Pyongyang Review of Books: Boxing
Day, Blade Runner, and a Beijing
Farewell to George Michael

Looking back, looking forward this Boxing Day

PYRB Boxing Day Reading

We hope everyone has had their fare share of hearty holiday meals and now has sometime to rest, recover, and catch up on some reading this Boxing Day. Here is a taste of what we are in the midst of reading today at PYRB:

The People’s Bard by Nancy Pellegrini - A new Penguin ‘China Special’ on the history of Shakespeare in China from first encounters to today. Well-researched and succinctly written by one of Koryo’s own, the book provides excellent context for the host of Shakespeare related events on in China to celebrate 400th anniversary of the Shakespeare’s death. Perhaps one day we’ll see an extra chapter devoted to the People’s Bard’s influence in the DPRK. 사느냐, 마느냐, to be or not to be, that is the question! Penguin Books, 142 pages, 2016, ISBN: 978-0-7343-9902-1

The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh - Visit Pyongyang and you’ll hear, often a few times, that American war planes dropped more than one bomb for each of the city’s residents at the time of the Korean War. Such facts and figures, although easy to remember, have a way of desensitizing any tragedy, especially for those separated from the event in space and time. The Sorrow of War describes in harrowing detail what few can ever imagine: to be on the receiving end of bombs, bullets, and hell fire from a well-equipped and technologically superior enemy. Based on the experiences of the Vietnamese author during the long war with the United States, the story is a reminder of the horrors of warfare and the traumatic effect it has on human beings – physically, mentally, and spiritually. Vintage Classics, 227 pp, 1998, ISBN: 978-0-749-39711-1

The Last Train to Zona Verde by Paul Theroux – Master traveller and writer Paul Theroux returns to Africa, the continent of his formative years and his epic Rhodesian-journey from Cairo to Cape Town in Dark Star Safari (2004). This time Theroux travels up ‘the left-side’ from the Cape of Good Hope through Namibia and into Angola. As usual, he travels slowly overland, drawing lines between individual people, stories, and landscapes to create an honest, reflective, and poignant portrait of a region. Mariner Books, 353, 2014, ISBN:978-0-544-22793-4

Blade Runner 2049

The long wait is almost over. Last week we caught our first official glimpse of Blade Runner 2049, set for release in October 2017 – just two years and one month before the futuristic setting of the original film.

While the dystopian landscape of the 1982 Blade Runner, a Los Angeles of towering corporate ziggurats rising above decaying slums and pervasive Japanese cultural influence on the streets, perhaps thankfully, never came about, the trailer to Blade Runner 2049 offers an even bleaker vision of the future. Reduced to ruins and choked in yellow sands, the film is perhaps more fitting to the anxieties and realities of 2016 climate change, out of control industrial pollution (cough cough), and renewed fears of nuclear apocalypse – big league.

The trailer also offers a small, yet very prominent hint that the film is more attune to the reality of today’s Los Angeles, where one is more likely to find Korean chosongul (or hangul) than Japanese kanji. At 0:54 of the trailer, Ryan Gossling’s character walks into an art-deco building, in the window is the Korean haengun (행운-幸運), meaning good ‘good luck’ or ‘good fortune’.

Colin Marshall at the Blog of Los Angeles Review of Books (BLARB) has an excellent post entitled Blade Runner 2049 and Los Angeles’ Korean Future, discussing (south) Korean influence in Duncan Jones’ 2009 sci-fi film Moon and speculating what it might mean for the new Blade Runner. It is definitely worth a read and do check out other posts from the Korea Blog at BLARB and by the writer Colin Marshall.

All this excitement has us thinking about Pyongyang 2049 and science fiction in the DPRK. More on this in the days to come.

RIP George Michael

George Michael, singer, songwriter, and formally half of the pop group Wham! has passed away over Christmas at the age of 53. May he rest in peace.

Michael and Wham! hold a special place in the annals of China’s cultural reform and opening, becoming the first western pop group to perform in China. Their ten-day tour in 1985 is arguably one of the most ever for its role in influencing the musical taste of generations in the of the most populous nation on Earth and predetermining countless hours of background music in Chinese shopping malls, bars, clubs, and karaoke halls to this day.

The documentary Wham! In China – Foreign Skies (above) recounts the day to day of the trip. Below a clip from a performance of Careless Whisper in China, presumably from the final concert at the Beijing People's Gymnasium near our office.

The Pyongyang Review of Books (PYRB) is a modest literary review of books from the DPRK and Korea related topics. Regular visitors and browsers of Pyongyang’s bookstores. Follow us on Instagram: pyongyangreviewofbooks.The views expressed in PYRB do not necessarily reflect those of the Koryo Tours.

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