Likely akin to most lovers of foreign films, I’ve gone through my country phases (Italian -> French -> Spanish -> Latin American…) but most recently, I’ve been impressed with the masterpieces coming out of South Korea. Admittedly, they aren’t for everyone (they are quite violent, gory, dark, depressing), but the cinematography, mood, and plot twists surpass any individual country’s output in the 00’s (especially adjusted for output).
I’ve scoured the internet for articles celebrating this recent explosion of quality cinema coming from Korea, but most are dated and cite movies from an era before all of my favorites existed. About ten years back, there was enthusiasm for films like “My Sassy Girl” (shamed to admit, I have yet to get my hands on a copy – Netflix doesn’t carry anymore). The Koreans deserves recognition and attention for their vastly improved and more recent work.
If you’re new to the Korean film scene, (or are only accustomed to older titles), let me help get you started:
Start with Chan-Wook Park’s films (the first three comprise his revenge trilogy, Oldboy being a required introduction to the genre)
- Oldboy – mysteriously released from private imprisonment for 15 years, Odaisu has 5 days to figure out the motivation of his captors.
- Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance – Mute and deaf Ryu is willing to do whatever it takes to save his dying sister
- Lady Vengeance – Accused of murdering children, shy Geum-ja seeks elaborate revenge on the true perpetrator
- Joint Security Area – North and South Korean border guards develop a forbidden friendship
- I did not like his most recent title: Thirst
More recent titles:
- Memories of Murder – detectives attempt to track down a serial killer
- The Man from Nowhere – Inadvertently caught in a conflict between his neighbor and local gangsters, Cha is thrust into a fight he didn’t want
- I Saw the Devil – A cat and mouse game between a rouge detective and the man who killed his wife
- The Chaser – when his girls start disappearing, a pimp is forced to track down the source of their seeming departure
- Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring – a beautiful and serene film (unlike ALL of the others) about a boy’s childhood lessons and eventual return to a monk’s floating house.
- Mother – Out to liberate her mentally challenged son, an elderly woman seeks the truth, but is it more than she can handle?
- A Tale of Two Sisters – are these recently released sisters truly crazy or the victims of something more sinister…
…And many of these are available for instant play on Netflix (but make sure not to watch a dubbed version – ruins any foreign film)
Caveat: the downsides
These movies are graphic and unforgiving – those with weak stomachs or that shy away from dark themes need not apply. Most Americans want their movies to end on a positive note, all the outstanding plot strings tied down. If you fall into this category, you are destined for disappointment.
Moreover, however surprising the plot twists, the general themes of these movies tend to be VERY similar – murder, revenge, some action, and characters from the darkest corners of society. Obviously, be prepared to read subtitles and patient enough for movies that start slowly and build (rather than come charging out of the gate).