Home > NewsRelease > Live from South Korea — Steve Jang on Korea’s Exploding “Soft Power,” The Poverty-to-Power Playbook, K-Pop, “Han” Energy, Must-See Movies, Export Economies, and Much More (#707)
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Live from South Korea — Steve Jang on Korea’s Exploding “Soft Power,” The Poverty-to-Power Playbook, K-Pop, “Han” Energy, Must-See Movies, Export Economies, and Much More (#707)
From:
Tim Ferriss - Productivity, Digital Lifestyles and Entrepreneurship Tim Ferriss - Productivity, Digital Lifestyles and Entrepreneurship
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: San Francisco, CA
Thursday, November 30, 2023

 
Illustration via 99designs

“For Koreans, han can be a drive to do great things, to bond together, to understand each other, to empathize. But it can also just be anger and K-rage which, channeled correctly, allows you to build an entire industry and succeed on the global level to create pop culture phenomenons that win Grammys, and movies that win Oscars, and light up the world to what’s happening in this little country that used to be poor, that was broken after colonization and a war.”

— Steve Jang

Scroll down to the show notes section to see Steve’s must-see Korean movies and must-do things in Seoul.

Steve Jang (@stevejang) is the founder and managing partner at Kindred Ventures, an early-stage venture capital fund based in San Francisco. He is also a longtime friend and one of the founder-now-investor generation of VCs that arose out of the last technology cycle. Steve is one of the top 100 venture capital investors in the world, according to Forbes Midas List of top venture capital investors, and was ranked #45 in 2023. He is also a Korean-American, a gyopo, who is deeply invested and involved in both the technological and cultural worlds in the US and Asia. 

Previously, Steve was an early advisor to, and angel investor in, Uber, and then an early-stage investor in Coinbase, Postmates, Poshmark, Tonal, Blue Bottle Coffee, and Humane, the AI device platform. He helped Uber, Coinbase, and Blue Bottle Coffee, among others, to expand into Korea and Japan. As an entrepreneur, Steve co-founded companies in the consumer internet, mobile, and crypto space.

In the film and music world, he is an executive producer, and his most recent film is Nam June Paik: Moon Is the Oldest TV, which tells the story of the greatest Korean artist, and father of digital video art, and which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2023. His next film is a documentary about Vitalik Buterin, the creator of Ethereum.

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple PodcastsSpotifyOvercastPodcast AddictPocket CastsCastboxGoogle PodcastsAmazon Musicor on your favorite podcast platform.

Brought to you by Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega fish oil, GiveWell.org charity research and effective giving, and Wealthfront high-yield savings account.

#707: Live from South Korea — Steve Jang on Korea’s Exploding “Soft Power,” The Poverty-to-Power Playbook, K-Pop, “Han” Energy, Must-See Movies, Export Economies, and Much More

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Want to hear another episode featuring a gyopo? Listen to my conversation with streetwear artist Bobby Hundreds in which we discussed his double life as a parent-pleasing law student and clandestine artist, collaboration over competition, rolling with the tides of fickle fashion, necessary disconnections, subcultural security, hermit north stars, and much more.

#671: Bobby Hundreds — Building an Iconic Streetwear Brand, Making $7 Million in 40 Minutes, The Power of Garfield, Why Korean Entertainment is Taking Over the World, Maintaining the Mystery, The Fickleness of Fortune, and Developing “Nunchi”

What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES…

SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

  • Connect with Steve Jang:

Kindred Ventures | Twitter | Instagram | Threads | LinkedIn

Steve’s Top “Must-See” Korean Movies:

Steve’s “Must-Do” Things in Seoul:

  • Walk and explore the old town areas of Samcheong, Insa, and Hongdae. Meander around these hills and small streets and alleys full of small shops, cafes, and tea houses.
  • Headbob or dance with local folks at small DJ bars in Hongdae or Itaewon. Favorites are Cakeshop, Hills and Europa, and Gopchang Jeongol.
  • Eat at a Hanwoo beef specialty restaurant. Hanwoo is the Korean version of Wagyu.
  • Check out small art galleries, craft boutiques, and large museums including the Leeum. The artist community in Korea is a core element of Korean society, in historical, counterculture, and fine art spheres.
  • Eat lunch in the food court of a major department store like Hyundai, Galleria, or Shinsegae. Completely different quality than what you’d expect in the US.
  • Exercise at the outdoor park by the Han River. The colder the weather, the better.
  • Get Tongdak (Korean fried chicken) and beer. If you aren’t eating next to taxi drivers and ajummas, then it’s not OG.
  • Explore Dongdaemun Market, the largest independent fashion designer marketplace in the world.
  • Go out for cocktails, makkoli (fermented soybean liquor), and karaoke (which is called “noraebang” in Korean) in Apgujeong, the cool kid area of Gangnam.
  • Sign up for a K-pop boot camp for three months and pay to learn how to sing, dance, and dress to be in the next BLACKPINK or BTS.

SHOW NOTES

  • [09:37] Why has Korean culture been globally overlooked until recently?
  • [13:36] In Seoul, the future is now.
  • [17:23] Gyopo and the Korean diaspora.
  • [19:15] Modern relations between South Korea and Japan.
  • [21:07] Christianity and Confucianism in South Korea.
  • [23:17] The intensity of Korean (including gyopo) hagwons.
  • [25:46] Why Steve finds Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko particularly moving.
  • [28:07] Japanese nostalgia.
  • [29:25] Seoul: the Bizarro Tokyo?
  • [39:49] Generations of Korean families traumatized by North/South separation.
  • [44:32] Class struggle and cultural dichotomy in Korean cinema and literature.
  • [50:22] Activism in a chaebol-dominated landscape.
  • [54:25] How Korean culture resonates on a universal level.
  • [56:50] How big money finances the artistic class struggle against big money.
  • [59:57] Is the K-wave a fad, or is it here to stay?
  • [1:05:24] Getting a handle on the untranslatable han.
  • [1:08:13] Jeong and nunchi.
  • [1:14:38] What will it take to remedy South Korea’s disastrously low birth rate?
  • [1:25:05] Why I’ve been so fascinated by the K-wave.
  • [1:36:02] How I’ve been learning the Korean language.
  • [1:47:04] Why so many Japanese women visit Korea.
  • [1:47:57] The lucrative power of Korea’s export economy.
  • [1:52:07] Why the main road in Gangnam is named after the capital of Iran.
  • [1:54:19] The real reason Steve believes South Korea is so industrious on multiple fronts.
  • [1:58:02] How learning just 10 sentences in another language can fundamentally change your experience.
  • [2:00:28] Korean food!
  • [2:09:35] The unforgivable insult of leaving food uneaten.
  • [2:11:25] Why you owe it to yourself to see Nam June Paik: Moon Is the Oldest TV.
  • [2:17:46] Why you owe it to yourself to listen to “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” by Korean psych rock band He5.
  • [2:18:15] How gyopo influence on the arts bypassed home censorship policies.
  • [2:24:20] Why you owe it to yourself to visit Seoul sooner rather than later.
  • [2:26:30] Parting thoughts.

MORE STEVE JANG QUOTES FROM THE INTERVIEW

“The North and South Korean governments at certain times, when they get along, they’ll try to do some great olive branch moves to reunite families. And they had the TV station film it, and they set up a whole area and they brought buses down. And it turned out to be not cathartic at all, but reopening pain.”
— Steve Jang

“Class struggle is the theme of so many [Korean] movies, books, TV series. It’s the suffering and the struggle to move out of their condition, and that society and the upper crust of society won’t allow it. This tension is in music, it’s in movies, it’s in literature, it’s in TV shows, it’s all around. And you might say, ‘Oh, no, it’s around every country.’ Sure it is. But it’s really strong and consistent in Korean movies and literature.”
— Steve Jang

“Han is probably the most talked-about collective trait of Koreans. What it essentially boils down to is this idea of collective suffering that the Korean people have through history, and manifests in this very complicated feeling of we are suffering and we share that pain with each other, but it’s somehow not always a negative. It can sometimes drive us to express ourselves in strong ways. It can drive us to suffer together collectively.”
— Steve Jang

“For Koreans, han can be a drive to do great things, to bond together, to understand each other, to empathize. But it can also just be anger and K-rage which, channeled correctly, allows you to build an entire industry and succeed on the global level to create pop culture phenomenons that win Grammys, and movies that win Oscars, and light up the world to what’s happening in this little country that used to be poor, that was broken after colonization and a war.”
— Steve Jang

“There is this accelerated sense of ‘We must achieve something tomorrow because we’re already behind.’ That is a very Korean mentality.”
— Steve Jang

“Tomorrow is not guaranteed for South Koreans. There’s a well-understood tension with North Korea that at any moment this could all be over.”
— Steve Jang

“Of all the cultural exports, Korean food is the most important one.”
— Steve Jang

“You get a thousand points of credit from any Korean if you try to speak the language. They love it. It’ll smooth all rough edges on anything that you’re talking about with them if you at least try.”
— Steve Jang

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Name: Tim Ferriss
Title: Author, Princeton University Guest Lecturer
Group: Random House/Crown Publishing
Dateline: San Francisco, CA United States
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