2001 highlights (and low points, too)
The spectacular, heartwarming, quirky And mundane
Korean cinema goes strong
Many Korean films, including "Flower Island," "Address Unknown," "The Foul King" and "Take Care of My Cat" won international acclaim at film festivals in Bangkok; Deauville, France; Berlin; Locarno, Switzerland and Venice.
Domestically, "Friend" was the biggest grossing film in Korea's 80-year film history. The movie attracted more than 8 million people nationwide, followed by "My Wife Is a Gangster" with 5. 2 million, setting a trend for gangster movies in Korea.
In October, Miramax Films bought the rights to remake "My Wife Is a Gangster" for $1.1 million.
The French Institute opened its new offices in November. Francophiles bid adieu to the old building near Gyeongbok Palace. Now located in a high-rise in Jung-gu, downtown Seoul, the new location has a sleek interior, multimedia library and a cozy cafe.
The Ha Ri-su monologues
The transsexual actress-model Ha Ri-su ("hot issue" said quickly) wowed the media in the spring, bringing a taboo subject into the spotlight. Ha's films and products did not sell well, but she did give more exposure to nonmainstream lifestyles and ideas.
Historical dramas on TV
Television airwaves were dominated by a sweeping range of historical dramas this year. If you did not know what happened in the latest episode of "Yeoin Cheonha" ("Women Who Rule Over the World") or "Taejo Wanggun" ("Wanggun, the First King"), you would have no way to make watercooler conversation in the office. "Wanggun, the First King," depicting the 10th century king Wanggun, who founded the Goryeo Dynasty, is especially popular among men, while "Women Who Rule Over the World," about Jung Nan-jeong, a daughter of a concubine, and her quest for power, was tops among women.
In April, Lee Bong-ju demolished a 10-year Kenyan monopoly in the Boston Marathon. After losing the 1996 Olympic marathon to South Africa's Josia Thugwane by three seconds, the narrowest win in Olympic history, Lee made a dramatic comeback to win the Boston race in 2 hours, 9 minutes and 43 seconds. He was the first Korean to win the race in 51 years.
Fashion in North Korea
"My fashion show really struck a chord in the Korean heart, or jeong, and it was like a dream," Lee Young-hee said after holding a historic fashion gala in Pyeongyang on June 4. The show was attended by some 500 North Korean high-ranking officials, who gave the designs a standing ovation. Most of the show featured traditional Korean costumes that Ms. Lee, 65, designed in the 1980s. Models were both North and South Korean.
Preparations for 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan moved at a frenzied pace － getting stadiums ready, bracing for soccer hooligans, dealing with the uproar over some Koreans eating of dog and getting restaurants to print their menus in foreign languages.
But the World Cup officially got under way with the final draw, held in Busan in November. Korea joins a first-round group that includes the United States, Poland and Portugal.
In December, Korea edged the United States 1-0 in an exhibition game on Jeju Island.
Korean wave in Asia
Hanliu is the Chinese term for the Korean pop culture wave, which began in 1996. The term was coined in February 2000, but Korea's influence really took off in 2001.
The Korean entertainment scene, including movies, pop music and television dramas, has crossed Asia, leaving an especially deep imprint in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Korean singers, actors and dancers toured various parts of Asia, and many of their distant fans were enthusiastic enough to come to Korea to see them perform.
Various musicians from the hit documentary "Buena Vista Social Club" performed to sold-out crowds in February and October at the LG Arts Center. Compact disks of Cuban performers could be found in music stores everywhere.
But this was just the beginning of the Cuban phenomenon. Biographies about Ernesto Che Guevara (born in Argentina, and comrade-in-arms to Fidel Castro) were best sellers throughout the year, and his portrait graced T-shirts.
Mashimaro, Korean bunny
In 2001, the trend was for all things yeopgi, or bizarre. One of the yeopgi hits was the rabbit Mashimaro, who started as an online cartoon, but soon could be found as toys and cell phone covers. The creator, Kim Jae-in, 24, is working on more episodes for his Web site: www.mashimaro.co.kr.
The best of the worst
Mary Poppins meets ice
Baik Ji-young, the Korean pop singer disgraced by a sex video scandal in 2000, made a comeback, staging live concerts in June.
But of course, there were many new scandals to replace hers. Hwang Su-jeong, an actress known for her wholesome image, was charged with drug use, as was Psy, a singer. And the tabloids gossiped about more possible celebrity sex videotapes.
Crying all the way to the bank
Comedian Lee Young-ja lost 30 kilograms and followed in Jane Fonda's footsteps, advocating her walking exercise program and raking in the cash. But when her doctor revealed that her weight loss was from liposuction, the joke was on all the people who bought her videos. Ms. Lee admitted to the charges in a dramatic, teary news conference. Since then, Ms. Lee has kept a low profile.
Next, work on supplying paper
In response to tourist complaints about the state of public bathrooms around the capital, the Seoul city government organized an ambitious 5.5 billion won ($4.2 million) project, dubbed "Clean Toilet, Clean Seoul," to renovate and clean up existing toilets, as well as to construct more accommodating facilities. Public reaction was mixed.
by Inēs Cho
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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