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Archive for May, 2005

Movie Review: Revenge of the Sith

Posted by Brian on May 29, 2005

Some spoilers below, so if you haven’t seen the new Star Wars yet I suggest you avert your eyes.

With Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, George Lucas put together a fitting finale to the series that did an excellent job of closing all the gaps between Episodes 1 and 2 and the earlier trilogy. How and why did Vader turn? What happened to Luke and Leia’s mother? How did the Galactic Empire come to be? All these questions, and others, were answered during the course of the movie, and answered satisfactorily in my mind. I give the movie an ethusiastic thumbs up, both for Star Wars fans and the non-geeks out there.

Now that I’ve seen the movie, however, and go through all the movie reviews that I carefully ignored prior to seeing the movie, a common complaint is the nature and/or speed of Anakin’s decent to the Dark Side. Kevin Drum characterizes Anakin’s fall as the result of plain old “teenage angst and alienation,” and argues that this is hardly sufficient reason for Anakin to flip. I’m sympathetic to that point of view, but at the same time, I suspect that perhaps Palpatine was engaging in some subtle Jedi Mind Trick of his own that was pushing Anakin along the way, adding further fuel to the fire within him.

Perhaps the biggest change in the way I look at the Star Wars series now that it is over is who I judge the central character to be. I’ve always thought Eps 4-6 were about Luke, and eps 1-3 were about his father, but at the end of RotS, with Anakin finally making the transformation to Darth Vader, it completes Vader’s entire story arch. We can now see his beginning (potential), middle (transformation from good to evil), and end (redemption). I realize now that the entire story is about Vader himself, with the Luke-related material in Eps 4-6 only important in that it establishes Luke as one of the good guys, which in turn makes Vader’s final efforts to save his son that much more noble (who knows, though… perhaps this was obvious to others a long time ago).

Some other random comments:

  • Ranking the entire Star Wars series, I think I agree with this Film Threat reviewer: Empire, New Hope, Sith, Jedi, Clones, then Phantom Menace.
  • Princess Leia’s last name didn’t pop into my head until the very end of the movie when Senator Organa agreed to adopt the young girl. “What a second…”
  • I think Ewan MacGregor did a tremendous job as the younger Obi-wan. The final back and forth between Obi-wan and his former apprentice/friend was one of the most emotionally-charged scenes in the entire series.
  • Watching Yoda give the force smackdown to those two mooks by the door was worth the price of admission all by itself. I know its fun to snicker at Yoda and make jokes about his appearance, but it’s times like that, and during his showdown with Palpatine, that we can see just how powerful he is. To paraphrase Stan from South Park, I learned something special today: don’t fuck with Yoda.
  • When Palpatine was explaining to Anakin about Darth Plagueis, he mentioned that Plagueis had the ability to somehow manipulate human DNA (or something along those lines, I don’t remember exactly), and that he passed on this skill to his student (Palpatine himself). The first thing that popped in to my mind was the possibility of Anakin being changed in utero by Palpatine (I see now that the invaluable Wikipedia has a page up that addresses that very question).
  • Other good points: no Jar-jar, great set pieces, Chewbacca (seeing Yoda say goodbye to Chewie was touching), General Grievous rocked (some neat background info on Grievous here), and some of the best lightsaber duels ever.
  • A group of us saw the movie together, including my girlfriend’s best friend who, get this, had never seen a Star Wars movie prior to this one. Where the hell do you start when trying to explain the story to a person like that?
  • Some geek over at Kevin Drum’s comments section mentions that the Millenium Falcon can be seen briefly during a shot on Coruscant, but I missed it.

But on a sad note,  never again will I feel the excitement and anticipation that comes with the upcoming release of a new Star Wars film. All good things must come to an end, I suppose, but imagine the possibilities if the series was allowed to run on and on…

Posted in Movies/TV, Reviews | 1 Comment »

Thoughts on our Cafe

Posted by Brian on May 27, 2005

It has been six months since my business partner and I closed down our game café. The fallout from our failed venture has settled, giving us room to look back on the situation with a sense of detachment on what went wrong, and what there was to be learned from our failed business. Being an optimist, I felt compelled to analyze the situation because such an analysis would allow me to extract something positive from such a negative situation. Yes, mistakes were made, but what’s done is done. The important question to ask now is, “What can I learn from those mistakes?”

To quickly summarize, a Korean business partner and I decided to pool our resources and start Korea’s first internationally owned and operated board game café. We believed that an internationally owned café would have significant competitive advantages over its competitors (namely, a broader possible pool of customers, Koreans plus foreigners in Korea, who might be attracted to the café due to having a foreign owner; and access to foreign resources that other competitors might find difficult to exploit). With this strategy in mind, we decided to set up our business in Hongdae, an area well known to foreigners in Seoul. We began our enterprise with great confidence in our future success.

The problems began almost immediately. The furniture we ordered wasn’t nearly as nice as we had expected it to be; we had squabbles with other businesses in the building regarding the use of space in front of the building for advertising; and the owners of the building, who lived just above us, turned out to be very uncooperative. We thought these snags were merely examples of what one might charitably describe as a “rocky start,” but these problems, along with others, proved to be the rule rather than the exception. As time went on, we saw that our plans to attract foreign customers were not working, despite our best efforts at targeting the foreign community through online advertising and ads in English-language periodicals. With very few foreign customers coming in, we found ourselves competing with every other café in the neighborhood for the small number of Korean customers, a number that slowly shrank as the game café trend slowly died. Business at our café peaked in May of 2004 (when we actually turned a slight profit), but it was all downhill from there. We closed our doors at the end of November of 2004, at the end of our one-year contract. We were unable to find another tenant to take over the place, so we lost all of our investment money.

In hindsight, we made two critical mistakes. First, it was a huge misjudgment to think that foreigners could be counted on as potential customers. A huge factor in the initial success of game cafes in Korea was the nature of friendship among young Koreans. Korean friends will do nearly anything as long as it is done together, and there is a lot of pressure from within the group to conform to what the majority wants to do. Westerners are very different, however, and are quite willing to splinter the group so that everyone can do what he or she wants to do. There may have been a few Westerners who were interested in coming to our café, but it’s simply not the kind of activity that they could drag their friends to. Second, we underestimated the amount of operating capital we would need, putting us in a bit of a bind from the very start. We just did not have the luxury to search far and wide for a place to set up our business (and this was also partly due to the relatively late point in the industry cycle at which we started our business). We did not have a lot of time so we had to rush, and we ended up choosing a pretty lousy location to establish a business. Because of these two mistakes, and others, our business suffered.

What did I learn from my experience running the café? That operating a small business really is a complex endeavor, fraught with unexpected challenges. I also learned a more philosophical lesson on the cold, harsh reality of the limits of optimism and hard work. Being an American, I’ve always felt that if one simply worked hard enough (and stayed positive), one could accomplish anything. While being a nice sentiment, such a rosy view is simply not true, especially in the dog-eat-dog world of business. Companies sell products and services, not optimism or hard work, so if there is little demand for your product or service among consumers, there is little a small-business owner can do to recover (short of shutting down and then starting up a different venture). Optimism and hard work can help to make products or services better (and are, I think, foundational requirements for success) but neither hard work nor optimism can compensate for a lack of demand. Due to bad decision-making, we became stuck selling a poor product during the downward turn of a trend industry, and no amount of optimism or hard work on our part could have changed the operant economic dynamics. This realization has given me a keener business sense than I had two years ago, as well as a more realistic view of how the real world operates.

On a more positive note, I learned the true value and strength of my relationships with family and good friends. My family was incredibly supportive of my plans and helped me immensely with their encouragement and financial aid. My many friends in Korea were also helpful with both their business (at a discount, of course) and their efforts at bringing more customers into the café. In the end, it turned out to be one of the more difficult periods of my life, but my friends and family helped me make it through the darkness, and for that they have my eternal gratitude.

People around me tell me they are proud of me for taking such a risk. After all, they explained, it takes a lot of guts to start up a new business in a foreign country. All that support aside, I am (at the risk of sounding immodest) proud of what I did, regardless of the outcome. I had a dream and did everything I could to make that dream come true, but things didn’t work out. Nevertheless, I can sleep peacefully at night knowing I gave it my all, and that’s a good feeling.

Posted in Personal | Leave a Comment »

Slave Contracts

Posted by Brian on May 12, 2005

Some Korean gagmen are angry:

Meanwhile, another 14 comedians with the popular SBS program "People Searching for Laughter" including Yun Taek and Kim Hyeong-in have asked their management firm, Smile Mania, to release from contracts they say are grossly unfair. "The contract we signed with Smile Mania last fall is an unfair one for 10 to 15 years and with almost no signing bonus,” they said in a statement. “The contract is disadvantageous to the comedians in many ways such as substituting our signing bonuses for theater rents and meal costs." Smile Mania president Park Seung-dae said the contract was for those who only wanted to be stand-up comics. “But since the situation of the actors has changed, we can now discuss the content of the contract."

It seems like every year or so, some segment of the Korean entertainment industry – singers, actors, now gagmen – get all up in arms about their contracts… the term "slave contract" gets thrown a lot during such periods. Frankly, I really can't understand their protests; the one-sided nature of contracts in the Korean entertainment industry is not a huge secret… even an outside observer like myself knows what's going on behind the stage. Like Hollywood some 50 or so years ago, management here controls access to the industry. If you want to be on TV… if you want to be famous… you need to play by their rules. These gagmen, desperate to be rich and/or famous, signed a deal with the devil and now they have their regrets. Deal with it…

It's like going to a restaurant with the best steak in the world, but the staff slaps you in the face as you leave. If the steak is really that good and makes the slap worth it, by all means go. But if you don't want to get slapped, regardless of how tasty the steak is, you should stay home. What you shouldn't do is go there to eat knowing full well what you're getting into it, and then complaining about it later. That's just silly.

My message to all these comics is that if they don't like it, quit. The world will go on just fine even without your latest "look at me dressed like a woman" skit.

Posted in Korean Issues | Leave a Comment »