Thursday, December 17, 2009

Book Review: Pop Goes Korea: Behind the Revolution in Movies, Music, and Internet Culture

Title: Pop Goes Korea: Behind the Revolution in Movies, Music, and Internet Culture
Author: Mark James Russell
Paperback: 260 pages
Publisher: Stone Bridge Press (January 1, 2009)
ISBN-10: 1933330686
ISBN-13: 978-1933330686

For an English language resource, this is a gem of a book. Keeping in mind that Korea has a relatively short (but very interesting) pop culture, this book covers all the bases quite nicely. It features a variety of tidbits and little known facts sprinkled throughout the book.

I applaud the author for pioneering an English language legitimate published text - a fresh break from the bloggers who dominate this field of interest. The information is as up-to-date as a book can be (pub 2008) but a slight out-of-dateness is to be expected for a text about the ever-changing pop culture. However, since the majority of the book covers the upstarts of each industry, the lack of 2009 material is unavoidable and easily forgiven.

The author's writing style is both a pro and a con. The writer seems to be comfortable in his knowledge of the subject but sometimes has too much of a conversational tone - almost to a fault of sounding uneducated. However, I really don't want that to sound too harsh because I believe one of his strengths is his ability to both inform and also entertain. He's got a great sense of Western humor that appears amongst this Eastern pop culture history.

I was also disappointed by the lack of photos throughout the book. The beginning has plenty of color pictures to prepare for the in-depth look that's coming ahead but the book itself is lacking accompanying photos. It would have made the biographies of Lee Byung-Hun and Lee Soon-Man more easy to follow.

My biggest complaint is the lack of Korean text. How hard would it have been to include Hanguel in the chapters? All movies, songs, TV dramas, and actors have either transliterated or romanized names which is frustrating when searching for the original source material. The least that could have been done is to include the original Korean names in parenthesis. A careless oversight.

However, I do want to conclude with saying that the author knows his stuff and has written an excellent primer on all things Korean. His background history on the PIFF (Busan International Film Festival) is impressive as is his approach to Korean movies in general (and why there is so much more to the Korean wave than 1999's Shiri). All in all, this book is well worth your time.

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Like mentioned in the review, the book really shines on the chapter about Korean movies and especially the Pusan International Film Festival. Buy the book if for no other reason to read about that.

No joke though this book is an oddity in that it there is no other book that rivals it's quality and readability. I own a few other books on the subject but they are academic paper compilations and other analytical texts. This book is what you want it to be - a book that covers Korean media and it's history.

Other than the lack of 한글 this book is well worth your time and money. Buy it and find out just how turbulent the history is. The author has a blog that also might be of interest.


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