Movie Review: Golden Slumber (2017)

Dangerous Friend: Gang Dong-won and Han Hyo-Ju in Golden Slumber

When everyone assumes that you’re guilty, how can you prove your innocence?

Delivery worker and all-round nice guy Kim Gun-woo Gang Dong Won achieved fame unintentionally when he saved a pop star from a serious accident, but he wants to be treated the same as everyone else. His happiest memories are of playing in a band when he was in high school, giving the director an excuse to use the song Golden Slumber as much as possible. When he meets up with old school friend, it’s the start of events that see his regular lifestyle turned completely on its head.

There is a presidential election approaching. it’s campaign season in Seoul.His friend calls him to warn him that he is about to be set up in a conspiracy by a secret group who want to kill the president.

With every clue pointing to his guilt, he is forced to go on the run. Which is not easy when everyone already knows who he is, and there are CCTV cameras everywhere. For the first 30 minutes it’s a breathless chase film, but in the second half the film slows down as he meets up with people who help him prove his innocence. He’s forced into some shady places where he must get the help of ordinary people to assist him.

Meanwhile, two of his friends who believe his innocence do everything they can to help him.They are 한효주(SunYoung), a radio reporter; and 김대명, a band-mate who now works as a divorce lawyer.

The flashbacks to the days when the floppy-haired Gun-woo was playing guitar and going on dates with his high school girlfriend are a counterpoint to the action sequences. For me these interfered with the plot and simply made it harder to follow the story. But there’s no denying the excitement provided by this man on the run film.

In a nutshell: an exciting action movie with sentimental moments. The excellent title song by The Beatles really lifts the film above it’s sometimes drab visual backdrops. Gang Don-won is perhaps a little too gentle to convince in the role. Interestingly he plays two characters in the film: he is also a villain who has plastic surgery so that he can look just like the real Gun-woo.

지금 만나러 갑니다 (Be With You)

This film is a misguided attempt to make a what if? romance. Starting from the fact that the two main leads are too young and good looking to be believable as the parents of a ten year old boy, the film is poorly directed by a director who wastes no opportunity to drown his cliched visuals in a lachrymose score.

The countryside setting is helpful in grounding the couple’s relationship in a beautiful setting but the actual romance is barely felt as the director cannot convey any sense of the couple’s attraction for each other. The film is also lacking any sexual attraction. Which is strange when you consider the man hasn’t seen his wife in years.


Soo-ah (Son Yejin) makes a promise that she will return to her husband one rainy day. One year after her death she magically reappears during monsoon season. But she has no memories of their life together and has to remember how they got together.

Although a film with Son Yejin cannot be considered boring, the film’s lackluster content is a real drag. There’s barely any humour aside from the baker who wears a penguin suit in an attempt to cheer the son up following the loss of his mother.

The boy is cute but the shots of him playing at school, reading from a book and watching his father cook eggs become annoyingly repetitive.

In a nutshell: potentially promising romantic fantasy let down by poor direction and miscast actors.

1 is the saddest number

You know I’ve been in Korea for over five months and although I love nearly everything about living here, there’s just a few things that bother me. Most of them I can deal with. But the number one problem is that in Korea the group is everything.

I knew this before I came but I thought that if I already knew some Korean it would be easy to meet people whenever I went out.

Sadly, the culture of Korean social life means that it’s almost impossible to meet people if you go out alone. You might be lucky and find that people will talk to you out of curiosity but most of the time strangers will be all but politely ignored. The hardest part is seeing large groups of people enjoying themselves but feeling excluded as a single person.

Some Koreans drinking with obligatory 안주

South Korea has bars where you can go to meet people but Koreans treat these places as restaurants where they just happen to be drinking. It doesn’t matter where they go or how late it is, Koreans will always find a way to eat something.

It’s not that Koreans aren’t friendly, but they are bad when it comes to speaking to anyone they don’t know.

As much as I hate the group culture of Korea, it’s so embedded in their way of living that I’m not sure it will ever change. Still, I can hope.

The problems of Airbnb

Using Airbnb


I’ve now been using Airbnb for most of my accommodation for more than a year

Here’s what I’ve found:

Check locations carefully, print a map before you go

With many buildings tucked away, it can be difficult, even with Google maps. to find the place. I spent more than hour looking for rentals, before realizing I had been in the right place all along.

Lesson: most rentals have no markings on them, which means you need to go to extra care to get the exact location.


Ask about facilities

May seem obvious, but if something isn’t listed, it won’t be provided. For example, I usually like to cook, but in Japan, many home don’t have kitchens. Ditto a TV. I found myself staying in places which didn’t have these , which made this very unsatisying.


Extra costs vary

Most places come with an airbnb service charge added on. And it’s typical for users to add a cleaning fee, whether you stay for a day or three weeks, You might think that you are spending unnecessary money. After all, they clean the room when you leave, which means you’re not getting any benefit from it.

Hosts are there to make money

It seems obvious, but because Airbnb has some similarities to Couchsurfing, it can be hard to see it as a business. Many hosts will not really provide anything extra, besides the room you stay in. Plus, you might not save any money when you allow for the extra costs you get lumped in with (extra person charges, weekend rates). Although you might find its very different if you are living with a host. In this case, you start to benefit from the arrangement. Case in point: the host in Kamigusa who washed my clothes, cooked me snacks and allowed me use of the fridge, which was stocked with some fantastic ingredients. I didn’t pay a cent for any of this, which made my stay even better value.

Hosts aren’t always bothered about your comfort

Sadly, its all to easy for hosts to take your money and then do a completely half-assed job of accommodating your needs. That means rock hard mattresses, torn and faded bedding that should have been thrown out years ago. At the very least, hosts should provide high quality bedding, showere gels and tea and coffee.

Reviews are innacurate and unreliable

Frankly, I’m dismayed when reading some of the reviews. If you stay in a place where the beds are hard, there isn’t any communication from the host, you wouldn’t leave a good review? Yet, because of the interaction that most guests have before they take the place, its hard for people to give negative feedback. The endless complaints made by visitors to hotels and restaurants is not found on airbnb. It’s almost as if people are afraid to risk a backlash against them if they give negative feedback.

Hotels can offer a better overall package

Even if hotels are on the face of it more expensive, think of all the they can offer: a range of extra benefits (free breakfast, newspapers. swimming pools, gyms. 24hr concierge.)

They also employ people, whose jobs airbnb is making less and less secure.

Overall, I have a difficult relationship with this site. Because its fairly recent, it’s exciting to be able to use it when travelling. On the other hand, there are some downsides (fake listings are an extreme example, but more common problems might be innacurate photos, hosts who are indifferent problems.


Korean actor suicide is another #metoo victim

You might think that a news story about a Korean celebrity killing themselves is small news but the recent suicide of actor Jo Min-ki has led to fears that the ever-growing #metoo movement is getting out of hand. Indeed, it has led to many claiming it is a witch-hunt and anti-male.

The actor’s death was announced a day after the South Korean President said that he supported the movement. The very male-dominated country comes near the bottom in terms of gender equality. No wonder that the entertainment industry is rife with stories of abuse and exploitation. The last week has seen the resignation of a governor tipped to be the next Presidential candidate of the country.  Meanwhile one of Korea’s most prominent actors was removed from a film due to claims of sexual harassment which he initially failed to apologise for.   Finally, the director Kim Ki-duk has denied several accusations of rape made by actresses in two of his films.

The question now is what does the movement hope to achieve? The movement has spread across the world through social media but is in danger of becoming completely out of control and disproportionate. If there has been abuse, the right thing would surely be to report such instances to police. Yet, most of the actresses stayed silent and continued to work with the actors and directors whom they now claim abused them.

The fact that the actor committed suicide before any formal charges were bought should concern those who want the perpetrators to face justice. A situation where lives are tarnished in this way is no good for anyone.

Little Forest

Director: Yim Soonrye

In a nutshell: a lyrical ode to the charms of the Korean countryside and a mother-daughter relationship. 


It begins with young Hye-won (Kim Taeri) entering an old Korean country home (Hanok) in the middle of winter. She is hungry and trying to scrape together some food from the scraps left in the kitchen. It’s a beautiful wooden house with an open courtyard and a traditional tiled roof. As the seasons change we see the food being harvested from a nearby farm. This is the Little Forest of the title, an incredible rural landscape where Hyewon learns how to live in the country, becoming self-sufficient.

As she learns to fend for herself with only a Jindo dog for company she starts to remember the occasions when her mother cooked for her. Her mother is played by Moon So-ri, one of the veterans of modern Korean cinema. Her early roles include some of the most celebrated Korean films – “Peppermint Candy” and “Oasis.” By now she is in her forties, a time when many Korean actresses often quit the business. But in this film she is positively radiant as a loving, earth mother type who can make the most incredible Korean food from anything she can find growing on her small farm. Her previous role was in The Handmaiden, a very different and much darker film that also happened to feature Kim Taeri.

Many Korean movies take place in the busy urban centres of Seoul and Busan. This is one of the few recent films I have watched to be set almost entirely in the countryside. The young Hye-won is soon joined on the small farm by two city friends Jae-ha and Eun-sook. It’s soon clear that life in the city is no picnic and we see them happily leave their unfulfilling jobs to work with their friend.  As so many young Koreans are having difficulty finding any of the main necessities of life (family, work, a house), they are moving to the countryside, where – although life is much slower – it is much easier to live a simple yet content life.

It’s where they can find the peace they need. The landscapes are beautiful and the night stars are crystal clear. The changing seasons are demarcated by the different food the characters eat: melons in summer, apples in autumn and dried persimmons in winter. Seen in close-up, it looks absolutely mouthwatering. There is a large red-bean rice cake that Hye-won lovingly makes at the beginning of the year. An earlier meal of hand torn soup noodles (sujebi) looks incredible too. There’s a crème brulee that she makes for her friend that shatters crisply, and leads to another mother and daughter scene where she remembers when her mother made the same dish for her.

This is not food porn (how I hate that term!). It’s done because Hyewon wants to recreate the dishes her mother lovingly made for her. The reason the food is given so many close-ups is, I think, due to the importance it has for the characters themselves.  It’s also because she watched her mother that she is able to cook with such skill and finesse.

I was waiting for someone to eat Korean barbecue but there’s no meat here, which is nothing short of incredible for a country that seems to  ind a way to eat any living creature they can find. The only animals we see are a white dog (a Jindo puppy) and a chicken, which lays an egg which is used to make an Okonomiyaki pancake.

The film leads to no particular grand climax, and the relaxed pace might lead some viewers to start to lose interest. But when the film reaches the final winter scene, the result is  heartwarming.


Vegan restaurant in Busan: review

Recently I have been thinking a lot about my diet. It’s hard to say why, but I’m beginning to lose interest in meat. Although I’ve eaten meat my whole life, I find myself questioning whether I should continue to do so.

But in Korea at least 90% of the restaurants serve meat, and it’s hard to find anything which is strictly vegetarian. But, after some searching online, I came across this small vegan restaurant in Namcheon, which is one of the most pleasant areas of Busan. The area happens to contain a number of excellent bakeries too, but I didn’t try them today.

The name of the restaurant is 재크와콩나무 (Jack and the Beanstalk Vegan. We took our shoes off outside and were led to some simple wooden tables in the main restaurant area. The first difference between this restaurant and other Korean restaurants is that there is no music. You can focus on the conversation with your companion in a peaceful environment. The menu was printed in English which was helpful.


It’s easy to make jokes about vegan food without really understanding anything about it. People who think that vegetables are less interesting than meat are forgetting that meat is  pretty boring too until it is seasoned or fried/roasted/baked.

A Korean woman came to tell us more about the menu and later a second woman, the chef and owner gave us her recommendation. She said that the kale and banana smoothie  was delicious so I ordered it. Her suggestion was correct. They are known for a ‘steak’ that is actually made from soybeans but this wasn’t on the menu. Instead I ordered the Burrito set (rice and salad in a tortilla wrap) which came with falafel and hummus.


The food was extremely fresh and completely organic. I’m always interested in the line between healthy and delicious. For example, bread or pasta made with wholewheat instead of plain flour. It’s really a sign of a chef’s talent that they can make something healthy taste good. Having worked as a chef I can attest to the amount of salt, oil and butter that chefs use to make food taste good.


The best thing about vegan food is that you don’t get the uncomfortable ‘blow-out feeling’ which often comes from eating meat. This food is light but it doesn’t mean it won’t fill you up or leave you feeling unsatisfied.

The restaurant offers yoga classes in the mornings and evenings in the back room, which is where we ate out lunch. At this point it would be very easy to make some jokes about hippies and people in sandals and hemp and whatever. But I won’t, because it was all done in the best possible way. The chef/owner graciously posed for a photo after our lunch. They serve alcohol  (wine and beer). The price was reasonable at 30000 Korean won for two people.


Restaurant information.


수영구 로 16번길14.

1st Birth control advert showed in Korean cinema

You might have noticed if you had visited the cinema last month that there was one advert that stood out from the rest, which was shown before the main features of several major films in Korean theaters. Nestled between familiar commercials for Maxim coffee and insurance companies was a short clip for a company called Maybora (마이보라), which is the proprietary name for a company that makes birth control pills. The advert shows a sassy and confident young woman (Yura from Girl’s Day) rollerblading, meeting her boyfriend and going bowling. As far as sex, there is none, but I guess the implication is that by having already taken the pill, the girl in the clip can be prepared for any eventuality.

The ad happens to be the first time a Korean K-Pop singer has ever endorsed such a product. It’s a decision which some fans have criticized, even though the advert by no means authorises casual sex. When it comes to contraception, the pill is only taken by 2.5% women of reproductive age.

The interesting thing about Korean society is that from watching many dramas (where its common for the couple to get around to kissing in the 13th episode) you’d think that nobody ever has sex. Yet sex is not exactly hard to find. its just that here are so many double standards when it comes to women. Perhaps the ad will mark a turning point to attitudes to female sexuality. Time will tell.