Keeping up with Korea (III)


I figured it might be time for a little update, since Korea has been in the news a lot recently.

Before we get to that, I have also consumed a bunch of other media. I’ve made my way through some of Kim Young-ha‘s novels, and I quite like him. “I have the right to destroy myself” appears to be his most famous work, and it is pretty captivating, if highly disturbing. I really enjoyed Black Flower, which chronicles the story of a bunch of Koreans leaving their home at the turn of the 20th century to escape imminent war and the disappearance of their home and nation due to the upcoming Japanese occupation. They end up in Mexico, which does not exactly treat them kindly either. As far as I can tell, this really happened, but I’m not sure how many liberties Kim takes with his story. Either way, it’s a great read. Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy is fascinating as well, as she turned a bunch of interviews with North Korean refugees and further research into a novelized non-fiction retelling of what life was like in North Korea. As you can probably guess, the book is super depressing. The German edition tries to soften the blow by trying to market it as a love story, but…yeah. Not really.

As far as Korean movies go, I still try to watch some every now and then in an ill-fated attempt to combat my ever-present Fernweh for Seoul. It’s not going particularly well. Nonetheless, Korean cinema is well worth a try. I really enjoyed Bin-Jip/3-Iron. I’m not gonna try to sum up the plot as there really isn’t that much of it. It’s a very minimalistic movie – the protagonist does not utter a single word, but the film still manages to be utterly captivating. It’s beautifully shot too and shows you some lovely Seoul scenery. I quite enjoyed 2010’s The Unjust as well, a crime and justice thriller with a twist that seems pretty characteristic of Korean cinema to me at this point – there is no hero in the classic sense, just different shades of grey. Everybody is kind of a terrible person, and it creates a interesting if very grim movie. Speaking of grim, it doesn’t get much darker than 2008’s Breathless, a movie discussing the multi-generational effects of child abuse and violence in the family featuring constant violence and profanity. I certainly wouldn’t call it a pleasurable viewing experience, but it certainly is an interesting if difficult movie.



Speaking of grim, let’s turn to Korean politics! The current scandal involving president Park is all over the news, so I’m sure most people have at least vaguely heard about it somewhere. But boy oh boy, this is not your run of the mill corruption scandal. More than anything else, it’s just incredibly weird. There’s a ton of coverage, but I personally love this long article by Ask a Korean that really goes into the backstory and history of this current turmoil. It almost reads like a script for a dark satirical comedy  at times. Can’t recommend this article highly enough.This article by Korea Exposé, calling it the “Saddest political drama ever told”, is also very much worth reading. And if that wasn’t enough, the timing of this scandal also appears to be pretty bad as there are quite a few issues that should be adressed, but probably won’t.

More depressing stuff! There’s also this article I stumbled across a few days ago: An Epic Battle Between Feminism And Deep-Seated Misogyny Is Under Way In South Korea. This seems like a really good in-depth article on recent issues regarding sexism and misogyny – or misandry, depending on your perspective*. I encountered a couple of the things while living in Korea (of course only indirectly, being a dude and all). The beauty and cosmetic surgery is gigantic in Korea and it’s basically impossible to escape the absurd liposuction ads all over the subway. The Gangnam murder definitely seemed like a huge moment that I heard quite a few people discuss – including a North Korean refugee who specifically mentioned it to explain her uneasiness about living in South Korea. So yeah, there’s definitely a lot to unpack there.

And no, I will not go into North Korea here. The German press is once again losing its mind again and pretty much prognosticating World War III, but that’s just good old German Angst (….I hope). I don’t really know what to make of it. The situation certainly is…not great, and really tense, seemingly moreso than in quite some time. Then again, it feels like people actually living in Seoul are much less concerned about the North than people living halfway across the globe, so I’m gonna guess that they are onto something.


Let’s end on a less sour note. I’ve talked about Colin Marshal’s articles before. Turns out he also produces some stories for an English-speaking Korean radio station from time to time. Here’s a fun little story on the Seoul bus system, which I have taken great effort to avoid during my time there. Kind of regretting that now, even though nothing beats the Subway system.


(*that perspective being: if you’re a total moron)





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