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Tag Archives: korea

I’ll be honest, the only reason I watched Exit was because I knew about it beforehand. And the only reason I knew about it was that it starred YoonA from Girls Generation. Exit is about a useless Millennial son whose hobby is climbing. Coincidentally, there is a disaster and his skill saves him. His friend from his climbing group also ends up at the same place that he is in when disaster strikes so they get to work together.

This movie is pretty bad. I guess it is either a comedy or a frank look at Korean families and their culture. Either way, there is a lot of cringe worthy moments. Both leads were also bad at portraying their roles. The only thing that saves the movie from being turned off were the climbing scenes. Even though you knew the outcome would be OK, you were still hanging on by your fingertips to see what would happen. I guess this is like the award winning Free Solo except told through a fictional story.

I would skip this one, two out of five stars.

  • What Came Before the Big Bang?
    The two things that I’m always curious about space/time is whether we live in a simulation, and what happened before the Big Bang. Here are 3 ideas on the latter.

    A second major hypothesis is that the universe, and time, did not exist before the Big Bang. The universe materialized literally out of nothing, at a tiny but finite size, and expanded thereafter. There were no moments before the moment of smallest size because there was no “before.” Likewise, there was no “creation” of the universe, since that concept implies action in time. Even to say that the universe “materialized” is somewhat misleading. As Hawking describes it, the universe “would be neither created nor destroyed. It would just BE.” Such notions as existence and being in the absence of time are not fathomable within our limited human experience. We don’t even have language to describe them. Nearly every sentence we utter has some notion of “before” and “after.”

  • How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food
    Junk food is not all bad. If it wasn’t for junk food, a lot of people in Brazil would be starving as they would not be able to buy enough food to sustain themselves. Yet is surviving on junk food any better?

    Ms. de Vasconcellos has diabetes and high blood pressure. Her 17-year-old daughter, who weighs more than 250 pounds, has hypertension and polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormonal disorder strongly linked to obesity. Many other relatives have one or more ailments often associated with poor diets: her mother and two sisters (diabetes and hypertension), and her husband (hypertension.) Her father died three years ago after losing his feet to gangrene, a complication of diabetes.

    “Every time I go to the public health clinic, the line for diabetics is out the door,” she said. “You’d be hard pressed to find a family here that doesn’t have it.”

  • The Untold Story of Kim Jong-nam’s Assassination
    The real life assassination of a North Korean leader is almost unbelievable (as with many things North Korea), but someone has done a lot of leg work to try and get a detailed story of what happened.

    The liquid that Siti rubbed on Jong-nam’s face was likely not true VX. Experts have suggested that a modified version of normal VX—VX2—was employed instead. As Vipin Narang, a professor of political science at MIT who holds two degrees in chemical engineering, explained to me, “VX2 is made by dividing VX into two nonreactive compounds. What the women were likely doing was creating active VX on Jong-nam’s face by each delivering their ingredient.”

    This complicated method of poisoning Jong-nam would have had several advantages. First, the toxin would have been safe until activated. Even then, VX2 is not very volatile compared with other chemical weapons, meaning it was less likely to affect bystanders or first responders. If VX2 was employed, it’s unlikely Siti would have been affected, as striking first she never would have been exposed to the second reactant.

  • Valve is not your friend, and Steam is not healthy for gaming
    I never liked Steam as a store or a service. The software just seemed clunky and unnecessary and I’m not even a gamer so I can imagine what people who use it every day would think. This story is biased as the author has a big beef with it, but it also lists out a bunch of things wrong with the service

    Valve themselves eagerly trumpeted that they had paid more than $57 million to Steam Workshop creators over four years — an enormously impressive figure until you realize that it’s only 25 percent of the sale price, which means Valve just made $171 million profit from … setting up an online form where you can submit finished 3D models.

  • Where are all the aliens?
    This article talks about the Fermi paradox (if there are so many stars, why can’t we find other intelligent species?) and lists a bunch of reasons why it may exist. It’s a primer article on the paradox and I felt I’ve read it somewhere else before, but it’s still interesting.

    Possibility 5) There’s only one instance of higher-intelligent life—a “superpredator” civilization (like humans are here on Earth)—who is far more advanced than everyone else and keeps it that way by exterminating any intelligent civilization once they get past a certain level. This would suck. The way it might work is that it’s an inefficient use of resources to exterminate all emerging intelligences, maybe because most die out on their own. But past a certain point, the super beings make their move—because to them, an emerging intelligent species becomes like a virus as it starts to grow and spread. This theory suggests that whoever was the first in the galaxy to reach intelligence won, and now no one else has a chance. This would explain the lack of activity out there because it would keep the number of super-intelligent civilizations to just one.

Familyhood is a Korean film about an aging, (approaching middle age), but still relevant, actress who fakes a pregnancy in order to find meaning in life. Naturally, being pregnant increases her stature but also, she is found out and her bubble burst. The tragic, fallen hero must then deal with the consequences and redeem herself.

It’s kind of a cliche, and actually given the hype of K-Dramas, a pretty disappointing movie. Perhaps I’m not the target audience for this film. The parts I enjoyed about this movie are the ones that show or satirize the management/agency nature of being a Korean celebrity. Aside from that, there isn’t much redeeming about the movie, and it is a sorry state of the film releases on my flights in January that I had to watch this movie instead of a better one.

Familyhood gets a 2 out of 5 stars from me.

This year’s music listening consisted of new music from artists that I enjoy, and a smattering of top KPop and western Top40. At home, I had my usual iTunes music and we used a custom Spotify playlist in the kitchen. In the car, I burned KPop CDs but started listening to a bit of radio towards the end of the year as I didn’t keep up with new KPop releases as much and the music started getting stale. I noticed and am glad that Top40 has shifted to be more house and jungle oriented rather than Hip Hop.

Here’s my list for the year:

  1. 태연 (Taeyeon) – 제주도의 푸른 밤 (The Blue Night of Jeju)

    The Blue Night of Jeju is a cover of, I guess, a classic Korean song (many other Korean artists have covers) and it’s my favorite song from this year for a number of reasons:

    1. It’s by my favorite singer
    2. It’s in the sweet spot of her register
    3. The song and this particular arrangement is catchy
    4. Taeyeon’s music doesn’t typically have guitars so this is unique

    The only problem I have is that I can’t find a place to buy it. I believe it’s only digital, and I have to sign up for a Korean service (melOn) to download it. I’m almost at a stage where I’m going to do that!

  2. 아이유 (IU) – 스물셋 (Twenty Three)

    Pulling an “Adele”, IU wrote a song about her age. I don’t understand it because it’s in Korean, but it’s got a catchy hook. I bought the rest of this album, and this is heads and shoulders above the rest of the tracks; mostly because it’s a pop song, rather than in the style of her more recent albums (i.e., Red Shoes)
  3. Charlie Puth and Selena Gomez – We Don’t Talk Anymore

    This song has a great hook (and not much else beyond that), but that’s enough to make it a great pop song. It’s funny that Selena Gomez collaborated on this song because in a way it’s a lot like her songs – the same words repeated over and over again.
  4. 태연 (Taeyeon) with Dean – Starlight

    Taeyeon’s solo singles are typically in the R&B or soft rock genre, which is not a type of music I enjoy too much. This song is typical of those genres, there is no strong melody or beat, nor is it super catchy or showcase her voice (in fact I feel it’s mostly Dean’s song). However, like Rain, it portrays a feeling and so the song grew on me. I like the video as well.
  5. 태연 (Taeyeon) – Why

    When I heard about the title track from Taeyeon’s second EP, I was a bit disappointed because I thought it would be in a similar vein to I. However, when the song finally came out, I was pleasantly surprised that it was pretty catchy – it’s a dance track rather than R&B. I think this would be the song that epitomizes 2016 summer for me.

    I didn’t like the original video for this song, but the dance version is great. The choreography reminds of Michael Jackson dancing!

    It’s tough to pick the better song between this and Starlight from Taeyeon’s second EP. I like Why more right now, but I think Starlight will have more longevity – hence the ranking.

  6. Calvin Harris ft Rihanna – This Is What You Came For

    This song is good almost entirely due to Rihanna’s scat-ing, which I find funny because when Rihanna started out, I thought she was a weak singer with a small range.
  7. Justin Bieber – Lose Yourself

    This is one of the first songs that I noticed that started having the stripped down approach to songwriting. It’s not really acoustic, just that there is not a lot of instrumentation and it is focused on singing. I think it has aged pretty well since I heard it in early 2016.
  8. 티파니 (Tiffany) – Once In A Lifetime

    Tiffany had her solo debut album this year, and while I didn’t like her two singles, I thought this track was the standout track. I’m not sure if it’s worth buying the entire album though.
  9. The Weeknd – I Feel It Coming

    This song is so new that there isn’t a music video or even a good audio-only version of this song on YouTube. I didn’t like the first Daft Punk x Weeknd collaboration that much (see below), but when I first heard this song, I knew it would be great. It just sounds like Daft Punk, and their cameo in the bridge is perfect. What I missed is that The Weeknd is doing his Michael Jackson imitation, but when the radio mentioned that, it clicked and made a lot of sense. Because it’s so new, I’m afraid that it might not have that much longevity, otherwise it would have ranked higher.
  10. Just Timberlake – Can’t Stop The Feeling!

    This is a happy song from a movie soundtrack – sounds like it’s repeating the success of Pharrel William’s Happy from 2013! Great pop song for this year, but I don’t think it’s going to have a lot of longevity.
  11. 세븐틴 (SEVENTEEN) and 에일리 (Ailee) – Q&A

    This is one of the only KPop songs which isn’t by artists that I like. In fact it almost doesn’t matter who sings it, the song is catchy and the singers are stepping over each other which makes it sound complex.
  12. 윤아 (Yoona) with 10cm – 덕수궁 돌담길의 봄 (Deoksugung Stonewall Walkway)

    This is a standard pop duet with a catchy hook. I think Yoona’s voice is under-rated (given that she is supposed to be the face of SNSD) but she’s trying to hard in this video.
  13. Bruno Mars – 24k Magic

    I guess Bruno is creating a new niche for himself now that hip hop & R&B are dying on top40. Instead of house or becoming a singer/songwriter, he’s continuing his Uptown Funk trend and becoming the leading funk singer of the ’10s. This song is really good when you first hear it, because every part of it is something different. But it falls off a cliff pretty quick once you hear it often. All the unique elements become regular.
  14. 태연 (Taeyeon) – Rain

    This song is an earworm for me but overall I didn’t enjoy it that much (again because it’s R&B/soft rock).
  15. The Weeknd ft Daft Punk – Star Boy

    The Weeknd and Daft Punk, two of my favorite musical artists collaborating on a track. This is going to be awesome! Well it turns out that it wasn’t that great. It’s not a turd, but the beat wasn’t as catchy as other Daft Punk tracks and The Weeknd doesn’t singing is not as melodic as it could be (although I noticed that most of The Weeknd’s singles don’t really involve singing like his early works).
  16. Selena Gomez – Hands To Myself

    I got Selena Gomez’ album for free last year as part of a Microsoft Groove promotion, but didn’t really listen to it (only listened to Same Old Love). Then I heard this song on the radio and added it to my playlist. The song is actually not noteworthy, except one line in the bridge that makes it worth it.

Inside Men is a Korean thriller billed as being similar to Infernal Affairs. However, as I was watching it; I saw the surface level connection but felt that Inside Men was nowhere near as well done.

Part of the reason might be that I couldn’t remember the names and place the faces in the beginning – too many characters were being introduced and I just couldn’t track them fast enough. However, once things started going, I figured out who the main characters were. However, by that time, it became obvious that there wasn’t a lot of spy/counter-spying going on. There were a couple of ruses and some puppeteering but the complexity was not as intriguing as Infernal Affairs.

So I thought that Inside Men would get a bad rating, but it just kept going and going and going. There were a couple of twists which redeemed itself a bit, but it still wasn’t too good. I guess it’s a 3 out of 5, but maybe it is really a 2.5.

Assassination is a Korean film in the vein of Ocean’s 11 and from the same director as The Thieves (which was also very Ocean’s 11-like). This time, it’s not about a heist, and didn’t have a large cast. Instead it is like Ocean’s 11 because it had a lot of double crossing and switching of allegiances.

In Assassination, we go back to the 1930s where the Korean independence movement is trying to kill Japanese leaders and their Korean supporters in occupied Korea. Apparently, there is a lot of in-fighting amongst the various independence movements so everyone is trying to sell everyone else out. There are layers upon layers of assassins so the movie is how all of these plotlines work themselves out.

I saw this movie immediately after Monster Hunt and this movie was more stylish, exciting and interesting (I guess because it was more thrilling). However, in the end, it didn’t leave me any more satisfied than Monster Hunt even though there were no boring moments. So again, this movie gets three out of five stars.

This year I had to actively seek out new music because all my music is curated by myself. The majority of my listening is either from my own library (still iTunes, although all my music is on Google Music now) or from a custom playlist on Spotify. I don’t have any passive music sources for Top40 or others so there’s not a lot of new music coming in.

In terms of buying, I actually bought a couple of CDs this year (a couple of discs to complete collections)! I also bought a bunch of singles and albums from iTunes and Google Music. Not a lot of money spent though as I waited for sales or credits.

Here’s my top tracks for this year:

  1. 태연 (Taeyeon) – 사랑 그 한마디 (Love, That Only Word)
    Taeyeon released a solo album this year, and while I was excited – I was also disappointed that it didn’t have any great ballad singles to showcase her singing (I don’t think U R is that great). I think she is much more suited to singing an OST like this one. I don’t think the song is as great (emotional/touching) as IU’s When Would It Be but it’s more enjoyable for me to listen to the timbre of Taeyeon’s voice and the vibrato on her phrasing. I actually heard this song first in 2014, but started listening to it more in 2015 after I bought it from iTunes.
  2. 윤현상 (Yoon Hyun Sang) & 아이유 (IU) – 언제쯤이면 (When Would It Be)
    I think this is more of Yoon Hyun Sang’s song with IU being featured on it. Even without IU, it would be very good because the singing and piano is haunting. IU’s voice adds a lot of color to it while at the same time capturing the sadness in the song. I think IU sings too many up-tempo songs when she can really excel at ballads such as time one; but I guess she needs to differentiate herself from other singers.
  3. 나윤권 – If Only
    Best male solo ballad of the year. Starts off unassuming but I like the harmonies that come in. I had this on a CD for a long time but didn’t know who sang it until I was coming up with this list.
  4. Amber – Beautiful
    I came across this song because it was on Amber’s solo debut album. I wouldn’t have paid attention to her album had it not for Taeyeon being featured on the title track (Shake That Brass – which is ridiculous and unnecessary for Taeyeon to be featured on it). This song is a nice acoustic slow jam unlike Shake That Brass though. I thought Amber was a rapper but she sings pretty well on this one.
  5. 소녀시대 (Girls’ Generation) – Lion Heart
    When SNSD’s 5th album was announced/teased, I thought I would like You Think more because Lion Heart was too retro/swing (I didn’t like Dancing Queen that much, although maybe because it was a remake of Duffy’s Mercy). However, Lion Heart is clearly much catchier than You Think and an overall better song even if the choreography is odd.
  6. Sam Smith – I’m Not The Only One
    I bought Sam Smith’s album on sale via Google Play and really wanted to enjoy the album. However, the only track that really stuck with me was this one (and the reason I bought the album).
  7. 소녀시대 (Girls’ Generation) – Party
    I’ve complained about Girls’ Generation getting poor songs given that they are such an influential & popular group. However, their 5th album has 2 really great singles. Party is not as good as Lion Heart, but it’s still a very fitting song for summer.
  8. Coldplay – Adventure Of A Lifetime
    This song (and Coldplay’s new album) came out right around I wrote this blog, so while I think this song sounds pretty good, it’s still fresh to me. It doesn’t actually sound like a Coldplay song, and it reminds me more of Cut Copy. I’ve streamed their new album and I think this is the best track by a wide margin.
  9. 임재범 (Yim Jae Bum) & 태연 (Taeyeon) – 사랑보다 깊은 상처 (Scars Deeper Than Love)
    This verse starts off well with Taeyeon’s solo but the chorus isn’t that interesting. This is a remake of what I assume was a pretty successful song in the past. Taeyeon sounds like a little girl in this song though, I guess it’s a higher than she usually sings.
  10. 아이유 (IU) – 스물셋 (23)
    Lots of IU singles on the list this year, although I didn’t pay as much attention to her releases as I did SNSD’s. I actually skipped through this song on her Chat-Shire album (I wonder if she knows chat is cat in French) when I listened to it the first time, but once I realized it was a single, I listened to it again. The verse is not catchy which is why it didn’t register with me, but the chorus has great hooks.
  11. Meghan Trainor – All About That Bass
    My kids love dancing to this song because it has a strong…bass line. I think that’s why I like it too as I don’t generally like Trainor’s retro sound.
  12. Pentatonix – Can’t Sleep Love
    Stumbled upon this group billed as an Acapella group and thought that that was weird. How can Acapella be so popular? Well it turns out that it was false advertising as it is basically electropop (think Boyz II Men + 10s Pop). The album was only 99¢ on Google Play so I took a chance on this just because their setup was so weird. This is their single which is pretty catchy (and a late addition).
  13. Selena Gomez – Same Old Love
    A late addition since I’m not up to date on Top 40. It sounds pretty catchy but not a good as Love You Like A Love Song.
  14. 아이유 (IU) & 장이정 – 금요일에 만나요 (Friday)
    A couple of IU songs ahead of this one this year, but this is still catchy. It’s acoustic which is a bonus.
  15. M&D – 하고 싶어 (I Wish)
    I wouldn’t normally pay attention to a song by Super Junior members, but this song got featured in Superstar SMTOWN (and the game is reciprocally featured in the music video). The song is pretty catch so it stuck with me. I listened to the entire album and it’s actually surprisingly good. Each song is basically a different genre – I guess they were trying to grab all demographics. The video is also hilarious.

SuperStar SMTown is a f2p rhythm game based on SM Entertainment’s (one of the big 3 music labels in Korea) musical artists. It’s only available in Korea (translated into English) but I was able to get a copy of the APK elsewhere on the Internet. It’s decent as a rhythm game, although a bit difficult – Easy is more like Normal, and Normal is Hard (can’t get anywhere on the first level of Hard…). There’s also an interesting card collecting/upgrading concept (which is one reason why the game is difficult) to increase replay value and to drive IAP sales. But what makes or breaks a rhythm game is the song selection and that’s where it gets interesting. All the songs are free and are the top hits from various SM artists. I started playing the game due to the SNSD-related songs, but the game has exposed me to a lot of hits from other artists (spoiler: most songs suck). This is actually a really clever strategy to gain more fans for some less popular groups, as they made the rules in the game such that you have to play all the songs (and songs from different artists) to succeed.

I download 80 Days as part of an Amazon freebie event and it has languished on my phone for several months. I finally got around to trying it and was pleasantly surprised with it. The premise is that you must travel around the world in 80 days (like the Jules Verne book) using technologies from (I suppose) the late 19th century, although there is mythology in the world so it’s not exactly history. There is no action in the game, but it plays out like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book. You spend most of your time reading, but the gameplay is somewhat randomized (and there’s obviously many ways to circumnavigate the globe) so it’s actually quite captivating. The art and direction is also refreshing, so this is quite a good and interesting game to play.

After a long break from reading comics, I read a couple this week – but it’s not what you think. I’m not reading comics by Marvel, DC, one of those smaller indie publishers (Top Cow et al – do they still exist/are independent)? Nor is it manga or anything of that sort.

I read a couple of comics books by Guy Delisle who is a Quebecer (trained locally at Sheridan) but now lives in France. His work and life has taken him to a couple of places in Asia and he wrote/illustrated his impression and adventures there.

What tipped me to his books was one about his trip to Pyongyang, North Korea. I enjoying reading about that country and his version of events is a nice, light read. There’s nothing about prison camps, just what daily life is like as a foreigner in that country.

I then read his book about Shenzen (and thus China) and Burma. The adventures in China are not surprising as I’m familiar with the culture, but Burma was new to me. Apparently he has a couple of other books that I might look up a little later!

Like 2013, I didn’t buy any physical CDs this year. But I did end up buying a lot more music because Google Play Music started selling music in Canada and they have deep discounts on a lot of albums throughout the year. Unfortunately, most of the music I’ve been buying have been ones that I already know/enjoyed. So like last year, most of the new music from this year is KPop.

  1. John Legend – You & I
    If I wasn’t married then this would be my first dance song. It is really simple but really touching. Best on John Legend’s album.
  2. 소녀시대 (Girls’ Generation) – Goodbye
    While I probably listened to the title track from SNSD’s 4th Mini Album much more often, I think Goodbye is the better/best song on the album. It’s more rhythmic and a strong ballad from SNSD’s two most distinguished singers. Too bad Jessica is no longer part of the group to sing it!
  3. Ed Sheeran – Thinking Out Loud
    This is a late addition to the list but I found it when I was browsing around on Spotify. I didn’t like A-Team that much so haven’t been listening to him but I think this one is great and his voice timbre actually improves the song.
  4. CN Blue – Can’t Stop
    This is one of those amazing songs which seem to be unlike the band’s DNA (the other songs I know from CN Blue seems to be less pop-py) in the vein of Green Day’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams. The piano intro/verse is what makes this song.
  5. 아이유 (IU) – 너의 의미 (Meaning of You)
    Apparently this song is a remake from a 1984 Korean track, but I think this cover is much better because the melody suits IU’s voice. Also the melody will get stuck in your head
  6. 투개월 (Togeworl) – 톡투미 (Talk To Me)
    Togeworl songs are great pop songs, and while this one is not as good as Number 1, it’s still pretty catchy. The music videos are going to be dated though (or viewed as cultural snapshots?)
  7. John Legend – All Of Me
    This song received a lot of airplay and press as I heard a lot about it being a ballad *before* I actually heard the song (I didn’t hear it until I bought the album). It is OK and grew on my a little once I listened to it more. But it’s not as incredible as I thought it would be.
  8. 아이유 (IU) – 소격동
    This song is catchy but I think it might not be for the right reasons. I paid attention to this because it is completely unlike any other IU songs, it’s kind of electronic and she seems like she is just doing “vocals” rather than being her song.
  9. 소녀시대- (Girls’ Generation-TTS) – Stay
    Taetiseo’s songs are usually pretty poor because they are trying to appeal to a certain demographic (the lead single, Holler on their 2nd album is even worse than Twinkle!) and I think this might be the best song on their 2nd album. It’s a straight up pop dance track so it appeals to me more, but that is also a drawback because it will blend into all the other pop songs once it loses its newness factor.
  10. Jesse McCartney – SuperBad
    Another late addition so I’m not sure how much staying power this song has. Originally I thought it was by Justin Timberlake because it’s very funky.

I’m a fan of the singer Taeyeon (태연) from Girls’ Generation and on occasion I find myself on websites where her fans have posted photos that they’ve taken of her at airports, media events, etc. She actually has quite a following as it seems like there are several dedicated people who just (voluntarily) follow her around. I guess they are the equivalent of paparazzi but they seem nicer about it.

Anyways, instead of visiting all of those sites, or other fan sites on my computer, I wanted an experience on my phone similar to what I can do with Instagram; which is the ability to just open an app when I’m bored and scroll through photos. I decided to build one, and I called it Always Taeyeon

The concept of Always Taeyeon is a “firehose of HD photos, updated automatically”. Basically, I used public APIs to grab the latest high resolution photos, and then display them in the app. I also wanted to make a rich photographic experience. For example: everything is edge-to-edge, the are minimal distractions (a menu button appears when you scroll), and the menu is real-time blur of the photo you’re looking at.

The second thing I wanted to do was to use as little text as possible. My thinking was that the target audience wouldn’t actually be English speaking people, but people in Asia (Korean, Chinese, Japanese, etc). Unfortunately, it’s hard to get away from using some English. Here are some screens where I had to use English

For the first screen, I had to convey that you could swipe left for more photos. In English, it’s easy to explain; but I also added a little animation if you stay on the screen which would swipe 40% of the screen and then animate back. Hopefully users will get that hint! I also embedded photos into my notifications to help explain to the user that there are new photos.

The app is pretty small so far, but it’s something I’m interested in (and hopefully some people around the world are), so I might keep working on it for awhile (unlike some of my other apps)

Of all the movies that I haven’t watched yet but I might have some interest in watching, strangely I decided to watch Snowpiercer. It’s not even really famous or a blockbuster. In fact, I just heard about it on a whim on the internet. It’s about a dystopian future where the world is completely frozen over and the remenants of humanity survive on a perpetually moving train. It’s kind of a strange situation which begs the question, why does humanity have to survive on a train? Couldn’t they just settle in a cave/facility near the equator instead of constantly moving around the world?

In any case, the tail section people go on their mission to take the engine, fight some battles & overcomes some challenges. I supposed I wasn’t so interested in the plot as I was the setting. Beyond the superficial, I don’t think it makes a lot of sense how the train could be self sustaining. That is kind of disappointing to me because the sci-fi element of the film is that humanity is locked in this train, so if that is not rational, then the premise is kind of broken.

I think there are a lot, or could be a lot of themes in this movie that talk about how our current society keeps some individuals down and they have to go through their own battles to reach the engine of their train. But the message is kind of muddled in amidst the action. Stylistically, the movie is pretty good. However, I just didn’t enjoy it as well as I thought I might. Grudgingly, I’ll give Snowpiercer 3 out of 5 stars.

Oh by the way, the director of Snowpiercer, Bong Joon-ho also directed The Host which I watched in 2007

Apollo loves watching Girls’ Generation dance to Mr. Mr. so I end up playing the video for him via YouTube. Luckily for Apollo, there are many, many versions of Mr. Mr. during the brief promotional period for the hit. Here are some official and fan links:

  1. Official MV
  2. Official dance practice
  3. M! Countdown 20140306
  4. KBS Music Bank 20140307
  5. Music Core 20140308
  6. Inkigayo 20140309
  7. SBS The Show 20140311
  8. M! Countdown 20140313
  9. Yu Huiyeol’s Sketchbook 20140314
  10. KBS Music Bank 20140314
  11. Music Core 20140315
  12. Inkigayo 20140316
  13. Show Champion 20140319
  14. Music Core 20140322
  15. Inkigayo 20140323
  16. KBS Music Bank 20140328
  17. Inkigayo 20140330
  18. SBS 20140615

I think the dancing & choreography is actually quite interesting and inventive. KPop groups are known for their synchronized dancing, but the videos actually depart from this idea and the camera work focuses on individuals. My favorite version is the dance practice version, because you can see how the members cycle around to enable the focusing.

I first heard about The Thieves because it was supposed to be a Korean version of Ocean’s Eleven. That was back in 2012, and I sought it out then. Unfortunately the copy I found had subtitles in some other language and so it languished unwatched for a long time.

Until now…because lately I’ve had a lot of opportunity to sit on the sofa (holding a sleeping baby) so I finally found English subs and watched the movie. The similarities to Ocean’s Eleven are merely on the surface – sure it is an ensemble cast cooperating to perform a heist; but the characterization is quite different. Ocean’s Eleven is about glitz, glamour and a con. The Thieves has cons too, many cons. There are a lot of double crossing each other, even though their goal is the same heist.

It’s a fun movie, and 3 out of 5 stars in my book. The main issue I had is that a lot of the scenarios which cause an event to happen just doesn’t make sense (for example, how would they not know that the double agent is a double agent. They were never under deep cover so their identity would have been known). For some reason, there were just many instances that didn’t pass the Willingful Suspension of Disbelief test. Also it doesn’t have that nice feeling in Ocean’s Eleven when all the pieces of the heist falls smoothly into place.

However, it was fun to see the different Asian cultures appear in the same movie. They spoke Korean, Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese in the same movie! I think this movie was better than the other high profile Korean movie I watched

I’ve complained in the past that even though Girls’ Generation is a huge KPop group, they seem to get low quality songs. I complained about their previous big single I Got A Boy as being a bit weird and Hip-Hop style rather than Pop (which is true). But that track won the 2013 Video of the Year from YouTube so I guess they proved me wrong. Although I still think that that single deviates from their core fan base; I suppose they have aspirations to be a group famous worldwide (instead of just Asia) so that could explain their song decision.

The lead single from their “4th mini album” is different. Mr. Mr. is a pop track and has a catchy hook. But there is a breakdown near the end which has a North American dance beat. Maybe it’ll be their cross over hit?

Another single I like (although this is from a Japanese release awhile back) is Beep Beep. It has a neat video, but for some reason I can never find a correct version online (either the video is cut off or the video extends beyond the song as if the music was added on after the fact). Here’s a live version

Most of my music listening this year was around my existing music collection and KPop. Here are the best KPop songs this year

  1. 소녀시대 (Girls’ Generation)- Express 999
    I don’t like most Girls’ Generation songs, but this one is very good. I like it because it’s a dance track, but not just because of that – they release a lot of high tempo tracks in Japanese which I don’t enjoy. The structure of this song is different and I like the variety in the different sections. There’s no clear hook, but all the motifs are good.
  2. 투개월 (Togeworl) – Number 1
    This is a duo which gained popularity through some American Idol-like show, and this song is really catchy. I also started listening to the Lim Kim (the female in this group) due to how good this song was.
  3. 태연 (Taeyeon) – 그리고 하나 (And One)
    One of two Taeyeon OST songs this year. The other sucked, but this one is good!
  4. 예성 (Yesung) – 먹지 (Gray Paper)
    I had this song as my morning alarm for a long time. I think its as good as any ballad by Bruno Mars.
  5. 브라운 아이드 소울 (Brown Eyed Soul) – Always Be There
    A lot of Western songs use 80s beats/synths in their song, but this song uses 90s synths. In fact when I heard it I thought it was a throwback to classic Boyz II Men. It’s awesome!
  6. 알리 (Ali) – 지우개 (Eraser)
    Not sure why I liked this song, it seems to be by an older artist but is sung well.
  7. 산이 (San E) -아는 사람 얘기 (Story Of Someone I Know)
    I saw the name San E on a lot of tracks this year, it’s like he is trying to be Nicki Minaj or someone? Well he’s a rapper for one, but he’s not scary. This is a catchy single he had.
  8. 소녀시대 (Girls’ Generation) – 유리아이 (Lost In Love)
    I didn’t like this song at first, but as a I listened to it more, it grew on me. It’s not actually by all of Girls’ Generation, just Taeyeon and Tiffany.
  9. 박지윤 (Park Ji Yoon) ft San E – 미스터리 (Mr. Lee)
    I don’t think they could make this song in the Western music industry – there just aren’t that many people with the same last name! Great contrast in the rap by San E as well on this one.
  10. 김예림 (Lim Kim) ft Swings – Voice
    There’s nothing that stands out about this song, but Lim Kim has a great timbre in her voice, and this is a relaxing track. I think the rap in this one detracts from the song though.
  11. 스텔라 (Stellar) – 공부하세요 (Study)
    Nice disco-style pop music
  12. 나인뮤지스 (9MUSES) – 건 (GUN)
    This is a catchy single with a nice hook that reminds me of the 80s (Hawaii Five-0?)
  13. 파이브돌스 (F-ve Dolls) – 짝 1호 (Soulmate)
    Yet another catchy disco single…but these do not have a long shelf life.

  • Man’s journey from LA to Real Madrid Good Luck Charm
    You can think of this as a made-for-movies story about a guy who volunteered his vacation working for Real Madrid and having those hours pay off for him, or you can think of it as a guy who is just really lucky.

    And so he did. On the morning of Feb. 28, Rodríguez arrived in Madrid and showed up unannounced at Real Madrid’s Valdebebas training complex. He didn’t have a ticket for the game. He didn’t even have a hotel reservation. And when the security guy at the guards’ shack refused to let him in, Rodríguez was forced to sit on the side of the road. It had snowed the night before, and the conditions were frigid.

    “I haven’t done anything about that,” Rodríguez said. “My priority was to see you guys and then make my arrangements. If I didn’t see you guys, I’d go to the stadium and try to get a ticket. And if that didn’t work, I’d fly back home.”

  • Seeing at the Speed of Sound
    What is it really like to be a lip reader (and deaf)?
  • About Face
    One of the tenets of psychology is that humans facially express emotions in the same way. This is being challenged by some other research. My gut feeling on this is that humans define specific emotions in different ways (i.e., your angry != other culture’s angry) which is why they are expressed and understood differently in some cases.
  • Dear Leader Dreams of Sushi
    There have been lots of stories about defectors from North Korea, but here’s a story about a Japanese sushi chef who keeps leaving but also returning to North Korea. There must be a reason right?

    “The kids were playing with a kite,” Fujimoto recalled. “It was a Japanese kite with a Kabuki picture. But the kite did not have a tail. So I immediately asked for paper, glue, and scissors and made one. I handed the kite to Kim Jong-un, who stared at me. I said, Hold this and let go when I send you a sign.”

    No members of Kim’s entourage had helped the boys with their failed project. Assisting was simply too dangerous—would aid be construed as a commentary on the boys’ ineptitude or the Dear Leader’s poor parenting? Would a helpful executive then be blamed if the kite didn’t fly? What if the boys rejected the help? Survival necessitated such considerations, and Fujimoto was special because he never made them.

    As a nervous cadre of executives looked on, the tail righted the kite, which rose into the sky. A week later, Shogun-sama called Fujimoto and informed him that the nannies had been fired: Fujimoto would be the boys’ new playmate, a position he would hold until Kim Jong-un was 18. Fujimoto introduced them to video games, remote-control cars, and most important, basketball. Fujimoto’s sister in Japan sent him VHS tapes of Bulls playoff games, so Kim Jong-un’s first taste of Western hoops came from watching Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman—men who became his heroes.

  • The Poorest Rich Kids In The World
    For some reason, I didn’t find reading about two trust fund kids who have horrible parents that interesting.

    Though many of the painful details of their childhoods are backed up by sworn affidavits from family employees and other records, other stories the twins tell about their lives have a surreal, if not downright implausible, tinge. They talk of their stepmother encouraging them to read a satanic bible, holding Georgia down to inject her with drugs, and serving them meat crawling with maggots, which Patterson can’t discuss without dry-heaving. They tell me that while visiting Japan, they witnessed a yakuza torture session; that in Wyoming, they once hid in the trees while drug dealers opened fire on their house; and that during a road trip through Nebraska, their father shot dead a posse of would-be carjackers, after which Walker slid back into the driver’s seat, bloodied, lit a cigarette and muttered, “Don’t talk.”

The Economist has a great feature on the Koreas this month. I especially like the articles about the culture, such as the “education arms race” that is happening (and this isn’t just restricted to Korea)

Throughout their children’s school years, they spend an extraordinary amount preparing them for the brutally competitive day-long university entrance exam, the suneung. All told, education accounted for nearly 12% of consumer spending last year.


If the private costs are no longer worthwhile, the social costs are even greater. Much of South Korea’s discretionary spending on private tuition is socially wasteful. The better marks it buys do not make the student more useful to the economy. If one student spends more to improve his ranking, he may land a better job, but only at the expense of someone else.

The weird thing is that the article claims that these educational pressures (or a family’s finances) have caused a drop in birth rate, but the circumstantial evidence we saw when we were in Korea was that there are a lot of babies!

South Korean parents will not even embark on having a child until they are sure they have the resources to groom it for success. As a result, South Korea suffers from a shortage of happy mediocrities, countercultural rebels, slackers, dropouts and eccentrics. These people, in effect, remain unborn.

Still going through the backlog of my favorite KBallads from the last year
태연 (Taeyeon) – 가까이 (Closer)
When I first heard this song, I thought it was too simple that I would get tired of it soon. Instead the more I listen to it, the better it is. I even spent $1.29 on iTunes to buy it! This one is from the KDrama To The Beautiful You

제시카 (Jessica) & 온유 (Onew) – 1년 후 (One Year Later)
This is the first song that I’ve listed that is NOT from a KDrama! I first found it while looking up songs by Girls’ Generation (of which Jessica is a part of). This video is a bit overzealous in the airbrushing though.

지아 (Zia) & 케이윌 (K.Will) – 그대이길 바래요 (Hope It’s You)
Another duet (and not from a KDrama). I think both of these musicians are not that screen friendly so they have actors playing out an experience to the song. After hearing this song, I went through Zia’s discography and listened to a lot of her tracks for awhile!

요조 (Yozoh) – 자꾸자꾸 (Again and Again)
Back to the KDrama songs, this one is from Love Rain. After hearing this, I went through Yozoh’s discography as well (but it’s not as large as Zia’s). I like Nostalgia though.

While I enjoy KPop for its pop music, I am disappointed in the overall catchy-ness, and thus the quality of the pop. However, I think one area which Korean music excels is in ballads – in fact, I would say that for me, they are the spiritual successor to Cantonese ballads which I listened to on occasion

I think Cantonese pop is perpetually stuck in the mid-90s – the production sounds like its from that epoch. I guess they never adopted the “wall of sound” approach. Meanwhile, KBallads sound like they have adopted the updated production standards that Western music use – and there seem to be a lot more of them. I guess KDramas are popular (I don’t watch them), and almost every series has an OST with several ballads.

I’ve been listening to KBallads for over a year now and here are some of my favorite KBallads. They are in no particular order except for when I remembered I should put them on my list of favorite KBallads.

허각 (Huh Gak) – 한사람 (One Person)
This is from a KDrama called Big and originally I thought it was a decent (but not great) song. I bought it from Amazon using one of their credit codes, and after listening to it many times, it has grown on me.

이윤지 (Lee Yoon Ji) – 처음 사랑 (First Love)
This is from the KDrama The King 2 Hearts and instead of being sung by a musician is actually sung by one of the actresses! I thought she sings it really well and her voice is sugary like Dido’s.

태연 (Taeyeon) – 만약에 (If)
This is Taeyeon’s first release on an OST (from Hong Gil-dong) when she was 19. The song is very simple with spare instrumentation (only a piano and vocals) but is beautiful.

In my opinion, Girls’ Generation is the biggest KPop group out there (well I’m not sure where the boy groups rank). But I have this pet peeve that because of their success, I don’t think they actually get any good (i.e., catchy) songs to sing.

This is not really a surprise. Because of their popularity, anything they release is going to be a hit and rabidly consumed by their fans. Therefore it makes sense to not pay for top flight producers and songwriting; but the US music industry is the same way. Anything Coldplay, Rhianna or Jay-Z releases will be considered “good” and they are (some singles) a cut above, not just songs from the discount bin.

I was hoping this would change with Girls’ Generation’s Korean comeback at the beginning of this year. Sadly, I was disappointed with their first two singles – Dancing Queen is a cover of Duffy’s Mercy and I Got A Boy is a odd non-formulatic hip-hop number. I think they are trying to set a style and evolve their sound; but it just doesn’t sound good (and I don’t think it’s a “you’re getting old, you’re not in touch with the younger generation” issue, because I don’t see Western Pop moving this way).

After listening to some KPop, I feel that the ballads in KPop are the spiritual successor to the ballads in Cantonese pop. Cantopop ballads seem to be forever stuck in the 90s and have never upgrade to the 21st century’s production qualities. The KPop ballads from their dramas are produced like Western music and are very good.

But, this post is about Pop music so here are a couple of other great KPop songs that I heard this year

Gain – Bloom
I think this video is distracting (for good reasons) and because of that it actually detracts from how good the song actually is (also the bare music track doesn’t have the slow intro). Took a few listens but I really like it. I like how there is a Korean music style where the chorus is varied as it is repeated; by the end of the song there are a lot of pregnant pauses and it seems like the instrumentation is going overboard and getting out of hand with the song ending just in time.

IU – Good Day
This song is from a few years back, but it’s new to me. Like Bloom it has a great “pregnant pause” in the chorus. It is also a rare song that sounds extremely positive (i.e., major key) yet captivates my interest – it just works. The beat is simple and heavy too which seems like it wouldn’t work with a positive song, but it does. The video is funny and over the top but matches the music in that respect.

BoA – Only One
I’d heard of BoA even before I started listening to KPop and had thought of her as a Janet Jackson clone (dancer & hip-hop-ish music). The dancing part attracted me to this song in the beginning, and it is quite magically in a different way than how Girls’ Generation dancing is magical. Both are synchronized but while SNSD dancing is more like a bunch of people dancing the same thing at the same time, the dancing in Only One is like a bunch of people intertwined into a creature. The piano hook is also great (there’s a lot of piano in KPop)

SISTAR – Loving U
This song is an example of how KPop is frustrating. You have 4 identical and not-very-attractive girls who are manufactured into a pop group, yet they have a catch song with a great hook. Why couldn’t the industry give this song to a better group to sing instead?

When I first took Korean lessons, I hadn’t paid attention to KPop (whereas a lot of people in our class were taking Korean because of KPop). But I ended up listening to KPop while searching for new music (and with a side benefit of hearing more Korean).

Initially, I was a bit perturbed that the pop in KPop sucked. Pop is manufactured, and it felt as though the KPop celebrities were manufactured, so shouldn’t the music be better? I kept finding clone after clone of Britney Spears. After some more indepth searching, I did find some great songs and here are a few that I found this year:

Trouble Maker – Trouble Maker
Trouble Maker is a duo formed from one of the dudes from a KPop boy band called Boyfriend and HyunA of 4Minute fame (and who has a fledgling solo career and a cameo in Gangnam Style). This is their lead single of their lead album and is a really catchy song. The whistle-hook is perfect and the video is great too. To me, this was the first example of how KPop can get it all right and compete with the best American Pop.

JY Park, Taecyeon, Wooyoung, Suzy – Classic
I didn’t think very highly of this song when I first saw the video; in fact anything I see with JYP in it I find kind of annoying as he gives me the impression that he tries to get his hands into everything so that he can live the life of a celebrity (he’s the aging head honcho of the label where all these people are signed to – he was also the guy on the toilet in the Wonder Girls’ Nobody video).

Anyways, the song grew on me even though there is nothing spectacular about it (OK hook, OK video/story). In essence, it is almost the epitome of Pop music because it is generic and catchy at the same time!

2NE1 – I Love You
When I first came across 2NE1 I wrote them off as another Britney clone, but I came around to several of their songs and this is one of them. What’s great about this track is that it is heavily produced and has a beat that would make David Guetta jealous (well it’s close at least).

When I read that KPop is making inroads into Japan because their female singers are more “independent”, I imagine they are talking about 2NE1. All four members seem to have character (while also seeming exactly alike which is a strange juxtaposition).

  • Glass Works: How Corning Created the Ultrathin, Ultrastrong Material of the Future
    This is a story about R&D at Corning and how Gorilla Glass was made, and general practices around making glass. Neat and interesting throughout.

    The interplay between compression and tension is best demonstrated by something called a Prince Rupert’s drop. Formed by dripping globs of molten glass into ice water, the quickly cooled and compressed heads of these tadpole-shaped droplets can withstand massive amounts of punishment, including repeated hammer blows. The thin glass at the end of the tail is more vulnerable, however, and if you break it the fracture will propagate through the drop at 2,000 miles per hour, releasing the inner tension. Violently. In some cases, a Prince Rupert’s drop can explode with such force that it will actually emit a flash of light.

  • Branded for Life
    Like being a KPop artist, being a brand actor (one of those actors that appear in commercials for a particular product) requires a lot of discipline and sacrifice in your lifestyle – you might never be cast in another role because your face is too recognizable! Although, I think that is being pessimistic from an actor’s point of view; because I’m not an actor, I wouldn’t mind being a brand actor!

    But much of his public silence over the years, Marcarelli explained, had largely been self-imposed in deference to the brand character he played and the sizable income that came with it. Once, he had even decided not to file a police report about teenagers yelling homophobic slurs outside his home out of concern about how it would be perceived publicly if news got out that the actor who played the Test Man was, in fact, gay.

  • What It’s Like To Be On Jeopardy
    Because I don’t have enough arcane knowledge in my head, I’ll never be on Jeopardy, but I do enjoy watching the show from time to time. I think going to the show, or being on the show would be fun and an experience (we can’t all live like Rick Mercer); but since I can’t do that reading about it is the next best thing.

    The show wasn’t and isn’t looking solely for smart people who test well. Rather, they want people with a combination of traits: a deep knowledge well, the ability to retrieve an answer quickly, unflappability, a decent personal presentation and personability. The 21 people in my audition slot in Seattle (including an old friend I ran into who had auditioned before) for the most part had those characteristics.

  • The Patent, Used As A Sword
    The NY Times on how patents don’t work in the software industry. Another article that summarizes the current issues and some of the attempts at fixing the solution
  • From North Korea’s Oz to its Forgotten Cities
    A short article on North Korea that looks at the dichotomy between its cities and its capital, Pyongyang.

    Today, the Pyongyang rich, spending their dollars, euros and Chinese yuan, can buy everything from high heels to imported watches. They have bought enough cars in the past couple years to cause the occasional traffic jam.

This article on KPop in the New Yorker has been going around lately and is an interesting read to me since, in the last few months, I’ve been paying attention to KPop more.

I had arranged to meet Toth because somewhere between my tenth viewing of the Girls’ video “Mr. Taxi” and my twentieth click on “Gee” it occurred to me that I might not know how much I loved these girls, either. “Listen, boy,” Tiffany coos at the outset of “Gee.” “It’s my first love story.” And then she tilts her head to the side and flashes her eye smile—the precise crinkle in the outer corner that texts her love straight 2U. Why was watching “Mr. Taxi” such pure audiovisual pleasure? Why did my body feel lighter in the chair? It wasn’t the music—bright, candy-cane-sweet sounds, like aural Day-Glo—and, while the dancing was wonderfully precise, the choreography had a schematic quality.

Based on what I’m aware of in the industry, it is a good summary of the issues (including exploitation etc) but I did find it a bit heavy on the tactics that the American music industry is using to incorporate KPop and Psy’s success into their roster. I’m a bit more skeptical about the likelihood that there will be any fusion between the American music industry and KPop than the author, and I think the angle that this article took only made sense because of Gangnam Style‘s huge, recent, success.

I see KPop as a genre of music that Asian culture (and some sub-cultures in America) will like, just like how Europe is fond of trance music but there isn’t a huge following in North America. When interviewed, I think the music executives have to say something to the respect that they’re looking at the opportunities that KPop provides, just like how a politician shouldn’t answer a question in a way that would sink his career; but in the back of their minds, they must know that American audiences won’t get behind 9-person or 12-person groups.

The first group to take the stage in Anaheim was SHINee, a boy band. The boys were fun to watch—heavily made-up and moussed male androgynes doing strenuous rhythmic dances. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there is no way that a K-pop boy group will make it big in the States. The degree of artistic styling is much more Lady Gaga than Justin Bieber. Perhaps there is an audience of ten-to-twelve-year-old girls who could relate to these guys, but there’s a yawning cultural divide between One Direction, say, and SHINee.

But, I do think that the American music industry can learn a lot from KPop groups on how to build and maintain a fanatic audience. That’s a better way of milking more money out of the few paying music fans, than bringing over established KPop stars.