I love Koreatown in the springtime…

Wherein I blog about all things Korean in Los Angeles

Breaking into Jail August 31, 2007

Yesterday at KCC I caught Jailbreaker (광복절특사, KCC called it Jail Breaker and Cineline calls it Jail Breakers), a comedy about two convicts who break out of jail only to discover they’ve been granted a special Independence Day pardon and they have to break back into jail to take advantage of it. I was trying not to go into this with high expectations since I’d been disappointed last week by Marrying the Mafia, but in this case I thought the movie was hilarious. Okay, it wasn’t Radio Star level in poignancy or anything, but on the other hand, it wasn’t trying to be. It succeeded in being exactly what it was trying to be: a funny comedy (sad how those two things so often don’t go together).

Since yesterday evening I’ve been trying to figure out whether this is a comedy that could have been written/made in the US. I still haven’t completely figured it out, but I’m thinking not. The reason is the relationship between the prisoners and the guards. Sure, a fair amount of beating and mistreatment goes on. I mean, it’s a prison, after all. But I didn’t get the impression that the prisoners and guards were enemies in the same way that they would have been in a US movie. I mean, they were but they weren’t. It’s hard to explain. I’ve never been to prison in any country, so I have no idea what conditions and relations are really like there, but it just didn’t feel American to me.

There are plenty of funny moments, and naturally in the end our heroes… No, I won’t give it away. But I will say the writers wrote themselves into a corner, and I had no idea how they were going to get out of it, so it was fun watching how they did. If you’re looking for something lighthearted that will make you laugh, you might give this movie a shot.

Next month KCC is screening The General’s Son trilogy. Check it out here. They totally need to pay me for plugging them (but they don’t).


Cold noodles in cold weather August 28, 2007

Filed under: restaurants — Raven @ 3:35 pm
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I like cold noodles in all weather, but there’s something particularly refreshing about eating them on a warm day. Well, we picked a cold day to go to Ham Hung. Hey, we didn’t know! However, that didn’t detract from the pleasure of eating the noodles.

ham-hung-small.jpgI’m a fan of cold noodles anyway, and at Ham Hung I ordered my fave, 물넁 면. The tangy broth is always refreshing, but sometimes they skimp on the sliced meat and cukes that garnish the noodles (there are always plenty of noodles, though). But Ham Hung did it just right. There was plenty of meat, plenty of cukes, and of course half a hard-boiled egg. Delicious. My only complaint would be that when they were cutting the noodles for me at the table, they didn’t cut them up enough. But maybe slurping up noodles that are way too long is just a natural part of eating cold noodles.

We also ordered a roast meat (I’m not exactly sure what we ordered, but I think it may have been L.A.-style kalbi), which was a tad late in arriving, although I was okay with that since we were busy with the noodles. When it did get to us, it was nicely marinated (not too sweet for my taste) and oh-so-tender (you can grill your own here, but we didn’t). There’s no doubt about it, Korean restaurants get the best meat.p1010075.jpg

We were the only white people in the place, but everybody at Ham Hung was very friendly and welcoming. I think it’s a popular place. There’s even a large sign across the street pointing out where the restaurant is located. There’s also a parking lot across the street, which naturally neither of us noticed until we had both found street parking.

Ham Hung
809 S. Ardmore St.
(at 8th)
Los Angeles, CA 90005


Wearing Glass Slippers While Marrying the Mafia August 24, 2007

Today’s post is about Lee Ki Young. Mostly it’s about him because I just saw him in a movie yesterday and was startled to recognize him from the kdrama I’ve been watching, and this way I can talk about both of them in one post. And also it’s because I’ve been impressed by his acting.

Upon looking up his filmography last night, I realized I had seen him twice before without realizing it. He played the coach in Marathon, which I only managed to see half of, and he was in A Prince’s First Love, an eminently forgettable kdrama in which he played a resort manager (I take it back, I only wish I could forget this drama, that’s how bad it was despite its cast, which also included Cha Tae Hyun of My Sassy Girl fame). I have to say, the role of the manager in particular was so unlike what I’ve been watching Lee Ki Young in recently that I totally would never have recognized him. Guy’s got range. And here I thought they were pigeonholing him as a mafia boss.

A mafia boss is what he was in the movie and drama I mentioned above. The movie, in which he played only the small role of an opposing don, was Marrying the Mafia (not hard to guess there were some gangsters in that one), and it proved to me once again that it’s wiser not to go into a movie with high expectations. It had its moments, but the emotional turning point for the main character was sparked by a tired old cliche of a scene which kind of ruined it for me. I won’t say what it was, but trust me, it should be stricken from the canon of Korean screenwriting.

The same goes for a lot of the kdrama, which is Glass Slipper (DramaWiki calls it Glass Slippers). I mean, seriously, it’s sad when you find the secondary characters in a drama more interesting than the main characters. Glass Slipper started out by setting up some promising characters and situations, but then it advanced everybody fifteen years (I knew that was coming), introduced a new love interest that I really didn’t care about at all, and proceeded to launch into tired, seen-it-a-million-times kdrama territory. Ho hum. However, Lee Ki Young is one of the few interesting characters (there are about three of them, and I perk up whenever any of them show up onscreen). He plays a mafia boss with a heart of gold, which I grant you may not be the most original type possible, but he brings life to the role. His character went against his conscience to get where he is, and we know it (well, okay, partly we know it because we saw him do it in the first few eps, but he did a great job of showing us how it felt). Now I’m waiting with bated breath to see if he redeems himself in the end. I can’t believe I’m actually going to watch all 40 eps of this thing just to find out, but I am. 40 eps. *sigh*

Come to think of it, he brought life to the role of the resort manager in A Prince’s First Love as well, bad though the writing was in that drama. It’s sad when the material doesn’t live up to the actors in it.

Lee Ki Young is also slated to appear (or already is appearing, since I guess it’s currently airing or may have just finished airing) in this year’s much-awaited drama Time Between Dog and Wolf, starring Lee Joon Ki. I’ll be watching this for the two Lees, since I know they both can act. Don’t disappoint me, guys. I’m so tired of being disappointed.


Reading Korean August 21, 2007

Filed under: books & bookstores — Raven @ 11:34 am
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I admit it, I love books. Granted, I don’t read as much as I once did, and I have a shorter attention span than I did as a kid (it’s supposed to be the reverse, isn’t it?), so if I’m reading a passage that’s just not doing it for me, I tend to skip ahead, which I never used to do. This means my books now tend to be read less cover to cover and more bit by bit. But I’m still wildly attracted to bookstores. So naturally one of the first things I want to do when I start learning a new language is find a bookstore and buy some books.

My current Korean book resource is the Korean Book Center, located on the lowest level of the Koreatown Plaza near the market end and called in Korean 정음사 (I’m not sure how they get “Korean Book Center” out of that, since I don’t see 한 in there anywhere, but I admit my Korean is limited). They have a huge online presence here, but I prefer to go to the store and browse around.

The store itself is not huge. In fact, it’s quite small, but they manage to do quite a bit with the space they’ve got. You’re certainly not going to find benches where you can sit and read the books instead of buying them (I’ve never completely understood the logic behind that), but you will find a sufficient language-learning section and a large section of English/American classics in translation, which leads me to believe they probably have a good selection of Korean classics in the original, too (I can’t recognize those yet, so I can’t say). About half the store is devoted to non-fiction, which I tend to avoid since I get enough of real life in my, um, real life, but I did notice a nice section on cooking.

This store is where I bought my $40 Korean-English/English-Korean dictionary which has no transliterations and forces me to use the Korean alphabet (yay!). If you’re looking for Korean books, this store is a reasonable place to start.



Dong Il Jang August 17, 2007

Filed under: restaurants — Raven @ 5:32 pm
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I love KBBQ places that give you a cool rice drink after the meal. It’s the crowning touch, sweet and refreshing in just the right way. Dong Il Jang does that. But that’s not all they do.

p1010012.jpgI forget what cut of meat roast gui is in English. I know it’s not as tender as kalbi. However, at Dong Il Jang it was still quite tasty (just not as melt-in-your-mouth tasty). Even the bits that got a little too charred were tasty (our grill was ornery; maybe it was annoyed that I was adding meat instead of letting the waitress do all the work). So the meat was good. And the panchan were good. In addition to the standard kimchee, bean sprouts, and radish kimchee, they included a cabbage and mayonnaise salad (I’m a sucker for mayonnaise salads, fattening though they are), some yummy seaweed in oil, and some chopped potatoes served warm in a vaguely sweet sauce. Those were my favorite. After the meat, we were each served a bowl of chicken broth with a few radishes in it. And I’m always a fan of chicken broth. But still, none of the things I mentioned above (not even the rice drink at the very end of the meal) are the main thing Dong Il Jang has going for it.

The main thing is the fried rice.

dij-rice.jpgDong Il Jang is one of those places where they come around after you’re done and make fried rice on the grill in all the meat drippings. It was kimchee fried rice, and the waitress also added in some fresh meat (not left over from our meal) and what was left of our radish kimchee. Luckily I didn’t let her add the Korean hot sauce, because I’m sure that would have made the fried rice inedible (for me). It had a kick as it was, from the kimchee, but guess what (and this is a huge admission from Miss Non-Spicy here)? I thought it was really really good, spices or not. I ate three rice bowls of the stuff. Dong Il Jang is definitely on my list of places to go back to, if only for the rice (the pic is of our fried rice in preparation, with an inset of the finished rice).

On the logistical side, they have a parking lot, and the waitstaff speaks comparatively good English. They also have a small koi pond inside, and I think they have private rooms in the back.

Dong Il Jang
3455 West 8th Street
(at Hobart, about 3 blocks east of Western)
Los Angeles, CA 90005


Hyung’s Overture, Part 2 August 14, 2007

Filed under: movies & film — Raven @ 10:50 pm
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I’m positive there should be some kind of pun I can make in this post title. What’s the second half of an overture called? Oh well, I have no idea. Anyway, this isn’t really about puns, it’s about hyungs (yeah, yeah, that was *really* bad, I know).

And now we get to the meat of the post. Tonight I had the pleasure of attending the CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) awards presentation I plugged last week. The actual presentation of the awards was blessedly short. There’s really no point in dragging out something like that. Then we moved on to what we were really there for, or at least what I was there for: the staged readings.

I wasn’t as invested in the first reading since I hadn’t read the script and I didn’t know Lucy Wang (I still don’t, although I did have the chance to chat a little with her husband tonight). The second reading was the first half of Young Kim’s script Hyung’s Overture (btw, Young, I liked the changes). This script was brought to life particularly through the talent of the young actors involved. They were AWESOME. I can’t stress that enough. More than just reading, they acted out parts of the script, and they were great. And Chil Kong as the dad was great, too. But I was blown away by the kids. I could also tell that everyone reading was having fun.

In short, it was a treat. Hearing the script read aloud by actors brought it to life in a way that reading it for yourself doesn’t, and I can’t wait till this gets made (when it goes into production I have to remind Young that he told me I could hang out on set). The emotional content in this script is high, but there are also plenty of humorous touches that made everyone laugh tonight. I’ll totally be plugging it again whenever it gets to the point of hitting theaters.

P.S. The younger boy looked really familiar. Young, should I know who he is?


Kdramas come to life… August 12, 2007

Filed under: guest blogs,restaurants — Raven @ 1:34 pm
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I got to be a guest blogger on Bon V.’s blog again this past week. This time I review the Korean BBQ restaurant Suhrabal. Check it out here.

By the way, if anyone is interested in being a guest blogger on here, let me know. I’m totally open to the idea.


Popularity Contest

Filed under: kdramas — Raven @ 12:27 am
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I’m still… well, reeling isn’t exactly the word, but I’m still in the emotional grip of my latest kdrama, which I finished this evening. This is the first historical drama I’ve watched.

The drama is called Damo and stars Ha Ji Won, Lee Seo Jin and Kim Min Joon. DramaWiki bills Kim Min Joon ahead of Lee Seo Jin, but I think Lee Seo Jin should be first based on his role in the drama. I’m pretty sure he gets more screen time, and even if he doesn’t, I think we get to feel his emotions more.

The first thing you notice as you launch into the drama is that the music is pop. I’m fine with that, although I understand some might (and have, I think) found it jarring. I actually wasn’t just fine with it, I loved it. Historical action against a contemporary soundtrack? It really really worked here. What didn’t work so well for me was the wire fu. It was incredible, in the sense that it wasn’t credible. To be fair, I don’t think it was supposed to be. I mean, most of us know it’s impossible for a normal person to fly over walls, keep up with a speeding horse, or run across water. But these people do it. So yeah, you’re not supposed to believe it. But I found it took me out of the story just a little too much.

Having said that, I will now say there wasn’t much else that took me out of it. The drama started strong and stayed strong. I was worried as I got near the end, because some of the dramas I’ve really liked at first go off and do something weird at the end. But this one didn’t. A little melodrama, yes, but that was to be expected. One thing that happened in the final episode had me really crying (a few things previously had produced isolated tears, but this produced a flood). Anything that can make me cry that much leaves me impressed.

The story basically follows Chae-Ok, who is a low-level female police investigator, but she’s mixed up with the police commander and a rebel chieftain. Want to know how? Watch the drama. I loved the characters of the two main police officers. They each had their personalities and were subtly acted. I found the older one a little annoying and cowardly at first, but he grew on me, and by the end I loved him.

Now we get to the popularity contest. One thing I liked about this drama was that neither love interest outweighed the other. Chae-Ok was torn between them up until the end, and legitimately so. They were both good men, both fighting for what they thought was right (total gray area there; which is really right? there’s no easy answer), and they also both had flaws. I happen to have a preference for one of them, but you could make a good case for either of them. Well, there’s a reason why you can’t actually make a case for one of them, but let me leave that shrouded in mystery.

I realized after watching Damo that I’d seen Lee Seo Jin in Freeze, but I totally didn’t recognize him here. It must’ve been the hair and clothes. In terms of acting, I liked Lee Seo Jin well enough in Freeze, but I thought he was awesome here. Okay, okay, I gave it away. He’s my fave character in this drama. I found I sympathized with him the most.

It may have been partly Kim Min Joon’s character that made me sympathize with him less. I don’t always get the brave rebel leader thing. I think I’m a monarchist at heart. Or maybe I just don’t understand idealists.

Anyway, Damo is an awesome drama and I give it five stars.

P.S. As an aside, I have to say there’s something about historical costume, long hair, and swords that’s really very attractive.


Hyung’s Overture August 7, 2007

Filed under: movies & film — Raven @ 3:23 pm
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On August 14 the CAPE Foundation New Writers Awards will include a staged reading of the screenplay Hyung’s Overture, written by Young Il Kim. The reading is open to the public and will include complimentary refreshments, and yes, I’m plugging it because I’ve read and like the script and because Young is my friend and he comments here, but no, he didn’t pay me to put up this announcement; he didn’t even buy me lunch!

Anyway, here’s the synop, stolen borrowed from indieWIRE: “The eldest son of a Korean immigrant family gives up his career to manage the family’s convenience store, so that his brother may fulfill his potential as a world-class violinist.”

The script won about four different contests last year, including CAPE and BlueCat. Teddy Zee (producer of Hitch, The Pursuit of Happyness, Saving Face, West 32nd) and Jonathan Kim (producer of Silmido, Sisily 2km, The Ring Virus, Lies) are attached to produce, and Young is currently slated to direct the film himself when it goes into production.

Full details on the reading are here. The event is free, but RSVP’s have to be in by August 12. The event also includes the announcement of the 2007 CAPE winners and finalists and a reading of last year’s winning script for TV, which is an episode of Without A Trace by Lucy Wang.


Chillin’ with cold noodles August 4, 2007

Filed under: restaurants — Raven @ 3:28 pm
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The Corner Place is renowned for its cold noodles. Supposedly the recipe for their broth is such a secret that you’re not even allowed to take your leftovers home (although the sign to that effect was missing), which could be a problem since the bowls are HUGE. I shared mine with one of my fellow diners (lunchers? it was lunch), which made it a reasonable-sized portion. The noodles plus very tender kalbi plus the panchan made it a good meal. I don’t think I would have wanted to have just the noodles. It would have been a little too one-note.

But let me not get ahead of myself. These cold noodles aren’t made of buckwheat. I don’t know what they’re made of, but in Korean they’re called 동치미 국수 (I think that’s right; I copied it down real fast from the menu). They’re white instead of dark. The flavor is subtle. I’m sure someone is going to tell me noodles in general don’t have much flavor, but trust me, they do. I think it’s a combination of look, texture and the actual flour they’re made of. These were subtle and had what I want to call a soft flavor. Okay, I’m reaching because they’re hard to describe, I admit it. But I liked them. Better than the buckwheat? No, I can’t say that. Just different.

One quibble I had with the noodle dish as a whole was that it was mostly noodles, and I like my cold noodles with add-ons such as hard-boiled egg and meat and cucumbers and stuff. Okay, they had a few sliced cucumbers or something similar, and there was half a sliced tomato. But the addition of at least some egg would have really made the dish for me.

The broth had the familiar slightly sweet tang I’m used to (the secret ingredient in The Corner Place’s broth is supposedly 7-Up). This broth also had a bit of a kick from the addition of jalapenos, which I could have lived without, although it wasn’t so spicy as to be inedible.

The ambiance was pleasant and the service was good. The kalbi we ordered was tasty, and as far as the panchan go, the bean sprouts were to die for. We ate about three or four dishes of them. Although the place wasn’t crowded when we arrived at 11:45 a.m., by the time we left around 1ish or so there was a wait for a table. There’s street parking and a small lot where the parking guys seem to be on a power trip and will tell you to move your car even if you’re not parked in a dedicated market or laundromat parking spot.

For the record, The Corner Place is NOT located on a corner.

The Corner Place
2819 James M. Wood Blvd
(1 block east of Vermont)
Los Angeles, CA 90006