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Looking back at 2012: Hallyu and entertainment news

In the second of four round-ups of links to news which caught our eye in 2012, we focus on hallyu-related stories from around the world, some of the local entertainment industry stories plus a quick look at the film industry.


Boris Johnson and David Cameron
Boris Johnson and David Cameron – a Gangnam-style photoshop by The Guardian

The Guardian put together an entertaining photoshop when London Mayor Boris Johnson claimed he had danced Gangnam Style with Prime Minister David Cameron. Gangnam Style and its related tribute videos also topped Channel 4’s 50 funniest moments of 2012. A man died after dancing Gangnam Style at a Christmas party.

A Kimchi-making class at SOAS which would normally have been open to all comers had to be restricted to SOAS students only, because of limited space.

Tickets for CNBlue at the indigO2 and BIGBANG and Wembley Arena sold quicker than hot cakes. BIGBANG was listed in one of the 10 top music videos of the year (“Best K-pop video to feature an owl”) by UK broadsheet The Guardian, who during the year occasionally covered K-pop with appreciations of Hyuna and Girls Generation and a review of the Big Bang concert.

The KCCUK ran two well-attented courses to introduce K-pop fans to Korean culture beyond the idol groups, and Beyond Hallyu joined the increasingly active UK K-blogosphere.

Continental Europe

Milan flashmob
The Gangnam Style gathering in front of Milan Cathedral

A flashmob of 20,000 people watched and performed Gangnam Style in front of Milan Cathedral.

In Germany, the Remarkable Korean Entertainment Awards had their third annual outing, crowning B.A.P the Best New Male Artist. A rival set of awards, the So-Loved Awards, also honoured B.A.P among others, in a poll in which more than 110,000 Europeans were said to have voted.

64 French K-pop fans went to Korea to perform dance moves outside the headquarters of the Korean Tourism Organisation.


In Japan, a big overseas market for Korean popular culture, there were confusing signs. The year started well, with an enthusiastic reception for a reported 500 K-pop stars in Osaka at the end of January, and Kara sweeping the board at the Gold Disk awards in Tokyo.

In May, KARA was still selling out theatres, and Wonder Girls were confident enough to plan a summer debut there. And JYJ persuaded 7,000 Japanese supporters to come to Seoul for a fanmeet in early July.

But the shadow of Dokdo seemed to be behind the disruption of Kim Tae-hee’s promotion of a Japanese cosmetic brand and similar reasons also seemed to be behind the cancellation of two K-dramas on Japanese TV.

A Japanese interior ministry survey showed that only 39.% of Japanese surveyed said they “liked” Korea, down from 62% the previous year.

Maybe this explains the lack of Korean stars in the Japanese end-of-year pop shows , though one TV station denied there was anything political – it was “simply because Korean singers didn’t do so well on the charts this year.”


Girls Generation with David Letterman
Girls Generation with David Letterman, Bill Murray and a highly aroused man in a stripey shirt

The New York Times listed two K-pop concerts in their top gigs of 2012, and proclaimed: “This was the year K-pop arrived — not in the form of “Gangnam Style,” which was everywhere and yet completely evanescent — but in these arena shows, which were full of thousands of young, paying fans eager to see the girls of 2NE1 and the boys of BigBang, groups with zero American hits between them, but rabid American followings all the same.” Perez Hilton also enthused about 2NE1.

Girls Generation made an appearance on the David Letterman show, and Psy appeared everywhere, including the White House, Time Square and the Ellen De Generis show.

Psy teaches Britney Spears and Ellen De Generis the Gangnam Style Dance
Psy teaches Britney Spears and Ellen De Generis the Gangnam Style Dance. Simon Cowell, who was also on the show, stood well back

Entertainment industry and celebrity nonsense

A rapper who was selected to sing the 2012 Korean Olympic cheering song achieved the seemingly impossible with another of his tracks: boosting the number of tourists wanting to visit a characterless district south of the river in Seoul. Along the way he accidentally won numerous awards, broke several records, invented the world’s best-known dance, became a national treasure and generally joined the world celebrity A list.

People lost track of the number of rookie boy and girl bands launched, and started losing interest as well.

Fans were heartbroken when Wonder Girls singer Sunye announced her impending marriage, and Jeon Ji-hyun was taken off the market in April on marrying childhood friend banker Choi Jun Hyuk.

Lotte’s Chum Churum soju brand ended its 5 year marketing relationship with Lee Hyori, signing up a trio of younger pop starlets whose names also began with H. But Lotte had to withdraw the first batch of ads with these actresses for being too raunchy (the videos can be found in this YouTube user‘s collection). Chamisul were on safer territory by signing up Psy.

A member of girl band T-ara was fired by management company Core Contents Media, giving rise to stories of a culture of catfights and bullying. And news emerged that the pressure of life in the public eye led to a member of boyband JYJ hurling obscenities at fans when he was part of TVXQ.

Miss A’s Suzy picked up 1 million twitter fans. But Sistar’s Alone was the most-watched video on YouTube Korea.


The Girls Generation stamp collection

Girls Generation had a set of stamps issued to commemorate five years in the music business

Seo Tai-ji celebrated 20 years in the music industry by having part of a Brazilian rainforest named after him, and by handing out free coffee to his fans.


To try to stand out from the glut of K-pop acts on the market, some performers resorted to sex up their performances – and Brown Eyed Girls put on an adults-only Christmas concert, while Ga-in’s video got an R rating. Less intentionally, Jang Yoon-jung’s promotional video for the single Call the Soul got banned for some disturbing footage of shamanistic practices.

The Chosun Ilbo noted a trend for Korean films such as Concubine, Eungyo and Scent of Money to include more sex scenes to pulls in the crowds.


Han Jong Sim stars in the North Korean film Comrade Kim Goes Flying
Han Jong Sim stars in the North Korean co-production Comrade Kim Goes Flying

The Korean box office exceeded 100 million admissions, of which 20% was taken by two films which now top domestic all-time records: Thieves and Masquerade. But the success of Masquerade at the domestic awards ceremonies prompted concerns that smaller art films were being squeezed out by the conglomerates. And one of the most hotly anticipated films among overseas followers of the Korean film industry is Heo Chul’s Ari Ari the Korean Cinema, which takes a pessimistic look at the state of the Korean film world. Nevertheless, two low-budget films by veteran director Chung Ji-young (Unbowed and the politically timely Nomyeong-dong 1985) showed that you did not have to be big to be beautiful.

Abroad, it was the lower budget films which did best, with Kim Ki-duk’s Pieta winning the Golden Lion for best film at the Venice Film Festival, while Jeon Kyu-hwan’s The Weight won the Queer Lion at the same festival and Best Director at the International Film Festival of India.

Hong Sang-soo’s In Another Country was in competition at Cannes, as was Im Sang-soo’s The Taste of Money. Most people found the latter a disappointment, while LKL found the former Hong’s clunkiest do date. But Shin Su-won won the short film award at Cannes for her Circle Line.

Ann Shin’s documentary The Defector screened at IDFA, while another proposed defector movie, Nothing to Envy, was launched as a crowdfunding project. Lee Yoon-jung’s project Remember O Goddess successfully reached its Crowdfunding target.

A North Korean co-production (working with Koryo Tours) was shown at the Busan festival: Comrade Kim Goes Flying – a feel-good girl-power comedy.

Other articles in the “Looking Back at 2012: series:

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