Well, if you can’t reminisce on your website’s 10th birthday, when can you? Here’s a collection of some of my favourite London memories of the past 10 years (and one or two from slightly further afield).
Some of the moments lived up to expectation: a front row seat at a performance by K-pop ballad diva Lee Soo-young – what could be better? Other events I didn’t know in advance what to expect and came away absolutely thrilled: for example Kim Soo-hee at St John’s Smith Square.
Some events might not have registered much with me at the time, but in retrospect they have grown on me: for example Lee Bul’s simultaneous exhibitions at the KCCUK and IKON gallery in Birmingham in 2014. Others were, frankly, a disappointment (I’m afraid a seat miles away from the stage is no way to experience Big Bang, and I walked out of the concert half way through).
So here are some of the best events of the last 10 years, divided into the following categories: Music | Dance | Theatre | Film events and screenings | Exhibitions and installations | Discussion events | Festivals and special events:
This one’s really tough: from pansori to punk, from Beethoven to Big Bang and sanjo to slapstick (yes, slapstick), there’s a lot of ground to cover. We’ve posted over 70 concert reviews in the last 10 years, and attended many more concerts and not had the time to review them.
- Jambinai at Rich Mix (K-Music Festival, September 2015)
- Trot singer Kim Soo-hee at St John’s Smith Square (January 2008)
- Baramgot at St Giles Cripplegate (November 2008)
- Crying Nut at the Mean Fiddler (London Korean Festival, May 2006)
- Igudesman and Joo’s Little Nightmare Music (Cadogan Hall, March 2012) (In case you were wondering, this is the musical slapstick item)
- Ensemble Sinawi at LSO St Lukes (City of London Festival, July 2014);
- Unsuk Chin’s Cello Concerto at the BBC Proms (August 2009) and her “Total Immersion” day at the Barbican (April 2011);
- Genre-crossing pianist / vocalist / composer Younee with Alex Hutton at the Steinway Piano Festival (Pizza Express Soho, April 2010). Her gig at the 100 Club was pretty hot too.
- National Orchestra of Korea at the Barbican (K-Music Festival 2013) – a kaleidoscopic range of sounds.
- Nah Youn Sun with Ulf Wakenius at Pizza Express Jazz Club (On LKL’s 5th birthday, 1 March 2011). Any of Nah’s three London London appearances in the past decade (The Vortex, QEH, and the Pizza Express event) could have topped the list. But I was in tears twice during her Pizza Express performance – once during her Kangwondo Arirang and once during Léo Ferré’s Avec le temps. A cathartic performance.
Slightly less to choose from here, but still there’s a strong shortlist and some unforgettable performances.
- Your Media Arts Project perform Alice in Wonderland, Rose Theatre, August 2015, as part of Kingston Welcomes Korea. technology and movement combined in a performance you immediately wanted to watch again
- Yi Chul-jin combining contemporary and traditional dance at Roehampton (2 December 2009)
- Ahn Eun-mi’s Chunhyang at the Peacock Theatre in 2006
- Laboratory Dance Project performing Shin Chang-ho’s No Comment, at The Place as part of the Kore-A-moves, November 2010 – a testosterone-fuelled work full of energy and drive.
- Ahn Eun-mi’s Princess Bari at the 2011 Edinburgh Festival – choreography, music, costume and design combined to give a total sensory overload.
Here I’m including straight spoken theatre, plus musicals and that genre in which Korea seems to excel: physical theatre (such as Nanta and Jump), comedy and mime.
- In-sook Chappell: P’yongyang (Finborough Theatre, January 2016)
- Yohangza Theatre Company’s Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Barbican (2006) & Globe (2012)
- Mokhwa Repertory Company performing Oh Tae-seok’s Romeo and Juliet adaptation (Barbican, November – December 2006)
- Nanta! at Kingston’s Rose Theatre, June 2009
- Gumok (Chelsea Theatre, 30 June 2012) – a simple, direct and very moving portrayal of a comfort woman’s story.
- Theatre Company E’zi’s performance of Bicycle (Camden People’s Theatre, July 2007) – a stark, stripped down and intimate performance of one of Oh Tae-seok’s masterful plays. So sorry I didn’t get to see this one more than once.
Film events and screenings
Here I’m talking about films released in the past 10 years, and also film-related discussions in London. There have been plenty of amazing films shown, and thanks to the KCC and their sponsors Asiana plenty of directors and actors coming over for the film festivals and other events. The shortlist is dominated by events where the cinematic experience has been enhanced by a conversation with the director.
- Kim Hong-joon – Im Kwon-taek’s Moonlight: a behind the scenes documentary of the filming of Im Kwon-taek’s Scooping the Moonlight (Hanji), with discussion with Director Kim and the great Director Im himself, as part of the big Im Kwon-taek retrospective in 2012 (itself part of the KCCUK’s Year of the 12 Directors)
- An Evening with Im Sang-soo – A free-format discussion led by the interpreter Rho Seh-hyun as part of the Tiger Asian Film Festival in 2008. In fact Ms Roh deserves a special award all of her own for her expert translation at so many events (on some pretty specialist topics too, and occasionally having to deal with pretty daunting distractions – such as Jung Woo-sung’s outrageous flirtatiousness.) It’s hard to pinpoint what was so interesting about the discussion. Maybe it’s that because there wasn’t a star film critic moderating the event, this was a democratic evening in which the conversation was informal, wide-ranging and informative.
- Park Chan-kyong’s Manshin, with director Q&A, as part of London Korean Film Festival 2014. A fascinating and satisfying film, and an interesting conversation afterwards.
- Embeddedness: Artist Films and Videos from Korea, 1960s to Now – an illuminating insight into a neglected art form, and particularly useful for the window it opened into late 1960s and early 1970s experimental art practice in South Korea. It was an extra treat to have veteran avant-garde artist Kim Kulim in town.
- A Fish: Park Hong-min’s debut feature which screened at the BFI London Film Festival in 2012. The haunting memory of it still lingers. I’m still not sure what it was about, but even so, and even without the director there to answer questions, this film deserves it #2 slot. As Tony Rayns said in his commentary on the film: “The latest wave in Korean cinema starts here.”
Here I’m highlighting the exhibitions that I was drawn to see again and again. And yet I find I haven’t written reviews of all of them.
Is it a coincidence that both the runner up and the winner had the Korean War and the division of the peninsula as its theme? Maybe. But both had a powerful emotional impact.
- Through the Looking Glass – a wide-ranging overview of the Korean Contemporary Art curated by Jiyoon Lee at Asia House, Winter 2006-07
- Transmitted Live: Nam June Paik Resounds, at the Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh, Summer 2013
- Lee Bul at KCCUK and IKON Gallery in Birmingham, Autumn 2014
- Buddha Speaks with a New Voice: Who am I? – a life-enhancing exhibition at the KCCUK, April-May 2010
- Kim Beom’s School of Inversion at the Hayward Gallery, Summer 2012
- Roe Kyung-jo: From Canvas to Ceramic (Galerie Bresson, May 2007)
- A Soldier’s Tale at Asia House in 2013, curated by Stephanie Seungmin Kim. A moving collection of work by Korean artists, some of them based in London, to mark the 60th anniversary of the truce at the end of the Korean War. Of special note were Anna Paik’s portrait of war veteran David Kamsler OBE, Soonhak Kwon’s Work for A Soldier’s Tale – a study of Kamsler’s sitting room – and Yun Suk-nam’s 500 Returned which paid tribute to the Glosters and others who held out at the Battle of the Imjin.
- Hwang Jihae’s Quiet Time – DMZ Forbidden Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show 2012: it was impossible to think about its artistry, design, concept and the story it told without crying. Even the BBC TV presenter was in tears.
Here I’m talking about lectures, academic conferences, study days, and discussions / Q&As with artists and authors (actors and directors are covered under Film above)
- 60 years of overseas Korean adoption – or, to give the conference its unofficial title, Life as a Banana – at Trinity College Cambridge, February 2010
- Kim Chang-nam: history & characteristics of modern Korean culture, as part of the penultimate London Korean Film Festival organised by the Korean Anglican Community Centre and CnE (Culture & Entertainment) Ltd, June 2006. The talk covered Korean popular music from the colonial period to the present day, and thankfully it’s now in a book entitled KPOP: Roots and Blossoming of Korean Popular Music.
- The Four Ambassadors – an important event got together by the British Korean Society, in which the UK’s ambassadors to Seoul and Pyongyang, and the DPRK and ROK ambassadors to London, met to discuss primarily the North Korean nuclear issue at the Houses of Parliament on 26 March 2009.
- The Decorative Arts and Folk Customs of Korea, SOAS and British Museum, February 2009. Many of the seminars and conferences (most of them free) hosted by SOAS. and sometimes the Victoria & Albert Museum or British Museum, could have made it onto this shortlist but this study day must stand for them all. A fascinating range of topics was covered.
- Comfort Women – Listening To Their Voices: a two-day conference featuring discussion and documentary screenings in Sheffield, June 2015
- The stories of our North Korean friends in New Malden, organised by Theatre4All as part of the New Malden Arts Festival in September 2015. We seem to be getting more frequent occasions to meet celebrity defectors as they publicise their memoirs. This was a welcome opportunity to meet the escapees on our doorstep and hear of their experiences on the fringes of society in the UK.
Kim Young-ha and Kim In-suk with Xiaolu Guo discussing migrant literature with Ellah Allfrey at the London Book Fair on 9 April 2014. In fact any of the discussion events at the 2014 London Book Fair could have been on the shortlist, but this particular talk was the spectacular icing on a very rich and fulfilling cake.
Festivals and special events
A catch-all category for those special events that combine a number of artforms to appeal to a broad audience.
- The Korean Village at the Thames Festival – but which year? A difficult choice. Probably 2010, when we had Baramgot, Winterplay and the cast of BreakOut; but 2011 had the Sookmyung Kayageum Orchestra and Sancheong County’s traditional medicine tent as well as Kimchi Cult’s Kimchi burgers (which went very well with London Pride bitter from the beer tent)… tough call
- Chuseok festival at the British Museum in September 2007 – percussion from Dulsori, a focus on the British Museum’s Moon Jar and much more besides.
- Dano Festival in Trafalgar Square, 2008. The performance of high-energy eco-friendly street percussionists Noridan alone was enough to secure this slot, but there was the Yoon Do-hyun band as well.
- Korea Shining Bright at the V&A on 30 July 2012 – Part of the All Eyes on Korea programme, which presented 100 days of different facets of Korean culture in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics. The evening at the V+A featured music from Baramgot, fashion from Lie Sang-bong and food from a master chef involved with the launch of Bibigo’s London restaurant. A feast for the ears, eyes and tongue.
Thanks to the organisers and sponsors of these events and of course the participants.