be confirmed.

Hong not only runs the museum, which has garnered attention with its buildings designed by internationally renowned architects Rem Koolhaas, Jean Nouvel and Mario Botta, but also oversees Ho-am Art Museum, Rodin Gallery and Ho-Am Art Gallery, owned by Samsung Group. She is acknowledged to have as much influence in the Korean art scene as her husband Lee Kun-hee, chairman of Samsung, does in the economy.

On top of her educational background (she majored in applied fine arts at Seoul National University), Hong shares enthusiasm for art with her husband and has honed her knowledge under the personal guidance of her father-in-law and Samsung founder Lee Byung-chull.

In 1995, Hong took the helm of Ho-am Art Museum, named after her art aficionado father-in-law, and in 2004 unveiled Leeum that accommodates the family's extensive collection (recognized as the best private collection in Korea) including a number of national treasures and top-dollar contemporary artworks.

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