[kpop] SHINee popped up in post-apocalyptic manhwa, Lessa

I am happily reading a new manhwa, Lessa, about a demon-hunter Rano who is trying to find his sister. On his mission, he comes across Lessa, someone who has the same sharpened teeth as demons, but does not possess their horns.

To my surprise, in the first few pages of this manhwa, Rano dreams about Lessa, only to be woken up by a SHINee alarm, to the tune of Sherlock. 

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Totally not expecting that! The last time I saw a kpop reference in manga was in Kuragehime, where Kuranosuke wears a BIGBANG t-shirt.

Just a bit about Lessa it can be categorized as shounen, seinen, supernatural. The art is passable, but I especially like how the character Lessa is drawn, which is the main shallow reason why I persist in reading this manhwa. The storyline is not bad, but can be quite unsatisfying because there is still a lot unexplained at this point. If you are rather impatient, do not begin reading Lessa until spring, where there will be many more chapters to sate your impatience.

[kpop] best rookie groups 2012

This very biased selection is based on quality of members–mostly dance and singing, but looks are considered as well, debut track(s), and live performances.

EXO was easily the most anticipated group to debut this year. Though not of epic proportions, their tracks are slickly produced and the groups are well-balanced with many talented individuals in each. At any rate, their debut was more solid than f(x), Super Junior, and even, SNSD. If SM plays their cards right, 2013 could be a very large year for EXO.

NU-EST played their cards extremely well, despite holding a few weak cards. A well-written debut song, one of the first to capitalize on the ‘new’ europop invasion, and including one very intriguing member, Ren. Dancing and lives are unspectacular though, and the shock of a pretty face will not last forever.

Regarding true singing talent, Lunafly and Busker Busker, in this respect, are both promising.

I hesitate to include BAP, but I see way too many BAP fans around me to think of them as a minor rookie group. They did have a nice, unified concept in debut; but alas, their track to me was stuck in the 2005, way too brassy and heavy, trying out a 2PM concept that barely fit.

A.cian‘s whole debut album is a beautifully crafted imitation of europop. That’s about it. Due to the constantly changing nature of kpop, I doubt they will release a europop album like this next time– if there is a next time.

Like A.cian, Cross Gene delivered an amazingly crafted imitation of europop for their debut. The facts that they have Japanese, Chinese, and Korean members and released simultaneously in Japanese and Korean are very nice bonuses. Another great bonus? Their live singing is A-OK (but please hire another choreographer).

Rounding out the last of the europop imitators, we have A-JAX. Someone fetch them a new stylist.

[handwritten/kpop] thoughts on SHINee disbandment.

First let me dispel any rumors that come of this post– SHINee is NOT disbanding. Yet, given the track record SM has with disbandment and my being a huge SHINee fan, this topic is fascinating to think about. Please note that everything I wrote or drew is for poking fun and making light, not to be mean or offensive.

I recently found my original legal notepad version, which I intended to scan. However, I also recently received an iPad 3, so I decided to try writing out the post on a beautiful notebook app I downloaded, Paper. Warning: my handwriting is atrocious, because the iPad, its apps, and accompanying styli, still suck tremendously for handwritten notes.

[lifestyle] I don’t get the obsession behind banana milk

Apparently, banana milk has been around Korea since the 1970s, and has enjoyed enduring popularity to today– even Lee Minho and SNSD have done commercials for banana milk and SHINee macros are all plastered with references to banana milk.

SNSD promoting Binggrae banana milk.

So, as I spied this particular brand of banana milk, Binggrae, in the refrigerated section of a supermarket in Shanghai, I decided to try one for once. However, I was totally unimpressed. Coming from a Western taste palate, it did not taste like a true banana at all. Bananas naturally are not terribly sweet, but Korean banana milk is terribly sweet, in the style of candy. In other words, blech. Though it did not leave an unpleasant aftertaste, while I was drinking it, I could not stop thinking I was drinking liquid candy and thinking how terribly unhealthy that would be. The milk base was rather thin, as well. If you have ever tasted Vita Soy soymilk, the consistency of Binggrae is a bit like that, except a tad weaker.

Despite this disappointment in banana milk, I do rather like the Korean aloe drinks and 2% Apple, a fruit flavored water (other flavors include: peach, lemon, grape, and pomegranate). Have you tried any Korean drinks? What were your impressions?

[kpop] Michelle reacts to Kids React to K-Pop

TheFineBros is a comedy channel on YouTube, and their most watched segments are “Kids React To…” and yesterday, it was revealed to be kpop.

They watched SNSD’s “Gee“, Super Junior’s “Bonamona“, and 2NE1’s “I AM THE BEST“. Right from the get-go, this video attracted haters, and I have got to say, some of it was sort of justified.

Some comments made by the kids that especially struck me:

#1: I can’t understand this. Why do people listen to it if they can’t understand it?

It’s like watching subtitled movies, eating Mexican food, listening to Bach. You may not understand the language, you may not know how to cook Mexican, you may have no idea what the heck a semidemiquaver is, but you can enjoy it nonetheless.

#2: What is up with my generation?! How can people listen to such horrible music?!

This was just mainly one kid. He was so effusive and exaggerated about asserting what crap kpop is, and how he hates his generation. Fine, rag on the music being crap, but not on people of your generation! They like what they like, you hate what you hate. Fair?

#3: omg they’re just imitating Pussycat Dolls! … (think for a minute) Lady Gaga!

Eye-roll. I feel like nowadays when anybody ever does anything crazy, it is always compared to Lady Gaga or is imitating Lady Gaga. I remember reading some YouTube comments for Dev’s “In the Dark“– amazing track, by the way– and comment after comment was like, “She’s crazy. Like Lady Gaga!” Probably you can pull out any popular electropop nowadays and you will see some “Reminds me of Lady Gaga” out there. Though I think Lady Gaga is an inspiration, I think it is a little early for her to be influencing performers that have already been performing for much longer or around same time frame as she has. Plus, everyone wants to be different– that’s their selling point. What you don’t get with Gaga is what you do get with 2NE1, with Dev, etc. Rather than just seeing something nutty and labelling it as Gaga-esque, you need to consider if the nutty is in Gaga-style. I think most of us can agree that 2NE1-nutty is not Gaga-nutty.

#4: “What language are they singing in?” — “Chinese.” “Japanese.” (a billion years later) “Korean!”

I recognize the fact that none of them are East Asian and thus may not have much exposure to Korean. Chinese is increasingly taught in more schools in the United States, China is seen increasingly as an antagonistic rival to the US and garnering more media coverage, and Japanese has long enjoyed a cult status in Hollywood, like Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls, Quentin Tarantino’s movie “Kill Bill” and lots of popular dubbed anime like Naruto and Dragon Ball Z. To be honest, I did not learn what Korean BBQ was until my senior year of high school (!).

Nonetheless, I sort of hit my head on the keyboard when so many of the kids failed to identify that it was Korean.

Now reclining in my Throne as Queen of Pretension, I have to say, those older kids were being pretty pretentious. They were trying to make very strong judgments from mal-formed opinions.

However, I only said that the anger directed toward this video is “sort of” justified.

Because look, they’re kids.

still have a soft spot for Mr. Frodo ^^

They’re airheads, but they’re children. I remember that age I was an airhead too. I loved Lord of the Rings and started calling everyone names from Lord of the Rings. I thought Daniel Radcliffe was the coolest boy on the planet because he played Harry Potter, even though he wasn’t good-looking or anything. I fawned over my battle prowess in Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh and petted myself as the strongest trainer there was even though the time I spent with a GameBoy was negligible. I thought George W. Bush should win the 2000 election. Heck, I even thought Bush should win the 2004 election, because John Kerry came across as creepy to me. I even wrote a stellar essay on why George Bush should win– which got me an A for the semester. But did I really know anything in-depth about the issues? About the war? About tax programs? Not at all. I just thought Kerry was a good-for-nothing-flip-flopper. Unless you are a prodigy, which very few of us are, it is really hard for us to absorb so much information at young ages and actually know how to process and understand it. So a lot of what we ‘understand’ as young children are just sound-bites like “flip-flopper” and half-formed opinions we regurgitate from our parents or custodians.

Second, they’re American kids. Especially for the Caucasians who probably do not speak a second language at home, they will probably never need to know any other language other than English for their entire lives. As diverse as America is, our language is extremely insular, due to the fact that English is the lingua franca or common language of the modern world today. One can pretty much get by in the industrialized world just knowing English.

Of course, I am not saying that these traits should be encouraged– because airheads don’t contribute much to the economy, it is personally enriching to know other languages– but we should all recognize that as preteens, we were all once know-it-all airheads and allow a little more leeway for these children when criticizing things like this video. We should not be “Imma stab you with a fork” but rather, putting it in simple and gentle terms why they are mistaken in their views.

I also am skeptical that if they were raised in a more culturally-aware environment they would turn out to be great global children-citizens, because children will be children, and so children will be airheads about some things or the other. They might not say something like All Asians Look Alike again but they might say something else just as politically incorrect. No one is born with a politically-correct compass within them; it is something we learn as we grow.

Though the video was exasperating for those aforementioned comments, a good half of them said they would listen to kpop again, and they said it looked very “future-y”. Taken in good humor, it was genuinely funny and entertaining to watch. Also, don’t tell me that none of y’all haven’t ever had a moment where you’re watching kpop and thinking, “what in the world are they doing?!”

Jaejoong the alien. I still don't like this hairstyle of his.. !

I guess some people had beef with the fact that some kids looked down on Korean artists for not creating their own music. America prides itself on originality, and I believe it does hold true in much more cases compared to kpop. Gaga, Britney, Beyonce, Katy, they all hold much more singing and producing credits than do BoA, Hyori, Rain, Se7en. So even if  the American stars’ contributions were negligible, the US perpetuates a (facade of) self-production culture that South Korea does not perpetuate.

In the end, I renounce all claims to judge their opinions, for I can also remember my phase when I had a vendetta against Asian pop stars. My mother always used to read the entertainment sections in Chinese newspapers and while she read them I would prance around her, pointing at grainy pictures printed in the paper, saying that these Asian people had weird hair and their fashion sense belonged to aliens. Nowadays, I’m just like, “Hey look, Jaejoong is in the news.”

[culture] “The Man From Nowhere”: this movie could also be called, “Won-Bin-Has-a-New-Fan-Named-Michelle.”

I feel guilty. Instead of working on SMTown fan accounts, I scrubbed around Amazon Prime Instant Videos and watched stuff. I tried doing a bit of Ken Burns, and then stumbled on The Man From Nowhere. So instead of a SHINee review, I offer you The Man From Nowhere review first (please hit me now if you need to to).

The Man From Nowhere is about the drug trafficking and organ harvesting underworld, and about a little girl with a druggie mom and a lonely almost misanthropic male pawnbroker, Cha Tae-Sik (Won Bin), a neighbor, who has a growing relationship with the little girl. Almost inevitably, the little girl and her druggie mom are kidnapped by the bad guys in the drug trafficking and organ harvesting world, and cue the hero! The misanthropic pawnbroker!

What follows is quite a bit of action afterwards. Lots of bloody action. Think Bourne Identity and Kill Bill– lots of knitty-gritty, and not a lot of special effects, though in Asian fashion, a bit exaggerated bloodletting (the fine misty spray!).

I’m embarrassed to say, but I screamed, “OPPA!” quite a bit while watching it; it’s that gripping. Though Cha Tae-Sik is a man of few words, his smouldering presence just screamed all of the emotions he has inside him, emotions that he is properly expressing for the first time; emotions that are dangerously murderous yet we still feel for him– for that, Won Bin is an amazing actor. His portrayal of Cha Tae-Sik is what ultimately moved the movie along: we follow his tracks, we follow his thinking, and we cry and we are happy with him. Also, Won Bin wore a suit for 90% of the movie, even while fighting various gangsters, and still managed to look suave.

I’ve read several reviews of The Man From Nowhere, and a majority seem to malign the acting, one even commenting that it was ‘lazy’. I thought that except for Won Bin and perhaps Kim Sae-ron (So-mi, the little girl), no one was exceptional, they were all passable, but certainly not bad. Gangsters always have an archetype, and with every movie, it is increasingly hard to find a different way to portray them.

Another point of contention seems to be the predictability of the storyline. That, I disagree with slightly. Most of the time, in Korean movies and dramas, the main characters will never have major setbacks, only minor ones, and will come out with the happiest possible ending imaginable. The Man From Nowhere did have two major setbacks, and the ending (not to spoil anything!) can leave you crying and/or feeling happy. These setbacks left me guessing until the end. However, the one thing that bothered me in the storyline was Cha Tae-Sik’s backstory. Total predictable fluff. It either should have been expanded to get it relieved of its ‘fluff’ status or gotten rid of entirely; the film should have left some tantalizing clues and let the audience wonder about the mysteries themselves.

Watch if:

  • you love blood (i.e. you enjoyed watching Kill Bill tremendously).
  • you liked Lee Minho’s shaggy haircut in City Hunter (not joking. Won Bin’s haircut in the beginning of the movie. Lee Minho must have been channeling Won Bin.)
  • you have a weakness for misanthropic men who are mysterious and have a dark past. Who also seem to have a soft spot towards children.
  • you like gangster / vigilante / epic knife fight movies.

Don’t watch if:

  • you can’t stand blood.
  • you can’t stand harsh realities. I, for one, thought the girl was going to be sold into prostitution. Not the case, but still some pretty graphic realities.
  • you have to finish writing three fan accounts of SMTown NYC.

[kpop/review] Japanese Lucifer, SHINee. More fangirl fodder in slightly different flavors

My last post was rather melodramatic, telling the still-unraveling tale of my disillusionment with SHINee. However, the first time I watched Japanese Lucifer, I squealed like a newly minted fangirl. The second time I watched Japanese Lucifer, I squealed and the third time, and the fourth time..

Let’s take a look at components of the video and perhaps at the end, I can give you insight on why I had such an embarrassingly fangirly reaction.

singing

To my great relief, no one’s part was changed and swapped in favor of another member. However, I think Taemin and Onew actually dominate in the chorus this time around, but I am not completely sure since the chorus is still an autotuned mess; however, the chorus definitely sounds tonally different, not at all due to the fact they are singing in a different language.

I have had quite a few people comment to me that their Japanese sounds unnatural; that I concur with, they seem like Korean singers singing in Korean with some Japanese sprinkled in between. Also, Lucifer was heavily conceived in Korean*, and is a heavily articulated song based on the spoken words themselves, so it would sound off in any language that it is translated and sung in.

Minho. I cannot lie, the first time I watched it and heard him singing for the first time in Japanese, I was mean, and I could not stop shrieking in laughter. A little froggy voice coming out of a man (I refuse to think of him as boy next door anymore) is unnatural. If you follow my formspring, you probably read sometime that I do not think Minho is cut out to be a singer, mainly because of his timbre. Of course, this is mostly a value judgment on my part, but hey, is there any popular singer out there that sings like a strangled frog and has a similar body build to Minho? Nope. I am betting that there will never be. Eminem may not be a good singer, but when he sings his choruses, Eminem sounds like.. Eminem! Jay-Z sounds like Jay-Z! Kanye sounds like Kanye! SM needs to be told having a mainstream voice is not necessary, and that it’s perfectly fine for someone just to rap. The best examples of this in the kpop industry right now are G-Dragon and TOP.

This might just be because of different people mastering tracks, but Jonghyun’s long note  is one measure shorter in Japanese Lucifer than in Korean Lucifer. 

*The lyrics for Lucifer are by Yoo Young Jin, composed and arranged by Ryan Jhun, Yoo Young Jin, Adam Kapit, and Bebe Rexha; predominantly Koreans. 

dancing 

Tight. As usual. Jonghyun retains all of his center positions. I’m satisfied.

style / fashion

Onew was easily the best-looking in this video. His outfit at 0.24s was the most memorable mainly because of the colors, the divisions, and his slightly thinner frame. In Korean Lucifer, Jonghyun owned the body wave when he sang his long note, but this time, the body wave was owned by Onew at 3.51s, again helped by his slimmer body. Heck, he even managed a wink at 2.37s; intentionally or not, Onew winked and still gave off the I-am-sex-manly-sex aura.

Minho at 3.26s, hello lead manga character! He was the second most handsome. The haircut suits him and gets rid of his frog look that sort of surfaced in Korean Lucifer and was full-blown in Hello.

Jonghyun looked essentially the same. In fact, I think they recycled concepts for Jonghyun’s outfits. The studded jacket he wears in his solo shots have definitely appeared in Korean promotions of Lucifer. Pause at 0.28s, you see him wearing a ribbon bracelet. Honestly, it seems like a total afterthought. (Stylist: “Gosh darn, I just copied the previous concept! Let’s add this ribbon bracelet for contrast! Yeah, studs and ribbons! Genius!”)

Clown hat. Taemin was wearing a black leather clown hat. Such an afterthought as well, put in for shock value rather than aesthetic harmony.

The makeup artists were extremely phenomenal this time. They used a palette of nudes, charcoals, and just a touch of red– the red that you find on rabid animals and zombies (don’t believe me? Jonghyun at 3.40s. Chills, man). Korean Lucifer was over the top, all of them wearing heavy eye makeup except for Jonghyun– giving them an unintended insouciance, while Japanese Lucifer seems so much more sedate and mature. All of SHINee are naturally handsome, so the nude palette really highlighted this subtlety in natural beauty, which I think the Japanese, more so than plastic aficionados in South Korea, tend to gravitate towards and value. Come on, the song’s title is Lucifer and SHINee looks corpse, and slightly undead? Very cool.

No, I didn’t forget about Key. On the theme of subtlety, that is exactly what his hair is (3.56s), a blonde with undertones of black. Very macabre, very subtly couture. Though not as outrageously couture as Korean Lucifer, Key passes.

set

Honestly, I like the Japanese set much better just for the sole fact there are no awkward cars in there.

They redid Ring Ding Dong‘s water scenes in Lucifer fashion (i.e. flo-mo), and even had the same color outfits. Clearly not a coincidence, they were probably trying to pay homage.

Nothing in the set was too spectacular, though Jonghyun’s room which had square holes of light peeking through was just barely there in creativity. I would have liked to see more metaphorical play with light, because after all, “Lucifer” means “light-bringer” in Latin.

production

Especially in the beginning and the water scenes, Taemin is slightly favored, and he is ‘slightly’ favored until the end. I counted how many up-close shots Jonghyun and Taemin had, Taemin was ahead by around 3-4, so it wasn’t significant. Therefore, the group balance was much better this time around.

Cinematography was sharper and had more freedom angular positioning, and the flo-mo was in good taste, not seemingly random as in Japanese Replay. 

so why did you squeal like a newly minted Shawol?

Lucifer was the first single in which each member had equal roles; the SHINee that I fell in love with. Japanese Lucifer just reiterated this balance and equality, packaged for a slightly different market. Moreover, I am a sucker for natural beauty and this sort of minimalism makeup. This may be weird to say, but I actually prefer the audio of Japanese Lucifer, because the mastering is sharper. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I can say the Japanese masterers pay attention to detail very well– for example, 0.49s, the echo was much more defined, and lower; extremely subtle but these sort of details add to an entirely better track overall. Additionally, the quasi-sharpness and the directness of the Japanese language fits very well to this ranty, pissy, anger song.

With this, Japanese recap of Korean repertoire should come to an end. Real jpop (no, Kiss Kiss Kiss does not count!) may just be on the horizon next year, and for that, I am extremely excited. kpop TVXQ? I’ll pass! jpop TVXQ? Genius. kpop BoA? Eh. jpop BoA? Brilliant.

SM, you hear? No more repackaging! Send SHINee to Japanese boot camp! Whip Jonghyun’s accent into shape! Don’t let Onew become any thinner! Their goal is to be jpop TVXQ. Or better.

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