Some Great South Korean Movies
South Korea’s film industry has been absolutely killing it for the last decade or so, winning admirers across the globe for their character- and plot-driven movies which tackle every genre imaginable, from western to comedy to thrillers. Since arriving, we’ve been watching a lot of Korean flicks, and are almost always surprised and entertained — traditional Hollywood fare, this isn’t.
In our day jobs, we run a film recommendation website called Criticker, which has been very useful in helping us choose which Korean film to watch next. Here, for instance, is a list of the most popular Korean films of the past decade.
And here’s a quick list of the films which we’ve seen since arriving. This doesn’t include many of the most famous South Korean movies, which we had already watched (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, The Host, Thirst, JSA). And there are a few we still have to get to — Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring, A Bittersweet Life, My Sassy Girl and The Brotherhood of War are all on our list. Any other must-see Korean films we should check out? What are your favorites?
This goes to darker places than we were expecting, and we enjoyed it all the way through. Kim Hye-ja’s performance as the nameless Mother, who will do anything to protect her son, was incredible… especially as she slowly uncovers the truth.
A brutal, brilliant Korean thriller that completely ignores the normal plot devices of such films and presents a story which is impossible to predict. As the baby-faced serial killer, Jung-Woo Ha is positively terrifying (and kind of funny).
Most often, this whimsical romance is compared to Amelie — a film I really can’t stand. But this movie transcends its “quirky” characters, delivering a thoughtful message about humanity’s struggle to cope with modernity. One of the best, funniest, and most touching movies I’ve seen in a very long time.
Wonderful, unpredictable film. We loved the contrast between two types of people who can use someone’s grief for their own (not entirely selfish) ends… This film has one of the most honest and thoughtful depictions of modern Christianity that we’ve seen on film, and Do-yeon Jeon’s performance as the bereaved mother is astounding. You can’t look away.
Within the first few minutes, it’s clear that this movie would go in unexpected directions. Unconventional plots seem to be a hallmark of Korean cinema. This bizarre and occasionally brutal film earned director Ki-duk Kim (who also directed the wonderful 3-Iron) a prize at the Berlinale.
With Korea’s biggest actors, this was a major smash here. It’s a fun genre piece with some incredible action sequences set in the deserts of Manchuria, when Korea was under the thumb of the Japanese. It went on a little too long, though, for our taste.
Very exciting, very brutal, very unpleasant. A horrifically bloody, unrelenting thriller which I kept averting my eyes from and praying for to end — I actually screamed out loud once. It was excellently made and exciting throughout, but only recommended for those who like their hyper-violence extra hyper.
A gripping detective story which doesn’t shy away from the fact that many crimes are almost impossible to solve. The characters are well-developed, and their progression through the film is both natural and surprising. Given the fact that it’s a true story, there’s a surprising amount of humor. Quentin Tarantino named this one of his favorite films of the past twenty years.
Like a Korean version of The Professional, except much better and more brutal. South Korean model/heartthrob/actor Won Bin excels in the role of Unstoppable Avenger, and the action is almost relentless. Includes the sickest knife fight we’ve ever seen on film, and earns an extra star just for that.
We weren’t exactly sure what kind of film this was supposed to be. Comedy? It was pretty unfunny, especially during the… you know… bloody torture scenes. While watching this, we began to suspect that Koreans just throw a bloody torture scene into every movie they make.
WAY too cutesy, and not nearly funny or endearing enough to justify it. With a wide-ranging cast of wacky inmates, we kept hoping for a fire to break out in the asylum that would kill them all.
A director’s-showpiece kind of film, with long, languorous shots and emotive performances. It’s all well-done, and is refreshing after the frequent gore of Korean cinema, but gets very long after awhile, and you can easily start to despise the selfish main characters.
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Have you even seen the original 1966 movie of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly? It’s much more long about 161 min. The Good, the Bad, and the Weird was only 139 min. It’s suppose to pay homage to the original movie.