For audiences unfamiliar with Korean cinema, choosing only five films to see as an introduction to output from the peninsula is an extremely daunting task. Each year the Korean cinema industry, in both the mainstream and independent realms, produce some of the most interesting and unique films in the world so in order to choose five we need to set some parameters.
First, the films should be contemporary so should be made after 2000; to represent the full spectrum of K-cinema, the films should be from different genres; only one film from a director’s filmography can be selected; and director Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy cannot be chosen…well because it’s so widely known and always features in lists about K-cinema.
So, without further ado, here are the ‘Top 5 Korean Films’ you absolutely must see before you die.
The Chaser (2008)
The Chaser is an absolutely superb, and often horrifying, thriller. The film follows ex-cop turned pimp Joong-ho who begins to notice that the prostitutes working for him are mysteriously disappearing, and refusing to answer his calls. As the police seem indifferent to the situation, Joong-ho take it upon himself to use his detective skills to track them down, and discovers that all of the missing girls can be traced to one man. However, can he stop the killer before he strikes again?
Perhaps even more frightening than the film itself is that the story is based on a real-life serial-killer/cannibal that operated in Seoul from 2003-2004.
A Moment to Remember (2004)
Korean audiences adore melodrama, and films rarely come more dramatic than the tragically romantic A Moment to Remember. The film explores the lives of fashion designer Su-jin and and architect Chul-soo who, after a series of mishaps, fall hopelessly in love. Yet while happily forever after seems within their grasp, Su-jin begins developing symptoms for the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease and starts to forget those around her.
Employing romantic cliches to great effect, A Moment to Remember will have you sobbing.
The Korean War is often referred to as ‘the forgotten war,’ yet upon watching Taegukgi it will be impossible to ever forget. Using similar techniques that made Saving Private Ryan such an incredible spectacle, Taegukgi goes a step further by focusing on the relationship between two brothers who are separated during the conflict. The film uses melodramatic traits alongside some truly stunning battle sequences to be one of the best war films ever made, and a genuine testament to those who lost their lives.
The Host (2006)
Monster movie The Host is actually based on the true story of American scientists who flushed toxic chemicals into the Han River in Seoul, much to the outcry of the Korean public. Director Bong Joon-ho took the situation and crafted it into one of the most riveting, funny, and downright thrilling creature features there is. When the monster arises from the river and abducts a young girl, her family will stop at nothing to find and rescue her.
A Bittersweet Life (2005)
Fans of action and gangster films will find A Bittersweet Life an absolute delight. The story centers on enforcer Sun-woo who is sent to watch over his boss’ new young girlfriend while he’s away on business. Yet when Sun-woo catches her with another man, he is torn between loyalty to his boss and mercy. Sparing her from punishment, Sun-Woo drops the issue…yet when his boss discovers the truth, a hit is placed on Sun-woo leading to an action-packed, high-octane climax with plenty of blood and broken bones.