The sixth of LKL’s annual unscientific and very personal recognition of the best things of last year. And in the field of film, books and CDs what is encouraging is that there is so much to choose from. There were also plenty of good Korean cultural events in London, Edinburgh and elsewhere, but there was one truly outstanding one. Let me know what your own nominations would be.
Personality of the Year
An easy choice: Hwang Jihae, the woman who put contemporary Korean garden design on the world map. After ten years of planning, her first entry into the world-famous Chelsea Flower Show won a prestigious gold medal and best in the artisan garden class. We’re all looking forward to 2012 when she will return with her DMZ garden. You can find LKL’s coverage of her 2011 award-winning Haewooso garden here.
Celeb of the Year
Male: Hyun Bin
Dubbed the Hallyu Elvis by the Economist, here’s one star who has taken to the military like a duck to water. Preferring to avoid extreme dentistry as a way of getting out of national service, he has been used as useful PR by the marines and helped promote Korea in Indonesia. Despite separating from A list girlfriend Song Hye-gyo, he’s still admired by fans, being the man most in demand for year-end parties, and his drama Secret Garden and latest films Late Autumn and Come Rain Come Shinehave had international success.
Female: Kim Tae-hee
Commercially Kim Tae-hee had a great year, ousting Jeon Ji-hyun as the face of Elastine and adding the Toyota Camry to her list of promotional activities. On the charity front, Kim adopted Sorok-do as one of her causes – the location of a centre for Hansen’s Disease sufferers where London’s Philharmonia Orchestra performed last year. On the acting front, her drama My Princess has been a hit, and she’s the female celeb most people want to be hugged by.
UK Live event of 2011
I have absolutely no hesitation about this one. I knew within 5 seconds of the event starting that this was the event of the year. Ahn Eun-me’s Princess Bari at the Edinburgh Festival was simply jaw-droppingly good. There were some high quality Korean performances at the Festival, from Perfordian Factory’s Babbling Comedy to Oh Tae-seok’s take on Shakespeare’s Tempest via mystical musicals from Kwangju and Jeonju. But Ahn Eun-me was in a league of excellence all of her own. On a scale where five stars is the maximum, this got seven stars and a rosette.
In London, the events included K-pop from SHINee and the Cube Entertainment artists BEAST, 4Minute and G.NA, comedy and theatre at the Thames Festival, and jazz / gugak fusion at the KCC. Four events bunch together at the top of the list competing for top spot with only a wafer-thin margin separating them. The three runners up are the amazing Laboratory Dance Project giving us contemporary dance at The Place, a whole day devoted to the work of top composer Unsuk Chin at the Barbican, and a spellbinding and intimate recital by Nah Youn Sun at Pizza Express Soho which had several members of the audience including myself in tears. But the winner by a hair’s breadth is the Tori Ensemble at the KCC, which launched the KCC’s series of concerts for the year.
Exhibition of the year
London’s Korean art scene is becoming ever busier, with commercial galleries Mokspace, Hanmi and Hada Contemporary competing for our attention, while the KCC and other organisations such as Sasapari put on regular shows. Major museums should also not be forgotten. My own favourites this year have included Korea, Koreanity at the KCC, plus the annual exhibition of the Korean Artists Association also at the KCC. Second runner up was the amazing collection of Contemporary Korean Ceramics at the V&A; first runner up was the ambitious Nam June Paik retrospective at Tate Liverpool which managed to be both educational and enjoyable. But the winner, which passed the “I want one of those” tests with flying colours (actually, it was “I want all of those”) was the collection of fancy waistcoats, the Baeja exhibition at the KCC.
Book of the Year
Some very strong candidates from very different genres provide the shortlist:
- History and current affairs: Andy Salmon followed his excellent To the Last Round with Scorched Earth, Black Snow. It’s still on my reading pile, but I know it’ll be a compelling read. Don Kirk’s iconoclastic portrait of Kim Dae-jung Korea Betrayed finally made it in to print in the UK.
- On the broader Korean Studies front there has been Kyung-hyun Kim’s Virtual Hallyu and the collection of articles on Exploring North Korean Arts edited by Koen de Ceuster.
- Literature in English: Penguin republished Richard E Kim’s The Martyred (1964) in their Penguin Classics imprint
- Modern literature in translation included Seopyeonje (Yi Cheong-jun, 1993) from Peter Owen Publishers, and The Curious Tale of Mandogi’s Ghost (1970, from the Japanese of Kim Sok-pom, from Columbia University Press), both of them hugely rewarding, plus Park Kyung-ni’s epic shelf-bending saga T’oji (1969-84) from Global Oriental.
- Contemporary literature in translation: Of course, there was also the steamrolling success of Shin Kyung-sook’s Please Look After Mother, which even got serialised on the BBC.
Plus, my mother tells me she enjoyed Royal Ancestors and Ancient Remedies.
PLAM clearly gets the prize for raising the profile of Korean literature in the West, Seopyeonje is the most moving for those who admire Im Kwon-taek’s films based on the short stories, Mandogi’s Ghost the most thought-provoking, but for me personally The Martyred totally justifies its “classic” label, being accessible to all cultures. It is LKL’s book of the year despite being over 50 years old.
Albums of the year
So many good and reasonable albums were released this year across the genres that none really stand out. Outside of the pop and indie genres, the Seoul Philharmonic marked its emergence as a top international orchestra with a Deutsche Grammophon contract of which the first fruit was a disk of Debussy and Ravel, and the record label of French national radio released a recording of the Jongmyo Rituals. Tablo of Epik High made his solo debut with Fever’s End, while veteran Kim Gun-mo celebrated 20 years in the business with his 13th album. The Wonder Girls had an image makeover while newer boy and girl bands jostled for our attention. BEAST’s Fiction and Fact was one of the stronger such releases. Of the more established K-pop acts, Sung Si-kyung, the Prince of Ballads, released a well-received 7th album, and Shinhwa alumnus Shin Hye-sung released The Road Not Taken, which had plenty of variety. Indie debut of the year was probably Neon Bunny, while everyone’s favourite Indie act Apollo 18 released their 4th colour-coded EP, this time Black. In a diverse year, the arbitrary choice for LKL album of the year, showcasing three strong indie bands (Galaxy Express, Idiotape and Vidulgi OoyoO), is the Seoulsonic North American Tour album.
Film of the Year
There was a wide range of good films coming out of Korea this year in a number of genres. We saw many of them at the London Korean Film Festival, from War of the Arrows to Sunny via Leafie. Noteworthy films we didn’t get to see included:
- Kim Ki-duk’s comeback film Arirang
- The Crucible – probably the Korean film to get the most coverage in the news pages (as opposed to the entertainment section) of the newspapers in 2011
- Scooping the Moonlight – Im Kwon-taek’s tribute to Korean traditional paper-making, and runner up for LKL film of the year for its interesting portrayal of the heritage preservation industry infused with a sense of pride for Korea’s traditional crafts and UNESCO-listed hanji documents such as the Donguibogam and the Sillok.
- Planet of Snail, the under-the-radar documentary from Yi Seung-jun which scooped the first prize at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam. LKL film of the year.
And the miscellaneous prizes
Surprise of the Year
Runner-up was David Kilburn getting space in Korea magazine to talk about hanok preservation. Over the years, via his Kahoidong website David has totally justifiably been a thorn in the flesh of those responsible for enforcing (or failing to enforce) hanok-preservation policies, and it was good to see KOCIS give him print-space to emphasise the cultural aspects of his message.
But the biggest surprise was the approval of the KORUS FTA by both Korea and the US. I never thought it would happen. It almost didn’t.
The conversion of Seoul Station into Culture Station 284
The Busan film centre
Photo of the year
Gosam reservoir, Anseong, Gyeonggi-do, by Sungjin Kim – location for Kim Ki-duk’s Isle. [Source]
Any of Eoin Carey’s photos from the Edinburgh Festival. Here’s one from Ahn Eun-mi’s Princess Bari. [Source]
Comedy video of the Year
The True Origins of Pizza
Japanese ajosshis cover Girl’s Generation’s Gee MV
Exhibition of the year (outside Korea and UK)
Fashion disaster of the year
Oh In-hye’s ill-judged orange thing at the Busan International Film Festival left little to the imagination. According to one report: “I didn’t choose that dress with bad intentions, but when people started to have negative views about it, I cried alone in my room for hours.” Hmmm.
Kim Jong Un’s haircut
Most unusual on-the-spot guidance tour by a North Korean leader
In a speech to the workers there, Kim Jong-il said
The terrapin dishes are now served by only a delicacy restaurant under Okryu Restaurant. Such dishes should be served in other restaurants in Pyongyang including Chongryu Restaurant, too. This is what the WPK desires.
The farm should turn out 25 000 terrapins in the next year and then more than 100 000 terrapins annually in 2 or 3 years with reliance on its present production foundations.
It should also raise bullfrog as well as terrapin and tropical goldfish.
It would be desirable to produce handicrafts with terrapin shells.
Kim Jong Il expressed expectation and belief that officials and employees of the farm would discharge their honorable mission and duty as a servant for the people.
According to the KCNA, the Okryu Restaurant serves terrapin carpaccio, which has contributed to the restaurant’s popularity. Definitely something to try should LKL ever get to Pyongyang.
A Happy New Year to all LKL readers. Check out the awards lists from past years here.
More looks back at 2011:
- Part 1: Cultural stories including heritage, food and film
- 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
- A link to all LKL’s 2011 year-end posts, including Critics’ Choice of CDs of the year.