My favorite things Korea

by on October 7, 2012 at 12:05 pm in The Arts | Permalink

1. Movie.  If I had to pick one, I might opt for Old Boy.  The deeper point is that you should watch them all.  If it is a Korean movie, and you can get your hands on it (as a non-Korean), it is probably excellent.  This is a remarkable regularity and a good selection filter for exploring.  This list is one place to start but not to stop.  The Host is a fun spoof of monster movies and Shiri is a gripping thriller.  Watch any Korean movie which Scott Sumner recommends.  Even some of the clunkier Korean movies, such as The Housemaid, are better than most Hollywood fare.

2. Actress: Grace Park from Battlestar Galactica, and there is also Shin Eun-kyung.

3. Actor: John Cho, of Harold and Kumar fame.  It is unlikely he is the best.

4. Video artist: Nam June Paik.

5. Classical pianist: Kun-Woo Paik, I find he is better represented on disc (Ravel, Liszt, Scriabin) than on YouTube.  For violinist there is Sarah Chang, YouTube here.

6. Economist: Ha-Joon Chang comes to mind, although I disagree with most of his work.  Here is my podcast interview with him.

7. Poet: Ko Un is the only one I have read.  It is hard to judge any poet outside of his or her native language, but I definitely had the feeling something was there.

8. Novelist: Kyung-sook Shin is alas the only one I can name.

9. Movie, set in: Korean movies aside, you might consider Pork Chop Hill.

10. Painter: Contemporary art is a rich vein for South Korea.  This catalog is one good place to start.

The bottom line: This is an impressive showing and it is improving rapidly.  The killer categories is movies.

affenkopf October 7, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Grace Parker’s not Korean.

Jan October 7, 2012 at 1:52 pm

But Grace Park is Korean, and that’s who Tyler mentions in the post. Weird comment.

Noah Smith October 7, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Nope. Born in L.A., grew up in Canada:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Park_(actress)

Jan October 7, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Response is below.

JettyBoy October 7, 2012 at 1:04 pm

What, no Gangnam style?

KyleOwen October 7, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Mother, the most recent film by Bong Joon-ho (the director of The Host), is also excellent.

Anon. October 7, 2012 at 1:26 pm

On the topic of Korean cinema, J.S.A.: Joint Security Area is an absolutely fantastic film.

Sam October 7, 2012 at 1:37 pm

To the list one might add:

Philosopher: Jaegwon Kim (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaegwon_Kim). Then again, he is the only Korean(-American) philosopher I know.

But what I *really* want to know is: who is Tyler’s favorite Korean (or Korean-American) chef?

anon October 7, 2012 at 1:41 pm

If Grace Park counts, how about Chang-Rae Lee for novelist?

Second the request for any food related ‘favorite things Korea.’ Be it a particular food item, a chef, Korean restaurants, best Korean meal you ever had…

Rahul October 7, 2012 at 3:34 pm

+1.

Your “My Favorite Things….” lists often ignore food. Bummer.

Noah Smith October 7, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Um…Grace Park is Canadian, and John Cho is American.

Their ancestors came from Korea, but mine came from Lithuania. As much as I’d be flattered to make it onto someone’s list of “My favorite things Lithuania”, I don’t think it would make a lot of sense.

Jan October 7, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Point taken, but if she self-identifies as Korean, speaks Korean, is only one generation removed and does things like participate in Korean Society forums (http://www.koreasociety.org/film_blog/portraits/grace_park_profile.html), I think it is inaccurate to say she is Korean. She is also Canadian.

Jan October 7, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Correction: I think it is *not* inaccurate to say she is Korean.

Noah Smith October 7, 2012 at 2:16 pm

The word “Korean” is used to mean both a nationality and an ethnicity. When Grace Park self-identifies as “Korean”, she is referring to her ethnicity, not her nationality. She has some personal connections to her ancestral country, but does she act in Korean films or shows? I don’t think she does. So I think it’s wrong to put her on a list of “things Korea”.

Jan October 7, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Again, I see your point, but this post was not necessarily about Tyler’s favorite people of Korean nationality. It is just “Korean” and it could cast a pretty wide net.

It is an interesting topic and here in the US we don’t really make these distinctions very often. As a side note, it reminds me of how they did this in the Soviet Union. Their passports had separate sections for ethnicity and citizenship (which republic). In Turkmenistan, where I worked 04-06, they were still using this system. They had a field called “Natsiya,” which basically means “ethnicity,” though I think it literally translates as “nationality,” which is quite confusing. So ethnic Uzbeks, even though their families may have been in Turkmenistan since before the USSR, still have that represented on their official documents. It can be hard to get a job without being officially Turkmen, so there was a market in paying to have one’s ethnicity changed from whatever else to Turkmen. They also count Jewish and Gypsy as their own ethnicities for these documents. I couldn’t believe it when I saw a list of the kids by ethnicity on a teacher’s desk at school one day.

v October 8, 2012 at 2:34 am

“They had a field called ‘Natsiya’, which basically means ‘ethnicity’, though I think it literally translates as ‘nationality’, which is quite confusing.”

Well, it’s only confusing if you’re American or French. For the others nationality = ethnicity. The distinction is between citizenship and nationality (although it’s rather unusual to have the nationality on official documents because of ethnic discrimination concerns). Even in English there is the concept of the “nation state” – which is the 19th century anti-empire idea that each nation (i.e. ethnic group) should have its own state. By contrast, the French and Americans have the concept of “civic nation” in which one is supposed to identify with the state rather than with the ethnic group.

Sbard October 7, 2012 at 1:45 pm

As much as I liked Oldboy, the Deus Ex Machina end turned me off. I have trouble taking seriously movies that use hypnotism as a major plot point.

Lim Yo-hwan October 7, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Starcraft player: me, right?
Manhwa: Ares.

mravery October 7, 2012 at 4:19 pm

I imagine Tyler’s as more of a Nada fan, who matched BoxeR’s micro and revolutionized the way pros macroed.

Ben October 7, 2012 at 2:07 pm

For visual artists, also:

Kimsooja
Haegue Yang
Lee Bul
Lee Ufan
Do-Ho Suh
Koo Jeong-A
Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries
Yeondoo Jung
Nikki S. Lee (Korean-American)
SEO (Soo-kyoung Seo)
Gimhongsok
Sung-Hwan Kim
Choi Jeong-Hwa
Won Ju Lim

Ben October 7, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Oops – I guess carriage returns are stripped out. I think ellipsis are orthographically easier for English speakers to read non-Western names than commas or semicolons….

… Kimsooja … Haegue Yang … Lee Bul … Lee Ufan … Do-Ho Suh … Koo Jeong-A … Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries … Yeondoo Jung … Nikki S. Lee (Korean-American) … SEO (Soo-kyoung Seo) … Gimhongsok … Sung-Hwan Kim … Choi Jeong-Hwa … Won Ju Lim

Yan Shen October 7, 2012 at 2:18 pm

In reference to one of the comments above, do you have a favorite Korean Starcraft 2 player, Tyler? :)

AC October 7, 2012 at 2:18 pm

What about food?

Tyler Cowen October 7, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Food gets its own post!

AC October 7, 2012 at 6:03 pm

As it should :)

Andreas Moser October 7, 2012 at 2:30 pm

I am curious what your list for North Korea will look like.

Citi.zen October 7, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Go see a GSL Starcraft match if you get a chance.

Ari October 7, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Starcraft is missing, and legendary Lim Yo-Hwan (Boxer). Starcraft (Brood War) is by far the hardest game out there, except in some areas where FPS or fighter games excel. Maybe this is not your favorite in anything, but I think Koreans deserve a mention for excelling at it. :)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lim_Yo-Hwan

J D October 7, 2012 at 3:39 pm

For Korean film, I recommend Lee Chang-dong’s “Secret Sunshine”, and “Poetry”. Apparently “Oasis” is moving as well, but I haven’t seen it.

DocMerlin October 7, 2012 at 3:53 pm

OldBoy? seriously? I take it then that you are a fan of Tarentino’s more extreme movies?

So many nerds here October 7, 2012 at 4:29 pm

1) Noah Smith already did the heavy lifting of pointing out that your favorite “Korean” actors are a Canadian and an American, for such a Korean movie fanatic your lack of knowledge of Korean actors is kind of shameful.
2) Look at all these Starcraft nerds. Its amazing.

Barnley October 7, 2012 at 8:21 pm

Kim Ki-duk is one of my favourite directors of any nationality. I am surprised only one of his films made to the list linked to. The Coast Guard, 3 Iron, Address Unknown, and Samaritan Girl are the films of his I enjoyed the most and more than Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring

bjartur October 7, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Hockey Player: Richard Park

Julia October 7, 2012 at 10:08 pm

Innovative “hybrid” music, JooWan Kim (full info due to comments I see above: JooWan moved to U.S. as a young adult and is now a U.S. citizen)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqjLOS5Clt4

Kevin October 7, 2012 at 11:06 pm

I love that you mention Old Boy- it is very unique and a true classic !

Rusty Shackleford October 7, 2012 at 11:23 pm

Memories Of Murder is highly recommendable. Korean cinema had a second golden age around the turn of the last decade (IMO). The trilogy that Old Boy is a part of, Memories of Murder, JSA, Barking Dogs Never Bite, My Sassy Girl, Failan, 3-Iron, Tae Guk ki all came out in a 5 year stretch and are all dead set classics. Plus a ton more that I’ve forgotten about. The only recent movies that spring to mind are Mother, I Saw The Devil and The Chaser.

David C. October 8, 2012 at 12:07 am

For economist, no mention of Hyun Song Shin? One of the most creative and insightful thinkers on financial issues today, in addition to being a first rate theorist. I would think you especially would be appreciative, as, while he is not Austrian in any real sense, he takes many of the ideas seriously and has done a lot to think about what they mean for the modern world.

There are also a number of stellar Korean econometricians, though largely working in highly technical areas which may reduce public recognition.

Michael D October 8, 2012 at 6:54 am

Second Hyun Song Shin for the economist nomination. Probably the best research in finance these days. Chang is a disgrace for Cambridge.

Steve October 8, 2012 at 8:05 am

I saw one movie on the linked list: My Sassy Girl. Brilliant. Do try to see.

Simone Simonini October 8, 2012 at 11:01 am

You should check out Young-ha Kim’s novel, “I Have the Right to Destroy Myself.”

Tim VH October 8, 2012 at 2:15 pm

sorry, the best film is:
I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK (2006)
Ssa-i-bo-geu-ji-man-gwen-chan-a
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0497137/

a little bit of everything: love, mental hospitals, gratuitous violence, and yes, cyborgs

Gallenstein October 9, 2012 at 4:11 am

what are some good along with common web sites with regard to blogs and forums???

Sara K. October 10, 2012 at 9:03 am

For manhwa (Korean comics), I would put Evyione: Ocean Fantasy. However, Goong, which is the most popular manhwa published in English, is also excellent.

Hesam October 11, 2012 at 3:38 pm

I highly recommend “Poetry”, the director is a novelist as well and he won the best screen play at Cannes with it.

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