Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Traditional Korean Wedding as I've Seen It

The following pics are from a dramatized traditional Korean wedding ceremony at the folk village I visited in 2008. Check it out! I have to add that my descriptions of what is happening here are very vague, because there was little English commentary aside from my friends' explanations, and they had only general knowledge of the significance of the rituals. Either that or I just can't remember what was being said, as it was 4 years ago. Anyway. . .

This here is the groom, wearing his scholarly yang ban robes. I believe his clothes are traditional "groom clothes"; however, because they resemble the clothes of a scholar-official, this guy would have been of the upper class (I assume). Notice how he carries a blue cloth in front of his face. Again, I'm not totally sure why, but based on what I've seen in dramas and Korean films, I think this is sort of like the veil we have in traditional North American weddings. Except it's on the groom. Interesting! This could have something to do with Korea's Confucian roots.

The groom sits in front of a table and presents . . . uh . . . whatever that is. I'll be honest, I really don't know what that thing is, but it's likely some sort of symbolic offering to the bride's parents or ancestors, as Confucian values dictate.

 After presenting the offering, the groom bows to whomever is receiving it.

Enter the bride. Here we have a traditional Korean bride in an elaborate and beautiful costume. I wish I could explain in detail all the intricacies of her dress and accessories and what they mean, but I can't . . . sorry. That's another reason I'm going to go study in Korea -- to learn stuff like this! Still. quite aesthetically pleasing, no?

Here we have a long shot of the bride apparently applying something to her hands while the groom waits patiently. Between them is the fellow who is marrying them.

After the ceremony, the wedding procession is led to the groom's family's residence, where the bride will officially join the groom's family as a wife, daughter-in-law, etc. The groom rides atop a horse and the bride is carried in a palanquin alongside, accompanied by a procession of musicians, dancers and servants.

So, yes, that is my horribly vague description of a traditional Korean wedding. I also left out a bunch of intermediate steps, mostly because I didn't have pics of them. However, the real objective here was to show these pics, which I thought were pretty good. Thanks for taking a look!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The following pictures were all taken during a tour of a folk village I went on with a friend of mine in 2008. It was a REALLY humid day, I remember, but we still had a good time. This particular folk village was located near Seoul and has had many films and television costume dramas shot in it.

I think this building was a re-creation of a minor scholar official's house (not 100% sure) in Joseon Korea. The folk village was home to many structures that were re-creations of traditional buildings. I thought this pic offered a nice contrast of colour between the trees, the roof and the man with the cart. Makes me forget how humid it was!

This thing worked sort of like a giant mortar and pestle. It appears to have been used to pound millet, wheat, or even rice. Since Korea was not traditionally a bread-eating culture, I suppose wheat wouldn't be as likely. I thought the texture of the wood and the coordinated colours really came out nicely in this pic. This was a feature of the "farmer's house" at the folk village.

Here's a side view of the traditional farmer's house that was previously mentioned. I thought this was one of the most interesting structures on account of the thatched roof and various traditional farm implements all over the place. Again I really like the soft colours of the structure.

Yet another feature of the farmer's house. Here we have ears of corn tied up and drying in the sun. For some reason, it initially surprised me to find out that Koreans had been eating corn for centuries and that it was part of their traditional diet. Until then I had always thought of corn as a specifically "Western" food, although in hindsight I can't think why. To the left of the corn there is a seated man, somewhat obscured by a rolled up mat of some sort. He was an actor playing the role of the farmer. Mostly he just sat there doing farmer stuff. As I had already spent time with modern Korean farmers at that point, I found his portrayal to be quite realistic.

This goat was in a pen behind the farmer's house. He just stuck his head up as I was turning around and I got this shot. What more can I say? It's a good shot of a goat, hee hee.

Monday, June 25, 2012

This here is another pic I took back in 2008. It's the side of a pile of stones covered in a rope mesh. The whole idea is to write a wish that you want to come true on a piece of paper and tie it to the rock. If all goes well it will come true! That one sticking out there is my wish... but I honestly can't remember what I wrote. Anyway I thought it made for an interesting shot. I liked this one so much that I actually printed and framed it. This particular stone was located in a folk village I visited.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Good Taste and the Art of Knowing Better

I originally saw this video at the beginning of the month on the Angry Asian Man blog, where it was being lambasted by readers, not surprisingly. Now I finally know what I want to say about it.

Here's something that's always frustrating, for members of the Asian and Asian-American communities as well as people like me who work hard to study East Asia from an academic standpoint and help others understand it better. I am of course talking about Asian cultural misappropriation, with the latest and currently most prominent example being the music video for Coldplay's recent single, "Princess of China." If you haven't already seen it, here's the link. I invite you to try to watch the whole thing -- it's hard, trust me.

All right, so I am now assuming you've watched it. First of all, I'm not really sure why this song is called Princess of China in the first place, because the word "China" does not show up in any of the lyrics. I guess 'cause the song is sort of about breaking up and china is delicate and breaks and . . . whatever -- this isn't even the main issue. The problem here is the video itself. So it's possible some of you readers may not initially see the problem here. A flashy video, with traditional "Asian"-inspired imagery, well, hey, I've seen this before! It's all good! Why not, right? Well, if this were simply a video with traditional Chinese-inspired imagery (as the song's title indicates a potentially Chinese theme) maybe, depending on how said imagery was used, that might be all right. For example, I could imagine Chris Martin trudging through some Zhang Yimou-inspired countryside running on water and learning wuxia from some old bearded dude in a pagoda, à la Hero, and you'd have Rihanna decked out like Gong Li from Curse of the Golden Flower or some such Yimou film and Chris has to save her, or fight her, or whatever . . . I think I'm getting carried away here. The point is, I doubt I could find too much fault in such a project. It would be a sort-of homage to Chinese cinema. After all, getting mad at a white man for wearing a tangzhuang (traditional Chinese jacket) is like getting mad at a white man for blogging about East Asia . . . (ahem). There is nothing inherently wrong with it. However, the question must always be why and how is the white man wearing the tangzhuang and what does it mean?

Here we have the many-armed goddess motif prominent in a number of South, Southeast and East Asian traditions -- most commonly associated with Indian Hinduism in popular culture.   
Well, in this video the answer seems to be exploitation. That's right, I'm using the e-word. Though the video seems to apparently have been dreamed up as a tribute to kung-fu cinema, it ended up as an ill-conceived, offensive and nonsensical, culturally confused mess. The crime this video commits is not simply using traditional "Asian" imagery to tell its story but misappropriating Asian cultural and visual cues by grabbing at as many random elements as possible and throwing them in a visual blender. What we get is a mishmash of random traditional Asian visual cues that, because of the song's title, become immediately associated with China. Present in the video are ninjas and taiko drummers, which are rather well-known Japanese cues. Also old temples and a structure that looks curiously like the Forbidden City in Beijing are present, which are actually Chinese cues. However, later in the video we have Rihanna appearing as a sort of many-armed deity figure (above), which, though a visual motif that appears in cultural traditions throughout Asia, is especially associated with South Asia, particularly Indian Hinduism, in popular culture -- so, Indian cues, let's say. So what's so harmful about this mixing of cues? Whether or not this video meant it, it is suggesting, by mixing these culturally diverse cues under the label of "China," that Asian cultures are . . . get ready for it . . . ALL THE SAME. Just let that sink in for a moment . . .

Here's a perfect example of what's wrong with this video. This shot is near the beginning. Here we have a shirtless sentry (ya know, 'cause Asian people never used armour or anything) wearing a samurai's mouth guard (without a helmet -- no one ever did this), holding a nondescript spear, with a Chinese-inspired tattoo, standing in front of a Chinese structure . . . His expression says it all: "What the hell am I doing here?"
Yes, my friends, in case you haven't figured this out already, this video is harking back to the old and grossly outdated ideas of orientalism formed in those early days of European exploration, when what is now known as Asia was once considered an impenetrable and mysterious land of strange and exotic wonders. Diverse Asian countries, often with little in common, were grouped together under the label "the Orient" (derived from oriens, Latin for "east"). It represented a strange and backward place that was different from Europe and was full of unscrupulous people and hot and sweaty bazaars at which anything could be bought for the right price. So what's wrong with peddling this orientalist idea? Because IT'S THE 21st CENTURY, AND PEOPLE SHOULD KNOW BETTER. We have diverse Asian historical texts translated into myriad languages by scholars. We have international film festivals, we have multiculturalism, we have news networks, we have the Internet and WIKIPEDIA! There are now myriad resources that one can use to learn or at least fact-check about places like China. We can easily find out if something is Chinese or even how people lived in those days. So why did this video have to happen!? There really is no excuse. It's just a lack of cultural sensitivity and logic; the artists should have known better; the production team should have known better; EVERYONE SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER. So its no surprise that Asian-American communities have gotten pretty irate about this.  

Here we have Chris wielding a katana, a sword that is famous for coming from Japan, against a ninja adversary, also a Japanese element. Yeah! Ya know, China, right!? The scene takes place in hall chock-full of Chinese motifs.
Want to know why people are so upset about this kind of stuff? Imagine you're an educated white person living in New York (because you might be) and some famous Asian-American artist releases a hit song called "King of England." The video becomes famous and is a shameless mishmash of European, Canadian and U.S. white archetypes. The video doesn't make any sense to you because you know these countries and cultures to be totally different, and it offends your sensibilities. It frustrates you to be thrust into the same category as all those other people who have so little in common with you culturally and historically. Imagine a scene like the one above, except replace the shirtless dude with a man in a top hat and monocle, drinking tea and sporting a Bud Lite T-shirt while wearing Mountie jodhpurs (riding pants) and boots and a kilt while mounted on a moose. It would be pretty damn ridiculous, wouldn't it? And yet that is pretty much exactly what is happening here. What's more, this imaginary video is made by an American who likely comes in contact with white people on a daily basis, and therefore SHOULD KNOW BETTER. This video represents popular media's tendency towards regressive thinking -- going back to simpler times when people were more ignorant about other parts of the world, simply because there was less information available. Now we have no excuse; as people of the information age, it is our privilege, right and, I'd argue, responsibility to be informed. Because, really, who wants to be stupid? Being stupid feels awful -- we've all been there and it never feels good. It's important to foster cultural understanding and sensitivity because, like it or not, globalization and multiculturalism are realities, and they sure as hell aren't going anywhere. The sooner we all realize this, the sooner we can get over it and start moving on to greener pastures. The producers responsible for this video should have considered the cultural implications of and potential backlash from releasing this video, through such an accessible and popular medium as the music industry, to an unsuspecting public made up largely of people descended from the cultures they are lazily trying to emulate. Simply put, it was a pretty stupid decision and seems to suggest just how much popular media producers can be out of touch with their target demographics. At best this video is visually interesting although confused and ultimately unnecessary; at worst it is racist. Ignorance and insensitivity toward what is often considered to be intrinsically "non-American" cultures remains a major issue in North America, and anything promoting that ignorance is not good, not good at all.      

Well, this was quite a bit longer than I thought it would be. Hope it gave ya'll something to think about. 
Things are moving quickly! I've already made the logo for my Korean blog. I've decided to call it "Alex in Korean" -- check it out below. I've made the blog already, but I have not posted anything yet. In all honesty I probably won't until midterms are over (next week), but check out the logo in the meantime.

Been really busy with summer school lately and trying to make rap tracks. Yeah, that happened, heeheehee. But recently I finished the Korean course I was taking, offered by the Korean consulate. The best thing? I got this really cool certificate that looks all official and stuff! YAY! So my Korean has been improving a lot these days, and I was thinking of starting a second blog . . . entirely in Korean! My Korean skills are pretty rudimentary at this point, but I think I know just enough that I could write at least some short, if not entirely compelling, blog posts about Korean music and food, my experience learning the language and my eventually studying there. So yes, the idea is to start a second blog, in Korean, about Korean stuff. Why? Because I think it would give me more of an opportunity to use all this Korean that I've been learning and probably help to improve my Korean as well. So yeah, I'll see how that goes and will let ya'll know if and when it's up. I also have a lot of friends in Korea who might get a kick out of it.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Ya'll must know, it's Korean picture time again!

So this shot was taken in a heritage village not all that far from Seoul. What's a heritage village? It's like one of those interactive museums that's actually a village with staff who pretend to be people of the period. This particular building is.... actually I have no idea, and I'm not sure what's (or what would have been) in the pots either. My Korean friend suggested chili paste. I suspected kimchi, but mostly I just took this shot 'cause it looked really nice. This particular heritage village is quite famous and many films and costume dramas have been and continue to be shot there. This pic is from my 2008 collection.  
Another bit of Asian Americana,

As I mentioned previously I'm now HOOKED on JustKiddingFilms. Seriously, look  'em up on YouTube or Google -- they're hilarious!

 But also they've done a fair bit of work with the L.A.-based rapper Dumbfoundead. So I finally got around to listening to some of this guy's work, as he kept showing up in their vids, and it's damn solid. Good lyrics, good rhyme schemes, nice beats, relevant messages, but also some fun, silly tracks too. He's doing some good stuff there. I first heard about him, oddly enough, through Korean rappers Epik High, as he showed up on the group's 2009 Map the Soul album, which is pretty sick! Anyway, Dumbfoundead's tracks are great and so is his YouTube channel, where he answers questions, talks about his city and just comes across as being a totally down-to-earth, interesting dude. Check it!  I remember seeing a poster of his a few months back, saying he was coming to Bar+ in my city of Toronto. I totally missed it... I'm kicking myself now.

This particular track is called "Town" and it really speaks to me. I love my city and the people close to me who live in it, but I also want to get out of it big-time for a number of reasons, which is one of the reasons I'm gonna go study in Korea. WOO! This is the acoustic version. The album version has some electronic beats that sound pretty smooth.  


Yo, yo! A few days ago I watched Bangkok Knockout, a barebones action film by the fine folks at Sahamongkol films, the guys who brought us Ong Bak back in 2003 and Tom Yum Goong (a.k.a. The Protector) in 2005. The film follows a group of youngsters who are members of a stunt team as they win a reality show that will supposedly take them to Hollywood. Unfortunately for them, the contest was a hoax and by winning the contest, instead of going to Hollywood, they become chosen to take part in an illegal underground reality show in which they must fight random fighters to the death for the enjoyment of a rainbow coalition of evil rich people!!! Holy poop!

So, the verdict? The story is ridiculous and only serves to set up fight scenes. However, if you've seen other Sahamongkol action movies, you will know exactly what to expect. I walked right into this film expecting a flimsy storyline whose sole purpose would be to create situations in which a tae-kwon-do expert must fight off two mounted motorcyclists, and that's what I got. As usual, the action is INSANELY good, featuring stuntmen who seem to value their own well-being about as much as most people regard a penny in the gutter. The choreography is fantastic and fight scenes are creative and numerous. Basically, if you have an hour and forty minutes to spare and you've had a long day, then you might wanna give this a look. It's a lot of fun. Southeast Asia seems to be where the action movies are these days!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Picture time again!

This pic is from my 2008 stay in South Korea. These two characters are Lionel and Lionelle (I think those are their names, anyway...) and they are the mascots of Everland, a popular theme park near Seoul. If you live in Toronto like me, you've probably been to Canada's Wonderland. Well, it's sort of like that, except CHEAPER! And they have more stuff! When I went in 2008, the price was about $30 (30,000 won) to get in and they had roller coasters, haunted houses, 3-D theaters, kids' stuff and a zoo! It was pretty awesome. Every night they have a midnight parade, and that's where this shot is from -- it was pretty spectacular. The prices have probably gone up since then, but that happens. Anyway, I thought it was a good time.
The men behind Just Kidding Films.
Oh my goodness, I love these guys. Here's something out of Asian America. I've just discovered Just Kidding Films, a media sensation founded by Bart Kwan and Joe Jo. I'm surprised it took me so long to become aware of these guys. Their whole thing is making comical videos that tackle various things such as Asian (particularly Asian-American) social issues, stereotypes (both ethnic and gender-based) and the more general social issues of America at large. And they are pretty damn funny! When I first started watching their videos I thought they were just a one-trick pony playing various East Asian and Southeast Asian stereotypes. But after showing a few skits to my friends and watching a bunch of their videos, and considering the wealth of issues they tackle, I'm convinced they are genuinely hilarious and relevant! I'm all for exposing the major flaws of society through comedy! Good on ya, guys!

Here's their website:

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Yesterday watched a kick-ass Korean movie by the name of War of the Arrows, also known as 최종병기 활. It was pretty sick!

So the story takes place back in 17th-century Joseon (which was made up of the countries we now know as North and South Korea). The Manchus are invading Joseon and are up to all sorts of heinous acts such as kidnapping people and making them slaves, but they messed with the wrong small town! Because in that small town lives the BEST ARCHER IN KOREA! The film follows the exploits of Nam-yi, a man who, as a boy, was hunted by the government for being the son of a "traitor" (Joseon history was ... complicated -- many Korean dramas on that subject!) despite his father's being a scholar-official (or yangban) who apparently served the king with the utmost loyalty. At the beginning of the film Nam-yi escapes from his father's residence with his sister and stays with a friend of his father's. He practises with his dad's bow until he and his sister grow up and he becomes a super-archer. Fast forward a bit, and during his sister's wedding Manchus start trying to invade Korea (this was not long after Manchuria had managed to destroy the Ming Dynasty and take over China as the Ching Dynasty, which ruled for over two centuries). Nam-yi's sister gets taken prisoner and it's up to Nam-yi and his sister's new husband to save the day and fight those pesky Manchus.

Darn Manchus ...
The film has some intense, well-directed action scenes featuring forest bow-and-arrow battles that are won by strategy and cunning. The sets are quite minimal and the cinematography is spot-on, featuring lush forests and barren steppes. It's a really solid film! The actors all perform well, playing believable and strong-willed but still very human characters. I even found myself feeling sorry for the bad guys at times because they were so well developed. Another awesome thing is that the Manchurian characters actually speak Manchurian dialect! How cool is that!? I don't know how many people speak Manchu dialect these days, but its pretty awesome that the filmmakers were able to get someone to write a bunch of the script in it. I love attention to detail. The action is solid, featuring tasteful slow-mo and masterful examples of deadly archery, but always seems to manage to stay within the realm of the possible.

Girls gotta play too!
When I was in Korea last summer, this film had just come out and seemed to be breaking box-office records, which is quite rare for a period film. I really wanted to see it 'cause it looked AWESOME. However, my Korean was pretty terrible in those days and there were no subtitles for me to read, so I was lost. In hindsight I probably could have just watched it anyway and asked my girlfriend at the time if I couldn't figure out what was going on, but whatever. Now after seeing it, I'm certainly glad I got around to it. Seriously, check this out if you can!

So here's a little tidbit. Apparently the historical Korean weapon of choice is the hwal (translated "bow and arrow"), which seems to be a variation of the short bow. This explains why Korean swordsmithing didn't reach the meticulous levels of quality found in traditional Japanese katanas (swords). Archery is still quite popular on the Korean peninsula, with a number of classes available in high school and university archery clubs and for seniors. It's cool! In Joseon times the Korean bow was used for hunting, warfare and possibly even as a musical instrument at parties (I'm not making this up!). Anyway, check out this movie!!      


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

I took these pics in 2008 while I was staying at a friend's grandparents' house in a farming village in Namhae. It was quite a shock, as just two days after arriving in Korea, instead of staying in Seoul and getting acquainted with the city, my friend suddenly announced that we would be going to the countryside immediately.

This was the view from my friend's grandparents' front yard at about 7:30 am. A beautiful mist surrounds the top of the mountain in the distance and green rice paddies can be seen stretching up to it. The houses you see are all traditional-style one-storey Korean houses with a single hallway in the front that joins all the rooms with the front door. A few decades ago these would likely have had old clay-tiled roofs, but they were replaced with steel roofs after the government initiated a plan to improve rural housing. The blue roof is a newer example of this.

The air here was very fresh and the place was beautiful. Mostly elderly people and children populated the village and it was possible to see them farming and feeding various farm animals in their daily work. Early one morning I took a walk around the village and turned a few heads. Most people in a village like this have cable TV and cellphones, so they know what foreigners look like -- they just don't see them in their village too often. It was a very special experience. I stayed here for four days, and every morning I could hear the roosters crow. One morning I was drinking soju with my friend's grandmother, who spoke a heavy local dialect of Korean that I couldn't understand. She knew this, I bet, but she just kept on talking to me in it. Hee hee, I love old folks! Apparently it's relatively common for farmers to drink a little soju before the day's work starts. Some say it's to help digestion; others say it's to relieve the monotony of farm work.

This was down the road from the house I was staying in. It appears to be a small private rice plot that likely belongs to one of the families in the village (this is just a guess). Private farming plots can be seen all over Korea, even close to the cities. I saw some growing corn, rice, tomatoes, potatoes and all kinds of things. 


Monday, June 4, 2012

Here's a bit of interesting news that isn't strictly East Asian but is certainly worth mentioning. I just discovered this magazine!

Yes! This is Hyphen magazine! Now, you might may read my previous post griping about the inconsistent way the hyphen is used in North America. I must reiterate. The hyphen in terms such as African-American, for example, does not bother me so much as the way the hyphen is popularly applied to some ethnicities and not others. Regardless of that, this magazine is pretty cool! If you read my blog, you may remember my recent post about the profound differences between "Asians" and "Asian-Americans." Well, if you want to investigate that further, check out this magazine! They have a website that posts many of their articles with interesting info, interviews and all sorts of funness! I just read a pretty nifty article about the spread of kimchi in a bunch of random states in the U.S. and an interview with the legendary George Takei! Had to give this mag a shout-out! Check it! URL below!

Hello! Back with some more pics, 'cause honestly, this is pretty fun!

The following pics were taken on a humid day in 2008 at Geumsan Boriam Temple in Namhae, which sits on top of Geum Mountain (san means "mountain" in Korean and Japanese), which is not the tallest but is certainly the most majestic mountain in the area. The temple dates back to the Silla dynasty (57 BCE–935 CE) and is considered one of the most important places to pray for good fortune and things like that. Whether or not you are Buddhist, the aesthetic beauty of the place can't be denied. 

Here is a statue of the bodhisattva Gwan-eum, more popularly known by her Chinese name Guan-yin, standing in a lotus. She is the bodhisattva of mercy and compassion. This beautiful statue was made in more modern times and was carved from stone. It is maintained by the monks who live at the temple. Behind her to the right you can see the arches of one of the temple structures, which contains a statue of Shakyamuni himself, otherwise known as Buddha. To the left of the statue are incense sticks that can be burned in the pot on the shrine in front of Gwan-eum. Incense is usually burned in honour of deceased ancestors and loved ones. On the wooden floor in front of her are mats that people can pray on. Traditionally one prostrates oneself and stands up and then repeats this motion three times, but I was told the more times the better.

Here is one of the main buildings of the temple complex. I'm not sure what purpose this building serves but I think it houses a few more statues of the bodhisattva. Either way, it's pretty! One thing I love about Korean temples and traditional architecture is the colours that are incorporated in their decoration. Soft and varied colours seemed to be very popular, which makes for a cheerful yet relaxed tone. In fact, Korean traditional garments and decor are famous for their unique, rich colour schemes.

This reminds me of those traditional Chinese paintings you sometimes see of temples on mountainsides. Perhaps one of the most wonderful things about being there at that time was the mist. Though it's not that tall, there was a misty haze all around the mountain and it was impossible to see below. It was like being in some sort of magical realm. In this picture you can see the outline of one of the temple buildings overlooking a cliff. As you can see, the mist keeps one from being able to see the ground below. Quite breathtaking.

There were a number of these stones on the temple grounds. On the stone is carved, very intricately, Chinese characters. In times past, Koreans used the Chinese script, or Hanja, for writing rather than the now dominant Hangul alphabet (it looks like this: 한글), which was invented in the 15th century by the great king Seijong. Though Hanja is not widely used in Korea anymore it is still mandatory for students to learn it in Korea. I thought it was pretty impressive having such well-carved characters on the side of this giant rock. Sadly, I have no idea what this means; I think the large characters might be names but that's a shot in the dark. It could be a poem or an epitaph -- I really have no idea -- but it certainly looks nice! Another interesting thing in this shot is the woman sitting at the bottom right corner. This rock was located on a little hill that looked out above the temple, and some people where sitting there meditating. Again, quite a majestic site.        

Well, that's all for today. Hope you enjoyed 'em!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Hey, hey, here's another pic.

This is a sign that was at the entrance to a mountain trail in Namhae, located on the southernmost point of the Korean peninsula, when I was there in 2008. The sign roughly translates to "actions prohibited in the park" and under it is a bunch of rules and stuff about things you can't do. I just thought this sign was cute so I took a pic. I also thought it was kind of interesting to note the gesture the bears are making, using two hands instead of one to say "stop." Perhaps I'm overthinking this a bit. But yeah, CUTE! Incidentally, there's actually a lot of cute warning signs in Korea. This sign was followed by the one below, which isn't that great a pic but I think it's hilarious ... and cuuuuute!

In Korea, bears fight lightning! Look at the little bear ... so cute!


Saturday, June 2, 2012

It's June and I haven't blogged for a while! Yesterday I watched the movie Kung Fu Cult Master starring Jet Li and a slew of other notable '90s HK actors, including Gong Li, Chingmay Yau and Sammo Hung, to name a few. This film holds a special place in my heart because back when I was in high school, this film kicked off my East Asian movie binge, which lasted for years.

 The film has one of the most convoluted stories EVER, featuring tonnes of characters, some who only appear for one or two scenes, and a pace that makes it impossible to look away for a second, lest you miss precious exposition. Sound horrible? Well, I still love this movie, and the reason is, to this date I have never seen a movie that contains all of the wonderful following...

 1. Glowing golden swords that blow things up.

You don't want to see what these swords can do to people... Oh wait! Of course you do!

2. A monk tied to a boulder that he uses to move around, accidentally teaching someone kung-fu.

This Shaolin cooking monk fell off a cliff and broke his back, so he tied himself to a boulder and now uses it as, basically, a wheelchair that he controls with kung-fu... Makes sense to me!!!

3. Gong Li using a zither as a weapon.

Don't ask for an encore... just... just don't.

4. Blue exploding energy blasts!

That's Jet Li using "solar stance" kung-fu and shooting an exploding "hadoken" from his fist! And you thought Ryu from Street Fighter was badass!? 

 5. Flying mirror shields that cut people's heads off!!!

Kind of hard to see, but yes... that's what is happening here.


This is a real subtitle spoken by the old dude, played by Sammo Hung, and it is followed by the words "because I'm so powerful!" I kid you not. Best thing ever, hands down.
So now you either think this is the best film ever or the worst. But yes, it has all that stuff in it ... AND MORE! The fight scenes are awesome, featuring great, turbocharged choreography, large-scale battles and kung-fu superpowers! The characters are numerous and the actors are fun. It's just a crazy good time! There was supposed to be a sequel made but it never came out ... TRAVESTY!!! But seriously, if you're bored one afternoon and you want to see a whole bunch of insane things happen within a kung-fu fantasy version of Ming China, then get this movie!!! For some people I could imagine this film falling under the category of "so bad it's good," but there ain't nothing bad about Kung Fu Cult Master! The name is also fitting because, even though it's just a coincidence, this really is a "cult" film.

All right ... so that being said I want to add something new to my posts. As some of you may know I'm heading off to Korea for school at the end of the summer. I've been to Korea twice before, and as I count photography as one of my many hobbies, I took a bunch of photos while I was there. I've decided to take the best of these and post them with my regular posts and explain a bit about the pic. So without further ado, here is the first of the best of my Korea pics!

So this here is a bunch of jugs with pots on. I took this pic back in 2008 when I first went to Korea and I was walking down a street in a small town outside of Seoul in Gyeongi province. This is a common sight in Korea, especially in the countryside or in residential areas. Inside the pots is likely gochujang (고추짱), which is that hot red pepper paste that people eat with bibimbap (if you have had any contact with Korean food you've probably eaten bibimbap) and other Korean food. In Korea it's easy to just buy this stuff at the supermarket but a lot of people still make it themselves and they store it in these pots to let it ferment. These pots could potentially contain other things such as bean paste, other kinds of sauces or pastes, and even kimchi. But more often than not, if you see these pots sitting around, they probably have gochujang in them. I like the framing of this shot and the way the pots' surfaces reflect the light. I would also say that this is really a traditional image in Korea that continues to endure. This is why I consider it one of the best! More to come!