Bongseok Kim

08.25 2016 INTERVIEW DATE

Critic of pop culture

Bongcheon-dong, Gwanak-gu, Seoul

Underneath the name of his name card, all it read was, ‘critic of pop culture and film.’ It couldn’t get more simple. But his work experience is rather complex. He’s been an editor for <Cine Feel> and <Cine21>, editor-in-chief for a culture magazine <Brût> and comics web magazine <A Comics>. His name was used in one of the main characters of cartoonist Kang Pool’s comics, <Moving>. He lacks the ability to fly like Bongseok from the cartoon but he enthusiastically ‘moves’ his writings throughout borderless genres of films, cartoons and comics, novels and many more. As we stepped inside his home and office at a multi-unit housing in Bongcheon-dong, we were quick to notice the overflowing of books that were indeed border-free—just like himself. 

Hyemin Kwon

There’s an enormous amount of books here. Do you have a specific way of organizing them?

I should say I’ve given that up.(laugh) In the beginning of the year I donated about 2,000 of my comic books to a comic bookstore in Mangwon-dong. After I disposed those, I wanted to organize the books helplessly lying on the floor but there wasn’t enough room. So I decided that I’d just let that go for a while. It’s going to take days to organize them. Sometimes it gets really hard to search for a book so I end up buying a new one. If you’re a bibliophile like me, it’s probably not an unusual case.

 

Do you have a certain rule in selecting your books?

Since my early age, my parents never chose books for me and neither did they suggest me to read any. The books I read were purely upon my own selections. I prefer books that are fun and interesting to read. Whether it be fictions or non-fictions, there are certain books that catch my eye. They could be genre fictions or books about a particular subject like music, history or science.

Interests in books are weakening these days.

It means there’s been a change. A book was a means to deliver the accumulated knowledge to another and the one after. In the medieval times books were extremely large and thick and heavy that people had to be fixed to a place in order to read them. But also, they didn’t find a reason to carry the books around. It’s the modern days when people desired for a more convenient reading which eventually transformed the books into ones like today. Not many people today come home after work and relax themselves entirely. Yes, it’s more likely that reading or studying would only give you headaches. So instead, entertaining things that would cure the mind or to simply have fun became more important in many of our lives today.

You’ve been an editor majoring in movies for a long time before becoming a critic. When starting a new job or quitting one, what triggered your choices?

If you become an editor-in-chief, you’re role is focused more on the tasks other than writing for the sake of running a magazine. But as for me, I wanted to keep the writing going and I wondered what it would be like to earn a living outside a magazine company. I’m the type who has to answer my curiosities so I quit before I got too old. Luckily when I resigned from <Cine 21>, 2002 was a year of booming Korean films so I had a lot to write. I wrote day and night and made huge piles of writings every month. After two years of that it suddenly felt as if I was draining myself empty. The act of writing is an output but I realized one day that having to glue myself to write every single day wouldn’t allow myself to ‘input’ or indulge anything. It was only about pouring things out of me. And around that time I got a call from <Cine 21> and returned to my old workplace. The situation’s always been a little different but I always chose to stay in an environment where I can keep writing and share my thoughts.

As a freelancer, how do you spend your day?

I go to bed around 4am so I don’t make any arrangements before noon and usually start my day afterwards. And except when I go watch movies or attend a premiere or meet someone, I work at home. When I was employed, I followed a rule I made for myself, ‘to work only at work.’ I would rather stay late at the office than to drag them home. It was a will to make clear lines between working hours and resting hours, personal space and workspace. But now that I’m a freelancer, the line is blurred and my house has become my workplace.(laugh)

How did you get to live in this house?

I used to live in Jongam-dong of Seongbuk-gu until we moved to Bongcheon-dong when I was in third grade of elementary school. And I’ve been living in this house since fifth grade. Later my parents tore down the old house and rebuilt it into this three storey, multi-unit housing. My brother lives with his family on the first floor and my parents on the second floor. The whole family lives in the same building but we only get to see each other once a week.

 

So you’ve been living in the same place for 40 years and been witnessing the change in Bongcheon-dong all those years.

Wagons (or carts) would come and go along the side of the house because the area used to be occupied by a number of vegetable fields. At the Bongcheon four-way stop, there was only one building that rose two stories high. Our house was by the foot of the hill and going up, it was a neighborhood full of people that didn’t make good livings. The alleys were so narrow only a single person could walk past it and many shared limited number of restrooms. Now the place is replaced by large apartment buildings. I either don’t like it nor do I like the change. I just see it as a progression of time.

Is there a lifestyle you pursue?

I want to live a plain, simple life. With all the books piled up in chaos, it might not make sense but I really want to live simple. I have absolutely no heart for collecting. I used to be one of those people who’d collect movie posters or leaflets but in the end I ended up throwing them away. They weren’t necessary stuff in life. In the past you were required to buy CDs when you wanted to listen to music, you needed videotapes or DVDs to watch your favorite movies but now is the time when downloading became much of a better way. Which also means that now you don’t need a physical space to possess them just so that you can keep watching things you like.

Sounds like you lacked earthly desires in the first place. Does that apply to houses as well?

In my opinion, everything passes by. I have no desire to adorn the house into a cozy space or a unique place of my own. To me, a house is no different than a lodge you stay during a travel. The two eventually has the same meaning of ‘a place where I can be alone.’ If I was given the chance to build my own house I’d probably leave out everything, including heating and air-conditioning, and build it with thick walls with only a single room that includes solely my bed.

 

That makes convenience the biggest principle of the choices you make.

Functions are of course most important. When I was employed, I would picture 6~7 possible routes that’ll take me to and bring me back from work, try all routes and pick the most reasonable one, considering time efficiency and pleasantness. If I get employed again, I would still stick with the courses that I make rather than to rely on all those map Apps. I mean, a ‘recommended’ route doesn’t always equal a person’s ‘ideal’ route.

Nonetheless, is there anything you do that doesn’t have anything to do with your desires for convenience or necessity?

Meeting people. In the past I’d think ‘I won’t meet if it’s unnecessary to,’ or ‘I’m not going unless my presence is needed.’ And it seemed like others also found it hard to become friends with me so that gradually refrained myself from meeting people. But then when I turned 40, I started to regret it and since then I meet almost everyone. Sometimes the SNS leads me to meet the people I met online offline. It may look useless to other people but I meet many to start something out. I began to learn a lot of things other than books and films. Oh, I do buy things on a whim sometimes. In Japan, there’s this toy vending machine on the street called ‘gatcha’ where you’d claw a random toy and recently I clawed a capsule toy there.(laugh)

 

RECOMMENDED PLACE

Hongdae

Areas of Hapjeong-dong, Seogyo-dong and Donggyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul.

“I like the diversity of scenes that I pass while I walk the streets.”

For Bongseok, the streets of Hongdae is still the most distinctive one out of all the downtowns in Seoul. Many say it lost its cultural and artistic originality due to the fast & vast commercialization of the area but yet, it is still a place worth all the browsing around, because as artists and people in the cultural fields began to move further away from the center of Hongdae, the commercial sphere of the area ‘Hongdae’ has gradually spread further as well. Like how there’s Broadway, off Broadway and then off-off Broadway, the best part is to observe how the area has changed from Hongdae to off Hongdae and then off-off Hongdae.