The seventh eclectic and highly personal commemoration of the best of the past year.
Personality of the Year
There were plenty of personalities in the South Korean Olympic team, particularly the pistol shooters, archers and the gymnasts. But the athlete that everyone will remember is fencer Shin A-lam, cheated out of a place in the women’s individual epee final by a second that never seemed to end, and then failing to win bronze. The International Fencing Federation later gave her a consolation medal.
Well, you can’t deny that for a few months he took one aspect of Korean Culture, and an affluent pocket of Southern Seoul, into the Western mainstream, and succeeded in topping the Western charts where the bigger commercial outfits before him had failed. It would take too long to list out Psy‘s achievements this year, but to get a mention in the Lex Column of the Financial Times must be a first for a K-pop star.
For a programme of events which showed us so many aspects of Korea this year, All Eyes on Korea takes some beating. It got the Ministry of Culture an award from the President for outstanding achievement. And if I didn’t give it its own LKL award it might dominate the other award categories this year. It’s difficult to pull out particular events from such a distinguished collection, but I’m going to anyway. Joint runners up for All Eyes event of the year: the screening of Crossroads of Youth at the Barbican and the up to date Pansori from Lee Jaram. But the event of the programme, which combined a feast for the eyes, ears and stomach was Korea Shining Bright at the Victoria and Albert Museum: Baramgot playing in the surprisingly sympathetic acoustic of the central courtyard, a Lie Sang-bong fashion show in the Raphael Gallery and a spectacular dinner sponsored by CJ Foodville to celebrate the opening of their new Bibigo outlet.
London exhibition of the year
Any exhibition that can draw me back time after time, so that eventually I spent over 10 hours there, has got to be pretty special. And Kim Sung-hwan’s Temper Clay in the Tate Modern tanks, with ethereal musical contribution from dogr, certainly had me engrossed.
For sheer scale of achievement and emotional impact, Hwang Jihae’s Gold Medal Winning Quiet Time garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. It might seem controversial to have a garden as exhibition of the year, but Hwang’s work was definitely a work of art.
Album of the year
Is anyone else beginning to feel overwhelmed at the amount of music coming out of Korea? And the more music there is, the more difficult it is to identify the really stand-out acts. Established acts produced work which often didn’t live up to expectation: Shinhwa’s return for example lacked interest, and Neon Bunny, LKL’s own favourite act of 2011, disappointed with her follow-up album. And the number of rookie bands launched by the commercial houses seemed too much to absorb.
There are too many runners up to mention here, and maybe I’ll get around to listing some of them before long. But there’s a clear winner: Guilt-free by MoT member eAeon.
Here is an artist who constantly surprises. Complex time signatures, unusual, sometimes hypnotic, brooding sounds and generally an extraordinary album.
Film of the year
In a year dominated by high quality blockbusters, Korean indie films found it difficult to get domestic screen time, having more success abroad. London Is sadly still awaiting its first screening of Pieta, but we’ve seen plenty of other K-film this year. A trio of enjoyable popcorn flicks deserve mention – Thieves, Gwanghae / Masquerade and All About My Wife. Runner up, of the films that screened in London, is Eungyo / A Muse, a moving and disturbing study of old age, love and intellectual property. If it had been 10 minutes shorter it might have been excellent.
But of all the films we saw in 2012 the most tantalising and intriguing, the most visually arresting, and the one I most want to see again is the debut fllm by Park Hong-min, A Fish, blending shamanism, psychological mystery and the scenery of Jin-do. Unquestionably LKL’s film of the year.
Book of the year:
2012 was a good year for Korea-related books. We had translations of Ko Un (First Person Sorrowful) and Kim Young-ha (Black Flower). On the DPRK we got John Everard’s Only Beautiful Please and Victor Cha’s Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future. Not to be outdone, the Economist’s Daniel Tudor applied the same epithet to the South in Korea: The Impossible Country. Interesting one-offs were Sonya Ryang’s ethnological study of the North Korean psyche through its literature, and John Rennie Short’s study of Korean cartography. Film fans may have found Kyung-hyun Kim’s Virtual Hallyu impenentrable, but fortunately Hye Seung Chung’s monograph on Kim Ki-duk had just as much academic credibility while managing to be comprehensible and accessible at the same time.
Fiction wise, the menu extends from zombie apocalypse in the DPRK and the disappointing Orphan Master’s Son to the equally implausible but much more fun Joy Brigade from Martin Limon. But miles ahead in the fiction field is the beautifully crafted collection of short stories from Krys Lee: Drifting House – a clear winner for LKL book of the year
Live Event of the year
A lot of music and stage performances compete for this award. Seeing that I’ve given All Eyes on Korea its own award, I’ll focus on the best of the rest.
Of course, one has to mention Big Bang at Wembley Arena, who were undoubtedly the highlight of the year for many followers of Korean culture this year. And at LKL we commend the energy, dedication and sheer polish of their performance even when we can’t enter into the spirit of it all.
Honourable mentions go to two very different but equally spellbinding performances: Korea Moves at St James’s Piccadilly – captivating sounds as part of the London Jazz Festival – and the electrifying debut of HJ Lim at the Wigmore Hall.
But the winner of Live Event of the Year is the one I least expected to enjoy: Gumok – a simple, powerful and moving portrayal of the life of a young comfort woman.
And the miscellaneous awards
Impractical dress of the year
Ha Na-kyung, for her malfunctioning dress worn to the Blue Dragon Awards. Ha was voted worst-dressed celeb of the year by a panel of the Chosun Ilbo’s fashion experts, and this dress which is so last year (remember Oh In-hye?) explains why.
You can’t get much more impractical than a chocolate dress, but it’s rather a fun creation anyway, made to exhibit at the worlds biggest show dedicated to the confectionery.
Most tasteless joke involving a Korean leader
The cartoon-like painting Golden Time – Dr. Choi In-hyeok salutes his newborn excellency by former minjung artist Hong Seong-dam (홍성담) shows Park Geun-hye giving birth to her father. Needless to say, the Saenuri party were not best pleased.
‘If somebody asks you what you’re wearing, you say Kim Jong-il,’ said British comedian Sasha Baron Cohen in an Oscar publicity stunt, having tipped an urn of ashes purporting to be those of the late Kim Jong-il over the ceremony’s presenter.
Exhibition of the (outside UK)
The retrospective in the Deoksu Palace of important colonial period artist Lee In-sung.
Dansaekhwa: Korean Monochrome Painting at the main National Museum of Contemporary Art building in Gwacheon was a real treat.
Most unusual act of philanthropy
Song Hye-gyo – who donated a touch-screen device to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, enhancing the Arts of Korea gallery.
Lee Hyo-ri – who knitted 15 beanie hats for senior citizens living alone in Ahyeon-dong, central Seoul.
Thanks to all the artists, performers, organisers and sponsors for an outstanding year.