LKL’s fourth annual, unscientific and personal list of highlights from the London Korean Year, 2009.
Film of the Year
There were two hotly anticipated high-profile films this year: Bong Joon-ho’s Mother and Park Chan-wook’s Thirst. Both are obvious candidates for film of the year and delivered everything that one has come to expect from these two directors. Whether you’re a veteran K-film watcher or coming to it for the first time this year, you can’t deny that using any measure these are worthy of attention, as attested to by the sell-out London screenings this year.
But the surprise of 2009 was Yang Ik-june’s Breathless. Written, directed and starring Yang Ik-june, this is his debut feature and promises well for the future. Those critics who write off Korean films as having excessive amounts of violence will no doubt find their prejudices confirmed, but the more important theme here is that of domestic violence, a subject on which Yang speaks from personal experience. Despite its difficult subject matter, this film is very moving, and stood out this year as a film with something different to say, and for me was the high spot of the many Korean films shown in London in the autumn.
Link: Read LKL’s review
Book of the Year
It was a long time in the production process, but Mark James Russell’s Korea Pop Wars was well worth the wait, only becoming available on Amazon at the beginning of 2009. For consumers of Korean pop culture, this is a riveting read, but it also reaches out to a cultural studies audience, documenting the workings of the industry which creates the cultural content. In a year that has seen stories of the artists being at a disadvantage to the strength of the entertainment companies, this is a publication which is both timely and enjoyable.
Link: Read LKL’s review
Albums of the Year
LKL critics had the following top recommendations out of albums released this year (or the tail end of last year): Drunken Tiger’s Feel Ghood Muzik, Apollo 18’s Red Album and Younee’s True to You.
Photographs of the Year
There are a lot of strong contenders for photo of the year. Robert Koehler is always providing us with interesting images of colonial period, this year with a special emphasis on church buildings. Buy his Seoul guidebook to find more. Tom Coyner gave us a colourful set of autumnal images of the Changdeokgung’s Secret Garden. But the winner this year for his Refraction series is Simon Bond – a set of images of Korea taken through a crystal ball. He was featured in the Telegraph and Metro earlier this year.
Live performance of the Year
A wide range of events to chose from this year: in the Western classical music category, we’ve had Jasmine Choi’s stunningly accomplished Wigmore debut, Hanna Chang at the Festival Hall, and the premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Cello Concerto at the Proms, among many others. At the New Malden Festival we had Korean Kitten Yoon Bok-hee and the hit stage show Nanta!, while Jump returned to the Peacock in the autumn. In another debut, In-sook Chappell’s powerful play, This isn’t Romance, had a run at the Soho Theatre. The Thames Festival and the Korean Festival in Kingston gave us Taekwondo, dance and more. The Korean Artists Association gave us an enjoyable evening of performances at the KCC, Yi Chul-jin with Nam Young-ho gave us a stimulating evening of traditional and contemporary dance, and singer-songwriter Younee gave numerous performances at Pizza Express, 606 Club and elsewhere (all of which I managed to miss – though I have no doubt that her 17 April 2010 London gig will be on next year’s shortlist). Percussionists Gong Myoung toured the South East, Dulsori hit Chichester and Kim Duk-soo helped Cambridge celebrate a major anniversary.
But the gig I shall remember most is Nah Youn-sun’s long overdue UK debut at the Vortex in May this year. Vocal fireworks and musical intimacy from one of the best jazz singers around. Simply magical.
Exhibition of the Year
Again, a wide choice of exhibitions to chose from. The highest profile was Korean Eye – Moon Generation at the Saatchi Gallery. It was also the most disappointing. Moving on to the shortlist, Crossfields at the Korean Cultural Centre shone the spotlight on Korean artists and designers in the UK, and the fashion designs in particular were highly enjoyable. Korean Aesthetics at the Albemarle Gallery was a well-curated collection of scupltural work; Bae Chan-hyo, Kwon Dae-hun and Jin Kim all had interesting solo shows, and I-MYU continued to invest in Korean artists with a number of successful exhibitions.
But the winning exhibition this year was in fact an auction preview at Christie’s: Distinctly Korean. Established and emerging Korean photographers intelligently displayed alongside contemporary British and Japanese works, in a way that enhanced one’s appreciation of all the work.
Educational event of the Year
A catch-all category to encompass any event which doesn’t involve live performance or artwork. We’ve had a number of stimulating talks and informational events this year at the Cultural Centre, SOAS and elsewhere. Maybe the highest profile was the celebration of Korean Cuisine at the Banqueting House – very enjoyable for the food itself, and for the fashion show and music performance which went with it. And it reached a large audience of people who do not normally come into contact with Korean culture. But the event which possibly made a bigger splash was the “Four Ambassadors” meeting in the House of Commons, organised by the Anglo Korean Society. While the ROK’s ambassador played with a straight bat laying out precisely why the North’s missile tests were illegal, his opposite number from the DPRK gave us some stand-up comedy: “look, no horns” and “if we don’t launch a satellite now, there won’t be any Space left for us.”
Product of the Year
It’s been the year of Korean Food. The Korean First Lady has been doubling as celebrity chef, and more established chefs have been dispatched around the world to push the benefits and taste of Korean food. But there’s one Korean foodstuff which seems never to have been out of the news this year. Yes, this year’s fad, keeping the news sites busy now that everyone has lost interest in other trending topics such as fan death, is makgeolli, however you choose to transcribe it. In blogs and news websites everywhere this year: the Marmot, the Korea Times, the JoongAng Daily, even NewsWeek. Readily available in Korean restaurants throughout London and New Malden (and in Korean supermarkets). Just don’t ask me to try the fruit varieties (which, mercifully, I’ve never managed to find in the UK).
Thanks to all those who put on these events, especially of course the staff of the Cultural Centre.