South Korea

Bong Joon Ho Defends Netflix in Cannes: “They Gave Me Total Freedom”

The 'Okja' director was diplomatic in addressing the various controversies surrounding the streaming giant, while Tilda Swinton said
Bong Joon Ho

Following a rocky rollout but mostly positive reception to his film Okja during its first press screening in Cannes, South Korean filmmaking phenomenon Bong Joon Ho shrugged off the controversy that has swirled around the movie since the 70th edition of the iconic French film festival began on Wednesday.

He said he enjoyed working with Netflix and was happy for jury president Pedro Almodovar to see his movie despite his critical stance on Netflix.

At the start of Okja‘s debut screening on Friday, the movie was temporarily misframed on the big screen, leading to boos and jeers from the assembled international press corps. Eventually the screening was briefly stopped so that the problem could be fixed and the movie restarted. Cannes organizers later issued a statement taking responsibility for the incident and apologizing to the filmmakers.

The snafu followed some heat for Okja during the Cannes jury press conference earlier in the week. This year’s jury chair, Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar, read a prepared statement that suggested he might be preemptively excluding the film from consideration for the Palme d’Or, due to Netflix’s involvement and the streaming giant’s plans to release the movie online in most markets.

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“I personally don’t perceive the Palme d’Or [should be] given to a film that is then not seen on the big screen,” he said. “All this doesn’t mean that I am not open or [don’t] celebrate new technologies and opportunities, but…

Focus Turns to North Korea Sleeper Cells as Possible Culprits in Cyberattack

SEOUL, South Korea — They take legitimate jobs as software programmers in the neighbors of their home country, North Korea. When the instructions from Pyongyang come for a hacking assault, they are believed to split into groups of three or six, moving around to avoid detection.

Since the 1980s, the reclusive North has been known to train cadres of digital soldiers to engage in electronic warfare and profiteering exploits against its perceived enemies, most notably South Korea and the United States. In recent years, cybersecurity experts say, the North Koreans have spread these agents across the border into China and other Asian countries to help cloak their identities. The strategy also amounts to war-contingency planning in case the homeland is attacked.

Now, this force of North Korean hacker sleeper cells is under new scrutiny in connection with the ransomware assaults that have roiled much of the world over the past four days. Signs have emerged that suggest North Koreans not only carried out the attacks, but that the targeted victims included China, North Korea’s benefactor and enabler.

While there is still nothing definitive to link the attacks to North Korea, similarities exist between the ransomware used to extort computer users into paying the hackers and previously deployed North Korean malware codes.

Moreover, North Korea has in the past deliberately timed cyberattacks to coincide with its banned weapons tests — like the ballistic missile launched on Sunday — as a way of subtly flaunting the country’s technological advances despite its global isolation.

Unlike its missile and nuclear weapons tests, however, North Korea has never announced or acknowledged its computer hacking abilities — if anything, the country has denied responsibility for hacking and other forms of computerized crimes.

It also is possible that North Korea had no role in the attacks, which exploited a stolen hacking tool developed by the National Security Agency of the United States. Early Tuesday, the Shadow Brokers, the hacking group that spread the tool and is not believed to be linked with North Korea, threatened in an online post to start a “Data Dump of the Month” club, in which it would release more N.S.A. hacking methods to paying subscribers.

Security officials in South Korea, the United States and elsewhere say it is a well-known fact that the North Korean authorities have long trained squads of hackers and programmers,…

South Korea’s Techie Activists Are Helping Netizens Keep Candidates In Check

The Most Charitable States In The U.S. In 2016

South Korea’s top five presidential candidates pose for a photograph ahead of a televised presidential debate on May 2, 2017. South Korean voters will head to the polls to replace ousted leader Park Geun-hye on May 9. (Photo by Kim Min-Hee-Pool/Getty Images)

South Koreans on May 9 will face an unprecedented choice. For the first time in the young democracy’s history, the country will elect a candidate to replace an impeached president. It will also have more than two options at the ballot box.

Serial entrepreneur Rebekah Kang wants voters to look beyond candidates’ images and think critically about their fit for presidency, based on their own analysis of the candidates’ platforms, not on peer pressure or the herd mentality.

“I want them to vote based on their values, not because your father or friends are saying they want you to vote for this person,” she said. “There are aspects of each candidate and ideally, I think their policies should be at the center.”

Kang and her team were the outfit behind the viral, which amassed 1 million netizens’ signatures to petition the impeachment of Park Geun-hye last year. Their activism was one piece of the movement that led to Park’s presidential downfall in March, and the subsequent snap election this week.

Since January, the team of eight have been working on a new product that springboards from the momentum of ParkGeunHack to help netizens in the next step — choosing the right candidate to replace Park. It is, as they market it, a 10-minute investment into the next five years.

Demonstrators shout slogans and hold candles during an anti-government protest in central Seoul on November 19, 2016. (ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)

In comparison to drawn-out campaigns of years past, the snap election, which had no primary round, has allowed for more contenders to take the final stage. With news coverage frantically coming together in just a 60-day campaign period, people are confused about candidates’ platforms. And at a time when media distrust in South Korea is at a high and fake news is proliferating, netizens are struggling to find credible sources.

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Starbucks: An Outlet For Social Change In 15 Minority Communities

Their project is called NudePresident — “nude,” to be transparent and without prejudice — and it is no ordinary online quiz. NudePresident curates the candidates’ policies on economy, international affairs, security and defense, and delivers questions, such as what the government should do to create more jobs, and answers based on the top five candidates’ statements. But it goes a few steps further to have users select from three to 40 specific categories, like fine dust and animal rights and then enter in their own demographic information — gender, age, location, marital and status, having children, career, even criminal record — for an even more tailored quiz. As the quiz progresses, a bar graph moves with how strongly the user matches with the unnamed candidates.

NudePresident lets South Korean netizens choose the right candidate based on an in-depth questionnaire.
NudePresident lets South Korean netizens choose the right candidate based on an in-depth questionnaire.

NudePresident lets South Korean netizens choose the right candidate based on an in-depth questionnaire.

But the quiz has its limits. Its range of questions speaks more about the candidates than the quiz makers, as they can only develop questions on what all five candidates have addressed, Kang says. Until liberal…

Mr. Toilet

toilet house

Sim Jae-duck is probably the only person in history who was born in a toilet, lived in a toilet, and died in one, too. Here’s his fascinating story.


In 1996, FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, awarded the 2002 World Cup to co-hosts South Korea and Japan. It had taken decades for South Korea to rebuild after the Korean War (1950–53), and the country had only recently emerged from nearly 40 years of brutal dictatorship. Not many people thought of it as a tourist destination, and hosting the World Cup offered a chance for South Korea to present a new face.

One man who was determined to make the most of the opportunity was Sim Jae-duck, the mayor of Suwon, a city about 20 miles south of Seoul and home to one of the stadiums where the games would be played. Sim thought one of the best ways for outsiders to get to know South Korea would be to live in the homes of its citizens, so he recruited more than 4,000 local families to offer free room and board to visitors during the games. To manage the large crowds that would descend upon the city, he recruited a force of 3,000 security guards and gave them special training on how to deal with the foreign guests. Most famously, he launched a multimillion-dollar campaign to upgrade the city’s public restrooms, a program that earned him the nickname “Mr. Toilet.”


Suwon had more than 700 public restrooms scattered around the city, some operated by the city and others provided by private businesses. Mr. Toilet upgraded them all, providing fresh coats of paint, installing artwork, replacing old fixtures with new ones, and piping in soothing music and perfume-scented air. (He also switched traditional squat toilets to sit-down toilets that Westerners were more used to.) Sim also built more than 30 brand-new restrooms and spent so much money on their design and construction—the restrooms closest to the stadium, for example, were shaped like soccer balls—that 26 of the facilities were designated as tourist attractions in their own right.


Mr. Toilet may have literally been born for the job. South Korean toilet humor is as bawdy as it is anyplace else in the world (which might explain Korean proverbs like “Toilets are like mothers-in-law: the farther away the better”). But tradition also has it that bathrooms are lucky places. Sim’s grandmother was so sure that anyone born in a bathroom was destined to live a long life that she convinced Sim’s mother to give birth in hers. Sim’s mom went through her labor just outside grandma’s bathroom, and when the moment of truth arrived, she stepped inside just long enough for the future Mr. Toilet to pop out.


Improving Suwon’s restrooms proved so rewarding that Sim decided to expand his efforts. In 1999, he created the Korean Toilet Association to push his modernization drive nationwide. Later, he joined the World Toilet Organization, a group dedicated to improving public access to bathrooms around the globe. Then, when Sim concluded that the WTO wasn’t effective enough, he broke away to form his own World Toilet Association in 2006.

As Mr. Toilet campaigned for better bathrooms, he came to believe that some of the taboos associated with toilets were barriers to the improvements he was trying to achieve. That’s why,…