A look back at 2011 – part 1

LKL’s annual look back at the stories and events of the last 12 months; this year, a multi-part piece, starting with some heritage, film, and the development of Korean food among world cuisines.

Heritage

The Ilsungrok (diaries of the daily lives of Joseon kings) and the written and visual logs of the pro-democracy movement in Gwangju on May 18, 1980 were listed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World register. Tightrope-walking, Ramie-weaving and Taekkyon were listed as UNESCO intangible cultural properties. China listed the Korean folk-song Arirang in its domestic cultural register. But Korea isn’t giving up on Arirang yet: it broadcast the song in Times Square in NY twice an hour for a month in August, and it is often performed by touring K-pop bands.

A part of the Uigwe
A part of the Uigwe, the books that dictate the protocols of ceremonies and rites of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), which was returned from France this year

Japan and France agreed to return prominent manuscripts to Korea during the year, boosting visitor numbers at the National Museum. The Cultural Heritage Administration suggested it might rename the Deoksu Palace, restoring its original name, the Gyeongun Palace. A bad idea: Gyeongungung looks and sounds rather too much like Gyeongbokgung.

Haeinsa celebrated 1,000 years of the Tripitaka Koreana, and launched its own brand of gochujang. On which note …

Food

Gochujang is now for sale in hundreds of North American food stores, and celeb Brooke Shields was photographed looking at a tub of it in a NY supermarket. Despite endorsement by celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, gochujang still has a way to travel in the UK. Tesco, the UK’s largest retailer, celebrated the EU – ROK FTA by putting gochujang and other Korean foodstuffs in one of its stores. In Koreatown. For one month.

The international campaign for the promotion of Korean food is making headway: New York got its first Michelin starred restaurant, Danji, while Moranbong, a Korean restaurant in Tokyo, won two stars. Boy Band Super Junior was recruited to promote Korean food overseas. “Super Junior is like bibimbap,” commented Food Minister Yoo Jeong-bok. Meanwhile, the Wonder Girls were signed up to promote Korean farm produce. Paprika, strawberries, apples, roses and citron are the lucky foodstuffs.

Kimchi Chroncles, a 13-part show, aired on a US public TV network. ‘My dream is that this series can help make Korean food and culture less foreign,’ said the programme’s producer Eric Rhee.

International celebrity chefs were brought to Korea to learn about Korean flavours.
Responding to Los Angeles’s Taco Trucks, London-based duo Kimchi Cult introduced their tasty Kimchi sliders.

The Korean Food Foundation produced a book about Korean restaurants in Britain, which is unlikely to go down well among patriotic Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish:

Korean restaurants in Britain
A common mistake. The United Kingdom and England are not the same thing

Photo credit: Kiejo Sarsfield

Film

Standout productions were Yellow Sea, War of the Arrow and The Unjust, while unexpected box office successes came from Sunny and the controversial The Crucible. Night Fishing, the iPhone short film by the brothers Park met with consistent acclaim, while films about North Korean defectors came into vogue with Journals of Musan. Kim Ki-duk made a comeback with Arirang, winning Un Certain Regard section at Cannes and Im Kwon-taek completed his 101st, Scooping the Moonlight, which celebrates Korean paper, hanji. Yi Seung-jun’s moving documentary Planet of Snail won first prize at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam.

Busan Cinema Center
Busan Cinema Center

PIFF changed its name to BIFF, and marked the occasion by unveiling a spectacular new venue.

In Hollywood, Kim Ji-woon signed Arnold Schwarzenegger for his next project, while Park Chan-wook signed Nicole Kidman. Lee Byung-hun will return as Storm Shadow in G.I. Joe 2, and Bae Doo-na will be appearing in the Wachowski brothers’ Cloud Atlas. David Mitchell’s novel is highly readable by the way. Hong Sang-soo is now working with Isabelle Huppert for his next film.

Shim Hyung-rae with Harvey Keitel in the slapstick Last Godfather
Shim Hyung-rae with Harvey Keitel in the slapstick Last Godfather

Shim Hyung-rae’s Hollywood film The Last Godfather generated respectable box office receipts in Korea, but Shim is struggling to pay off the financing for his previous film, D-War.

On the animation front, the highlight was Leafie which at one point showed in 3,000 screens in China, though the more gritty King of Pigs also won acclaim. Pororo, one of Korea’s most popular cultural exports, was threatened with US sanctions because some episodes of the animation were outsourced to the Axis of Evil north of the 38th parallel.

Links:

  • Part 2: More cultural stories, focusing more on pop culture and national branding, plus some tourism
  • Part 3: World and domestic news including China, DPRK, politics, business and some of the zanier stories

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