Thursday, April 30, 2009

Coming soon to a bookstore near you (in Seoul)


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

GE quantifies the benefits of an FTA with South Korea


Monday, April 27, 2009

Plot summary for "Thirst"

"Thirst," directed by Park Chan-wook, is deeply provocative in various aspects. But those who expect the extreme cinematic pyrotechnics seen in "Oldboy" might be only partially satisfied.

Given that Park's latest vampire tale has made it to the prestigious competition section in the forthcoming Cannes film festival next month, it is natural that public expectations are fairly high.

As with Park's other films, however, "Thirst" is not for a mainstream viewer. The film graphically illustrates human thirst in the form of sex, guilt and death - a merciless concoction that may shock audiences.

The film starts off in a serene mood. A down-to-earth yet bored priest Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho) routinely witnesses patient deaths in a hospital. He volunteers for a secret project abroad, a medical experiment that might lead to his death. Undaunted, he flies off to the lab, gets an injection of blood, and things begin to fall apart in an utterly unexpected way.

When he wakes up, Sang-hyun realizes that he's the only survivor of the lab experiment. What's more, he has transformed into a vampire who needs to drink human blood to stay alive.

Thankfully, he is always near a source of fresh blood - hospital. In the name of performing Catholic rituals for sick patients, he manages to find and steals blood from patients in a vegetative state and, more conveniently, hospital refrigerators where blood packs are aplenty.

So far, so good. The real challenge arises when he joins a weekly Majong game at his friend's house. It does not take long before Sang-hyun notices sexual advances from his friend's wife Tae-ju (Kim Ok-vin), a femme fatal armed with gimmicks and yearnings.

It is easy to forecast bloody results when Sang-hyun gets physically entangled with Tae-ju. What's surprising is the filmmaker's resolve to spare no blood to describe the unfortunate priest-turned-vampire's ever-growing thirst for satisfaction.

Sang-hyun, as a priest, feels a sense of guilt and helplessness about his transformation throughout the film. His job is to save souls, but his own soul is now in the hands of an inner vampire. To maintain his life, he has no other choice but to go out and steal some blood, either from living targets or from the hospital's blood storage.

This dilemma gets amplified when Sang-hyun loses grip on his own vampire blood and a Korean vampire network begins to form. The ultimate question for Sang-hyun is whether he will stop the spread of lethal blood even at the cost of his own life, and the film's second half is duly devoted to portraying Sang-hyun's painful efforts to turn things around.

Director Park wisely interrupts the unbridled blood-sucking drama by offering several dialogues where Sang-hyun delivers comic lines, as if he is not really serious about what he's talking about. Such humor is typical of Park, who seems to want audiences not to take the drama too seriously.

Before the press preview, critics and reporters were given hints about extreme nudity concerning the heroine, Kim Ok-vin. The hints were not totally misguided, but the real show-stopper came from Song Kang-ho's explicit nudity at a crucial scene.

Whether Song's nudity should have been necessary is debatable. What's certain, however, is that Song's performance in "Thirst" is respectable in every aspect. He brings to life a Korean priest who struggles to deal with a sudden change in fate. Song's facial and body expressions are also expertly performed to reflect the character's angst, self-doubt and uncontrollable desires.

Kim Ok-vin, a rookie in Korean cinema, equally tops expectations. Kim acts up the crucial character who infuses a much-needed toxic dose of vitality and viciousness to the vampire saga.

Despite the first-class acting by the two main characters, "Thirst" may not be in the same league as "Oldboy" in terms of extreme visuals and thematic boldness. But the film will surely satisfy the thirst of those wanting a ruthless blood-sucking vampire fare.

"Thirst," distributed by CJ Entertainment, will be released nationwide on April 30. ◦

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What GE Capital Learned in Korea

Not long ago, Korea was a slog for GE Capital (GE). The financing arm of the U.S. conglomerate spent six years offering personal and auto loans and leasing office equipment at its wholly owned subsidiary in Korea but never managed to capture much market share. So the company dropped its traditional avoidance of minority stakes in joint ventures and folded its operations into two financing subsidiaries of Hyundai Motor. The result? The pair are among GE's most profitable businesses. "GE has really seen this [Korean success] as a bit of an eye-opener," says Bernard van Bunnik, GE's top executive in Korea.

Today the Korean operations are models for GE's marketing and branding strategies worldwide. Seoul has become a destination for management-training groups from the company's Crotonville leadership development center in Ossining, N.Y. In February, for instance, four GE executives spent two days there meeting with the venture's managers to try to determine a formula for successful partnerships.

Just as important, GE's experience in Korea has spurred a rethink of a key company strategy. Before the Hyundai deals, GE strongly preferred management control in joint ventures. But since 2004, GE has invested a total of $3 billion in the two companies and now holds 43% of each: Hyundai Capital, the carmaker's auto-financing arm, and its credit-card affiliate, HyundaiCard. Today the Korean operations represent GE's biggest minority investment on the planet, and they have inspired similar arrangements such as the 2007 purchase of 25.4% of Bank of Ayudhya in Thailand.

GE was willing to take a chance on Hyundai because its 75% share of the Korean car market offered huge potential for auto loans. It was a good bet. The Korean operation contributed 5.1% of GE's worldwide consumer-finance profits in 2008. The return on assets for the two companies in 2008 was 2.66%, among the best of any GE business.

GE wasn't expecting such smooth sailing in its voyage with Hyundai, which has a spotty record of corporate governance. So the Americans stationed dozens of managers in key positions in the joint ventures, and both parties had veto power on all critical decisions. But neither side has had to veto anything. "We haven't encountered any real clash in management," says Ted Chung, president of both ventures, which operate virtually as one company. "In fact, we've been asking GE to dispatch more people because we want to learn more from them."

That learning has gone both ways. Chung says Hyundai originally sought an investor to make up for losses in its credit-card business. But he now calls the capital injection "the smallest contribution of all the benefits we've enjoyed." More important, Chung says, was GE's risk-management and financial knowhow, as well as its "uncompromising implementation of ethics, its interest in talent, and its management philosophy."

And GE has learned from Hyundai's marketing chops. To give the brand cachet, Chung hired noted designers Karim Rashid and Léon Stolk to develop a distinctive look for the company's cards, worked with design consultant IDEO to revamp and simplify its bills and Web site, and asked Dutch design firm Concrete Architectural Associates to create a more welcoming atmosphere at customer service centers. To nurture exclusivity, Chung set up "Super Matches" in sports ranging from figure skating and gymnastics to cycling and tennis, where mega-stars such as Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer face off in nationally broadcast competitions.

Hyundai also woos clients with discounts on its vehicles. HyundaiCard lops as much as $380 off the price of a car, which consumers then pay back by accumulating points that equal 2% of purchases with the card. That encourages holders of multiple cards to use HyundaiCard as their primary plastic. It seems to work: Average monthly spending by those customers is 37% higher than that of ordinary card users. HyundaiCard "has used design and branding to differentiate itself in a very crowded market," says GE's van Bunnik. That, he says, helps to make the Korean ventures "a benchmark for GE Money."


Monday, April 20, 2009

Video: Street Food Culture in South Korea (Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern)


Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern visits South Korea on Tuesday, 21 April at 10 pm


Sunday, April 19, 2009

South Koreans fastest in dispelling economic pessimism

Pessimistic views on the local economy faded away in Korea at the fastest speed than in any other country in the world, a global survey showed yesterday

According to Gallup Korea, which released the Worldwide Independent Network's two-part survey on the economic crisis, the percentage of respondents with a negative view that "the economic situation will be worse in the next three months" shrank to 44 percent from 70 percent in Korea. A total of 20,325 people in 25 countries participated in the survey, conducted from January to March.

The decrease in Korea was the largest, followed by the United Kingdom, Iceland, Japan and Canada.

In contrast, India and Spain saw the number of people with a negative economic outlook increase the most. While only 14 percent of respondents in India had a pessimistic view in January, the figure more than doubled to 33 percent in March. In Spain, the percentage of people with a negative view went up from 51 percent to 61 percent during the same period.

Korea also showed the fastest turnaround in income expectations for the next 12 months.

The percentage of respondents with a pessimistic view that "their family income will decrease in the next 12 months" almost halved to 28 percent in March from 53 percent in January. The decline in the figure was the largest in Korea, followed by the United Kingdom with a 6 percentage point fall and Spain with a 4 percentage point fall.

The WIN consists of 25 independent polling firms in the world. For the WIN's latest survey on the financial crisis and views on the economy, Gallup Korea said it conducted telephone interviews with 814 Koreans.

Some of Koreans' change in sentiment comes as economic indicators show mixed signals of a recovery and a deepening slump.

The Industrial Production Index has started to recover from minus 25.5 in January to minus 10.3 in February and the service-sector production swung from a 1.1 percent on-year contraction in January to 0.1 percent on-year growth in February, according to the Finance Ministry.

The trade surplus has widened to a record surplus of $4.28 billion in March, the Korea Customs Service said. Financial market jitters have abated with a stronger won and higher KOSPI.

However, the economy lost 195,000 jobs in March from a year ago, the biggest job loss since March 1999. The number of unemployed reached 952,000, nearing 1 million for the first time in three years since February 2006.

"The number of jobless would actually exceed 1 million in April," Finance Minister Yoon Jeung-hyun warned at a recent forum in Seoul.

"The current economic situation is at a phase in which positive and negative signs are mixed."


Saturday, April 18, 2009

South Korea's green spending


Friday, April 17, 2009

Video: Korea Telecom's "Qook" Quadruple Play

See for KT's quadruple play (VoIP, VoD, Internet, and IPTV). Below is a commercial from three years ago about Megapass, one the four bundled offerings.


Korean Tacos - Kogi Korean BBQ-To-Go

"I became a chef out of failure at being good at nothing else."

Unlikely words from the culinary muscle behind the Los Angeles hit sensation, Kogi Korean BBQ-To-Go, the taco truck that has created a buzz from the United States to the United Kingdom.

Loading up tortillas with the sweet fire of Korean barbecue, crushed sesame seeds and lettuce and cabbage tossed in Korean chili-soy vinaigrette, Kogi executive chef Roy Choi lures crowds by the hundreds.

And he does it all from a truck.

Eating-on-the-go is entering a new era. For years, decades even, people have been queuing up on the streets for a tasty skewer from the local kebab van or a juicy mustard-drenched hot dog or pretzel from the vendor near their office.

People line up for the Kogi experience/Kogi Korean[BBQ-To-Go`s famous tacos]/Executive chef Roy Choi[Photos by Eric Shin]

Kogi, meaning "meat" in Korean, has changed all that. The highly mobile truck moves from spot to spot, alerting people of its whereabouts via the free micro-blogging service Twitter.

Angelenos track it down and make the time, which sometimes means a one to two hour wait into the wee hours of the night, for a taste of Choi's tacos. The surprisingly delicious combination of Mexican and Korean flavors, the spontaneity of a truck on the move and the communal bonding of tweets from Twitter fuse to create a new and addictive experience.

It's so wholly new that bigwig publications like the New York Times, the Financial Times and Newsweek have all covered the truck, the tacos and the people.

"The Kogi experience is like magic," Choi summed it up in an e-mail interview. "The cooks are happy like a traveling circus. The people are joyous. The food is delicious."

Delicious is the key word. After all, how many street food stands are helmed by a chef who was primed at the Culinary Institute of America and did stints at Le Bernardin in New York and in Iron Chef Michiba's kitchen?

Head of his class at the institute Choi has, according to the official Kogi website, "flavor in his finger tips!"

So his modest response to the question - how did you become a chef? - came as a bit of a surprise. The words "failure" and "being good at nothing else" do not jive with his impressive profile. Then again, perhaps it is that nonchalant and out-of-left-field attitude toward his past that has brought him to the Kogi experience.

"My title is Uncle Roy, cook," said the 39-year old Korean-American.

When asked how he invents his dishes, "Uncle Roy" sends out an abstract reply: "I see food like music. I cannot describe how I come up with dishes because it comes to me, like music to a musician. And I just pick up a guitar and start playing."

His "playing" is spot-on. Uncle Roy's blend of sesame seeds, chilies, cilantro, green onions and spiced-up Korean-style barbecue have the crowds lining up for more. And the crowds are big, very big.

"I think it is safe to say, we average 600 to 1,000 people a day depending upon special events that are booked through our catering department," said co-founder Caroline Shin-Manguera via e-mail.

Shin-Manguera said that her husband and Kogi founder, Mark Manguera, came up with the idea when her younger sister, Alice Shin, visited Los Angeles in the summer.

"We had our launch party on Nov. 20, and had our day out one week after," said Shin-Manguera.

"Kogi took a couple months to catch on," said Shin-Manguera. "It was quite hard to give our tacos away for free when we first started. We got very excited when we started selling $200 worth of tacos a night. We thought we were doing really well at that point."

Shin-Manguera still seems boggled by their overwhelming success: "We never really accepted this phenomenon that Kogi became because every sale seemed like such a milestone for us."

The Kogi phenomenon is more than just a milestone for the people who made it happen. It highlights the malleability of Korean cuisine and its ability to seamlessly fall into the melting pot of American cuisine, a much-needed quality in an increasingly globalized world. In a sense, Kogi's wallet-friendly dishes open a new avenue for Korean food in the States, one where it can be fused with other cuisines and remain highly affordable.

Naturally, none of this would have been possible without Uncle Roy's culinary wizardry. Not one to shroud his recipes in an aura of mysticism, he divulges the ingredients to the kimchi sauerkraut that tops the Kogi dog (his take on the hot dog).

"Kimchi sauerkraut is kimchi cooked with rice vinegar, sugar and sesame seeds."

Yet throughout the e-mail interview, Choi refrained from imbuing his tacos with an overreaching cultural significance. For him, the birth of the Kogi taco "was an experiment of different flavors with the focus on the street culture of L.A." and "the blend of Korean-Mexican comes from dried chilies and lime juice."

After all, it is what it is: good grub. So, will people outside of Los Angeles get to see what all the fuss is about?

"We hope to see our business grow and flourish into areas outside of LA, and maybe internationally, but we shall see," said Shin-Manguera. ◦

South Korean women fighting back

On March 25, a 31-year-old woman, only identified by the surname Lee, was tending a convenience store in Pocheon, Gyeonggi Province, at around 3 a.m.
A 30-something man, who had just left the store after buying beer, came back and tried to assault her. Lee quickly used her tear gas spray on him, and the perpetrator ran away.

Earlier this month, police arrested a 37-year-old man named Gwak on charges of attempted assault after analyzing footage from the store's surveillance camera.

Lee's successful self-defense may seem an isolated case, but there is a growing demand for self-defense products and CCTVs in the market - especially following a series of random crimes against women.

Korea has been considered a relatively safe place to live. But after serial killer Kang Ho-soon admitted to murdering at least eight women, more women say they feel uneasy about being out at night.

In an online survey of 889 university students in March regarding the Kang Ho-soon case, some 260 female respondents, or of the women surveyed, said they try to go home early, the online job portal Albamon said.

About 20 percent of women said they grew more interested in self-defense. Nearly 94 percent of total participants said since the serial killing incident, they have felt scared upon encountering someone at night.

The sale of self-defense products from January to March soared 80 percent compared to the same period last year, according to the country's major internet shopping website Interpark.

In the period leading up to March 14, which Koreans celebrate as "White Day" by giving their loved ones candy and presents, gift sets containing self-defense items were popular on online shopping sites.

Internet retailer Auction said it has sold some 4,500 gift sets in one week in early March. Similarly, Gmarket said the sale of self-defense products in early March tripled compared to the same period last year.

Interpark said the best-sellers are gas sprays in lipstick cases, accounting for about 70 percent of their total sales, as they are discreet and easy to carry. Other popular products include whistles and pepper sprays that do not require permission.

A manufacturer of self-defense items said its sales doubled shortly after the Kang Ho-soon case made the news, but has steadily decreased recently.

The widespread anxiety has also led mobile phone manufacturers to unveil products designed to sound an alarm when activated by the user.

In late March, Samsung Electronics unveiled the Anycall SPH-W7100 phone with a loud, 100-decibel alarm which can be activated by pulling a ring connected to the top of the handset in case of emergency. This "Bodyguard Phone" also has a GPS function to transmit the location of the user in case the alarm is de-activated forcibly and sends SOS messages to the user's parents.

Samsung's Haptic Pop SCH-W750 phone also provides safety features, such as easy SOS button options to set off a fake incoming call ring-tone and an alarm.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Bloomberg: Good News Springs Up 7,000 Miles From New York

If you’re looking for signs the world economy is bottoming out, South Korea could be the place.

It’s entirely possible things will get worse globally. Recessions may deepen, asset prices may slide further and credit markets may remain locked up. Doomsayers like Nouriel Roubini still make plausible arguments that things will just get nastier.

Amid such risks, hints that the Bank of Korea’s most aggressive round of interest rate cuts in a decade is coming to an end are a rare ray of sunlight. Among developed economies, Korea’s was arguably the first sent into freefall by the global crisis. Iceland got more headlines, yet as the world’s 13th largest economy, South Korea is one that really matters.

Signs that Korea’s deepest contraction in more than a decade is abating could be a harbinger of a more stable world economy. Not yet vibrant growth, still, after 18 months of plunging stocks and household panic, a steadier Korea would indeed be a positive development. The reason: it would have significance not only in Seoul, but 7,000 miles away in New York.

It really is hard to think of an economy that went from growth to crisis faster than South Korea. It was the first nation to rebound from Asia’s 1997-1998 financial crisis. In late 2008, Korean officials found themselves shooting down speculation their economy would again cascade into chaos. Today, there’s far less chatter about Korea going the way of Iceland.

Risks Abound

Risks abound, of course. South Korea’s vulnerability was painfully apparent after the failure of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. The U.S. and Japanese recessions are far from over. Korea’s ability to export its way back to health is very limited. And North Korea’s recent rocket launch added a new layer of geopolitical risk.

Protesters forced the cancellation of a weekend meeting of Asian leaders in Pattaya, Thailand. That would have been a rare opportunity for Korea, Japan, China and other regional powers to cooperate to stem the global crisis.

South Korea’s central bank governor, Lee Seong Tae, made a significant observation last week: the pace of Korea’s slowdown “moderated significantly” since the bank’s February meeting. Policy makers last week left the benchmark rate unchanged for a second month. Also, factory output gained for a second month in February and manufacturer confidence rose to a five-month high.

Such data dovetail with some tentative signs that the U.S. may be nearing a bottom. Asian stocks were buoyed when U.S. first-time claims for unemployment insurance fell 20,000 in the most recent report and as Wells Fargo & Co. reported a record quarterly profit.

A Little Optimism

White House chief economic adviser Lawrence Summers said conditions have eased in credit markets and voiced confidence that the slide in U.S. growth will end within the next few months. Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City President Thomas Hoenig said government stress tests of banks will probably indicate most don’t need more taxpayer money. U.S. President Barack Obama said he’s “starting to see progress” toward a recovering economy.

Again, it’s all tentative and subject to big and sudden surprises. If you had $1 for every time in the past two years a pundit said “this is the bottom,” you could probably open your own hedge fund. Yet unlike two months ago, there’s actually some comforting news to be found about the global economy.

Korea is a case in point.

“An economic recovery will be very slow,” Kim Jae Chun, director general at the central bank, said last week. And yet after the turbulence and fear of the last couple of years, that sounds pretty good. Think about it. Two years ago, investors would have been aghast at the idea of an L-shaped global recovery. Today, many would gladly welcome one.

Slower Growth

Asian governments need to learn how to live for a while with 1 percent or 2 percent growth -- not the usual 6 percent or 7 percent. That transition will be as difficult for Korea as anywhere. In December, the central bank predicted 2 percent growth in 2009. It now expects a 2.4 percent contraction.

Still, I never bought into the view that Korea was the basket case many claimed. Last week’s bond sale should shelve talk of short-term liquidity or balance of payments shock. South Korea sold $3 billion of dollar-denominated bonds overseas to bolster the won. It’s good news for credit markets from Seoul to New York that Korea attracted orders for more than double that amount.

As Asian Development Bank President Haruhiko Kuroda told me in Manila recently, Asia learned a lot from its crisis. Improvements in financial sectors since then are paying off amid the current global meltdown.

Cash, Credit, Jobs

Governments also are acting more quickly to stabilize growth. South Korea’s most recent plan, for example, spends 17.7 trillion won ($13 billion) on cash handouts, cheap loans and job training to revive things.

Japan’s record 15.4 trillion yen ($154 billion) stimulus plan is worth considering here. So are Japan’s previous packages and China’s 4 trillion yuan ($585 billion) plan. That means Asia’s two biggest financial powers are tossing a combined $835 billion at their economies.

It’s a positive development for world growth. Events in Seoul may offer an early indication that such steps are paying off and that it’s time to buy the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

South Korea begins F1 track construction

Construction has begun on the site of the Korean International Circuit in South Korea's South Jeolla province as the endeavour gets under way to host the country's first Formula One race in October 2010.

At 5.6 kilometres in length, including a 1100-metre straight, the track promises to be the longest in Asia.

Situated over 350 kilometres southwest of Seoul, the venue's plans show enough space for 135,000 spectators, of which 120,000 will have access to grandstand seats. The Hermann Tilke-designed circuit, featuring a harbourside portion with grandstands facing the pitlane and the ocean, will be run counterclockwise.

The semi-permanent track is a joint venture between private and public organisations; the Korean Grand Prix has a seven-year contract running from 2010 to 2016 with a renewable option.

The venue's promoter, Korea Auto Valley Operation (KAVO), expects that the construction work should be completed by mid-summer next year, allowing for a four-month gap before the Korean Grand Prix debut.


Video: Hyundai USA - The Cinderella Story

ABCs Nightline story, 10 Apr 2009.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Foreign investors lead Kosdaq rebound

Foreign investors are leading the current Kosdaq rally, amid mounting concerns over the overly heated secondary stock market, industry officials said yesterday.

While institutional investors - who had long been at the forefront of purchasing tech-loaded Kosdaq stocks - have recently turned away from the market, more foreigners have been replacing them to lead the bullish trend of the Kosdaq. Analysts said the secondary bourse may move above the 500 point level soon, the first since last August.

According to FnGuide, an online financial information provider, yesterday, expatriates posted net sales of 565.7 billion ($425.8 million) worth of Kosdaq-listed stocks for the past three years - 119.9 billion won in July, 260.9 billion in February and 184.9 billion in March. This month, however, they have recorded net purchasing of 41.9 billion won in the market already.

Institutions, on the other hand, posted net sales of 75.5 billion won over the time. For the past three months, they reported net purchasing of 680.3 billion won worth of Kosdaq-listed shares. "Since the beginning of this year, institutions have thought highly of Kosdaq company's fundamental outlook," said Kim Jin-ho, an analyst of Hana Daetoo Securities, in a recent report.

"Foreign investors seem to have finally opened their eyes to the global competitiveness of the market," he continued.

IT companies have been especially popular among foreigners, as they recorded net buying of 29.2 billion won worth of IT hardware-related shares so far this month. Last month, they posted net sales of 3.6 billion won worth of related stocks.

By company, Megastudy, a Seoul-based education company deriving a huge chunk of revenues from its online operations, sold 1.82 billion won worth of its stocks to foreign investors this month, followed by touch screen solution company Digitech System (1.5 billion won), CJ Home Shopping (490 million won) and Kiwoom Securities (30 million won).

Industry specialists advise not to make blind investments in pursuit of quick profit realization.

"Foreign investors are completely performance oriented, even in Kosdaq. Popularity of comparatively crisis-resistant companies, such as Megastudy and video game makers, proves it," Jung Myung-ji, researchers of Samsung Securities, said in a report.

KTO and KBS Radio launch new "Learn Korean" site

"The Korean language is simple and comprehensive, and is considered one of the most scientific writing systems in the world. However, learning Korean isn't easy especially for English speakers. This section allows learners to practice Korean more easily. You can learn Korean from a beginners level to a more advanced level. Also, you can practice conversations in Korean when it comes to different situations."

KTF launches mobile-controlled cleaning robot

KTF, the South Korean carrier that just released the Nokia 6210s, announced the introduction of a Cleaning Robot which can be controlled via 3G mobile phones.

Built in collaboration with the Korean company Microbot, the CW100 robot – which is actually a very smart vacuum cleaner – uses video calling to send live images to your phone. By seeing what the robot sees, you can remotely control its actions, helped by your phone’s keypad.

KTF says the new robot can also be used for monitoring kids, elders or pets at home.

The CW100 bot costs 500,000 KRW ($370) and it’s sold together with a wireless data plan of 5,000 KRW ($3.7) per month – required for video calling.

Reportedly, KTF intends to export the CW100 robot to France, through a partnership with France Telecom.

North Korea's Kim brings close relative to center stage

North Korean strongman Kim Jong Il is officially back on center stage following a reported stroke, but has promoted a trusted in-law to the spotlight in the clearest sign yet he is making preparations for an eventual successor, analysts said Friday.

Though looking thinner and grayer, and limping slightly, Kim's appearance at the closely watched first session of the North's new parliament Thursday was more than enough to lay to rest any lingering doubts about his health, and prove he is in charge.

Kim appointed his brother-in-law Jang Song Thaek to the all-powerful National Defense Commission, providing analysts with clues about what the future may hold for North Korea after Kim either dies or becomes incapacitated.

The appointment shows Kim is trying to prepare for his eventual departure and pave the way to hand power to one of his sons, analysts said, just as he himself inherited the mantle from his late father, North Korea's founder Kim Il Sung.

"In a system like North Korea, there is nobody else to trust but one's own flesh and blood," said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Seoul's Dongguk University. "Jang is expected to play a decisive role in strengthening Kim's rule and as a guardian of Kim's successor."

Jang, 63, is married to Kim's younger sister. He has been considered the person most likely to lead a collective leadership that would probably emerge if Kim leaves the scene, as no single person is yet believed poised to take over.

Kim has three known sons with two different mothers, and Jang is believed to back Kim's youngest son, 26-year-old Jong Un, as successor.

A technocrat trained in the former Soviet Union, Jang was a rising star in North Korean politics until he was summarily demoted in early 2004 in what analysts believe was a warning from Kim against gathering too much influence. But Kim rehabilitated Jang in 2006 and he has since held posts in the ruling Workers' Party.

In another possible succession related move, the Supreme People's Assembly approved a motion to amend North Korea's constitution. No details were available, but in the 1990s, a similar amendment paved the way for Kim to assume leadership from his father.

Choi Jin-wook, a North Korea expert at the government-funded Korea Institute for National Unification, said Jang's appointment and the constitutional revision must be "aimed at laying the groundwork for a successor as well as stabilizing his regime."

The Supreme People's Assembly re-elected Kim to his post as chairman of the National Defense Commission, the North's most powerful post, quelling months of speculation over whether the 67-year-old leader was healthy enough to rule the communist country.

The session marked the first state event Kim has attended in months. Concerns about his health — and grip on power — emerged after he missed a September ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the North's founding. South Korean and U.S. officials later said a stroke had felled him in August.

The personality cult surrounding Kim appeared as strong as ever. He appeared calmly in charge, showing no emotion as hundreds of members of the rubber stamp legislature clapped and cheered the announcement of his unanimous re-election.

In Pyongyang on Friday, tens of thousands of North Koreans rallied to celebrate Kim's re-election and pledged their loyalty. A red-and-white banner at the center of the city's main Kim Il Sung Square read, "Let's safeguard the revolutionary leadership headed by comrade Kim Jong Il with our lives," APTN footage showed.

Kim's return to the spotlight was buoyed by what North Korea claims was the launch of a satellite into outer space. Pyongyang claims it successfully put a communications satellite into orbit Sunday and it is transmitting data and playing patriotic odes to Kim and his father.

U.S. and South Korean military officials say nothing made it into orbit and accuse Pyongyang of using the launch to test its long-range missile technology.

The launch has caused an international outcry, with the U.S., Japan and South Korea pushing for U.N. Security Council censure of Pyongyang. They say the launch violates previous U.N. resolutions prohibiting North Korea from using ballistic missile technology. North Korea counters the launch was allowed under a U.N. space treaty.

So far, the council has been unable to come up with a common response as China and Russia, both veto-wielding permanent members, have all but ruled out allowing the passage of anything more than a press statement that carries no legal weight. Differences of opinion between Japan and the U.S. have also emerged.

Chinese President Hu Jintao congratulated the North's leader on his re-election, saying in a message that Beijing is ready to work with Pyongyang to "further boost the good-neighborly, friendly and cooperative ties," the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Nevertheless, Japan moved Friday to extend and strengthen its own economic sanctions against North Korea for another year, lowering the cap on remittances that must be reported and reducing the amount of money visitors can carry into the North.

In Japan, U.S. Sen. John McCain said Friday North Korea's rocket launch demonstrates the need for investment in missile defense systems. "I believe there is no more compelling argument for missile defense capability than what just happened with the North Korean launch," McCain told reporters at a news conference in Tokyo.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Series of "Forbes" articles on wireless in South Korea

The Future Of Wireless
Korea Bridges Digital Divide
Why Korea Isn't Rushing To 4G
Grappling With Internet Addiction


Thursday, April 02, 2009

Controversy over "Thirst" movie posters

Original (legs open).

Government approved (legs closed).

Korean 'Thirst' poster banned

"Oldboy" director back from the dead

Director Park Chan-wook seems in a class by himself. Even though he is a Korean filmmaker, his name is recognizable around the world in award-winning films such as "Oldboy" (2003).

His international celebrity, however, did not automatically translate into hefty box-office profits. For instance, "I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK" (2006) was not OK for investors and distributors, failing miserably in terms of ticket sales despite the high-profile casting of Asia-wide star Rain.

When his next project, "Thirst," began circulating in the domestic media in recent months, expectations surged again and critics lost no time talking up Park's newfound appetite for a vampire film, a genre unfamiliar among Korean moviegoers.

But Park seemed confident about his peculiar decision to tackle the traditionally Western subject, suggesting that he would sate the growing thirst of his fans around the world.

"I am in no position to say that 'Thirst' would be the best film in my career, but I can definitely say that this is my favorite movie ever," Park told reporters at a news conference in Seoul on Tuesday to offer a glimpse of the well-shrouded film. A press screening is expected in a couple of weeks.

Bolstering Park's confidence is the unprecedented amount of time and energy he devoted to the film. Park said he spent 10 years bringing this vampire story to the screen. Moreover, he said he has infused part of his self into the main character for the first time.

"The character's weakness and absurd justification is very similar to my character, and even when I take a moviegoer's perspective myself, this film best reflects my taste," Park said.

Park pulled off an investment and distribution partnership with Universal Pictures International, marking the first deal of its kind for a Korean film. Under the deal, Focus Pictures, a unit of Universal, will distribute "Thirst" to the North American market.

The film starts off with a secret vaccine project involving a priest named Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho). An unexpected mishap in a medical experiment turns him into a vampire who has to struggle between his desire for blood and his religious faith. His newly transformed life, however, gets turned upside down when he comes across his friend's wife Tae-ju (Kim Ok-vin), a relationship that turns deadly.

Song Kang-ho, widely regarded as one of the most bankable Korean actors, said "Thirst" is eventually a tale about love.

"This movie involves fatal love, melodrama and forbidden desire, but I believe the key message is love that is eternal and unlimited in scope," Song said.

Song first heard about the project when he was working with Park on "JSA" in 1999.

"I was speechless when Park told me about the vampire story, because I couldn't get his idea at all and I wondered whether it would ever be made into a film," he said.

Park expressed his satisfaction about the casting.

"Song Kang-ho is very smart and he has a great focus. There were a lot of requests for changes in acting on the set, but Song meets such abrupt demands perfectly as if he has practiced his performance for many days," Park said.

Casting Kim Ok-vin was deemed a surprise by the domestic film industry because her career has been relatively brief. But Park said he was pleasantly surprised by Kim's handling of her character.

"I wanted an actress who could play an unstable character who made observers worried and anxious, and Kim's performance topped my expectations," Park said.

"Thirst," distributed by CJ Entertainment, will be released nationwide on April 30.