Top 20 Best Korean Films of All Time
by Magda Knight
Bookmark and then see the best Korean films of all time - From eerie horror to surreally quirky romance and unique action thrillers with beautiful cinematography. Mookychick proudly presents the best Korean films ever...
Seriously, if you haven't experienced it yet, Korean cinema is great. It creates wild, inventive, clever, beautiful, gripping genre-busting movies with twists and turns so you'll NEVER guess the endings. Korean horror, comedy, revenge thrillers... they're all amazing, and we bring you 20 of the very best films the korean movie industsry has ever made. And here they are, in no particular order (a bit like Pokemon, you gotta watch 'em all...
On the day of his daughter's birthday, Oh Dae-Su is abducted and imprisoned in a room for 15 years. Released by unseen captors, Oh Dae-Su is given an expensive suit, money and cellphone... and absolutely NO explanation of what is going on. And that's all in the first ten minutes... Oldboy is a mad, sexy, inventive, stylish psychological thriller directed by Korean film guru Chan-wook Park that's currently getting a US remake (ho-hum) starring Will Smith. Watch the original NOW, before your mind is tainted with the US version. It's the weirdest, most thrilling movie you ever saw in your life. You'll never guess the ending, you'll fall madly in love with the antihero, and you literally won't be able to believe your eyes in the restaurant scene. Even if you think you don't like thrillers... this one will blow you away. It got 8.4 out of 10 on IMDB. Hang on... everyone on IMDB agrees on something for a change? You simply mustn't miss this.
2. The Good, the Bad and the Weird
(Joheunnom nabbeunnom isanghannom)
An amusing, quirky, inventive korean-flavoured Western directed by Jee-woon Kim. This is the story of two outlaws and a bounty hunter in 1940s Manchuria and their rivalry to possess a treasure map while being pursued by the Japanese army and Chinese bandits. It nods heavily to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, but this film is a joy, a riot and makes 'madcap' seem cool again.
3. I'm A Cyborg But That's Okay
I'm a Cyborg... is a hyper-cute Korean indie rom-com directed by Park Chan-wook and starring Im Su-jeong and Rain. The film centres around Young-goon, a young woman who genuinely thinks she's a robot. After trying to recharge herself and nearly electrocuting herself in the process, Young-goon is sent to a mental institution. That's where she meets hot patient Il-Sun, a kleptomaniac who claims to steal other people's talents and souls. It's the only romantic comedy we can think of to date that's set in a mental hospital. Be warned: It's very knowing and endearing. If 'cute' sets your teeth on edge, stay away.
4. The Chaser
We stress again... Korean cinema has a real eye for producing thrillers that'll appeal to anyone who believes they hate thrillers. The Chaser is an extraordinarily engaging and gripping film, even if you're not, as far as you're aware, fond of the sight of bloodied hammers being raised and lowered repeatedly. It should be cliche, with a sleazy, lazy cop and a serial killer. But it deftly plays with cliche to come out the other side. It'll mess with your head, too - a Hollywood-style ending occurs a paltry 20 minutes into the film, leaving the viewer to explore whole new territories of invention. The Chaser is absolute genius. It even dares to venture into enjoyably silly farce/satire that's pretty broad for western audiences, although film lovers will know that broad humour is common in the portrayal of peasants or figures of authority in Korean films.
5. A Bittersweet Life
Jee-woon Kim directed this one. Sandwiched between two buddhist parables, crime boss henchman Kim Sun-woo (Lee Byung-hun) is asked to shadow his boss's beautiful young wife, thought to be a bit flighty and cheating on him with a younger man. Normally, our hero and heroine would fall in love. In this case, our hero is constantly trying to do the honourable right thing... and this leads him into situations that become increasingly awful, ending in one of the best finales you'll see in cinema. More stylish than Pulp Fiction, more gripping than Haute Tension... this beautiful Korean movie is red roses for the eyes, and damn near perfect.
6. Hansel and Gretel
(Henjel gwa Geuretel )
Korean horror films are easily as eerie and twisted as Chinese ghost story films or the "Does it have long hair? It must be dead and evil" horror films from Japan. Hansel and Gretel is a very strange and beautifully-shot take on the old Grimm fairytale, placed in a creepily enchanted Korean setting as a young couple lose their way in a dark forest and find themselves staying the night in a happy family home they can never leave...
7. A Tale of Two Sisters
An even better Korean horror film is A Tale of Two Sisters. Mesmerising, beautiful and strange, it follows the psychological twists and turns of two very odd sisters and a stepmother struggling to accept them as her new family. There may - or may not - be a psychopath in the family. But is it the mother? Or one of the sisters? Or both? It's not a gory film, but so slow and gripping you'll utterly forget to breathe.
8. My Sassy Girl
Awwwwwwww. A rating of 8.2 on IMDB for this Korean drama / romantic comedy directed by Jae-young Kwak. It's based on a series of true stories blogged by Ho-sik Kim about his relationship with his girlfriend (later turned into a bestselling book and a crappy US remake). My Sassy Girl describes the meeting of Kyun-woo (Cha) and an unnamed girl. Kyun-woo is shamed into assisting her because the other passengers mistakenly think she is his girlfriend. Once he helps her, Kyun-woo develops a deep sense of responsibility for her which enables him to tolerate (somehow) the girl's abuses. Utterly, utterly lovely, with true laugh out loud moments.
9. The Man From Nowhere
A quiet pawnshop keeper with a murky past takes on a drug/organ trafficking ring in the hope of saving a child who is his only friend. It's an explosive korean thriller with gut-busting adrenalin, richly choreographed violence, gorgeous cinematography and real heart. And, of course, some comedy gems. Korean films are much better at genre-twisting than Hollywood. Fans of the Luc Besson thriller Leon will certainly love this.
Buy Mother [DVD]
You know what? After a slow start, this quirky korean thriller is not entirely unlike Twin Peaks, with its rich and varied cast of very odd townsfolk. The murder mystery focuses on a mother's attempts to clear her son's name when he is implicated in a killing on the grounds that he is simple. As well as being an excellent mystery with neat plot twists, it features fantastic performances... and it's the kind of movie where you really wouldn't be surprised if David Lynch's Log Lady turned up.
11. The Host
Buy The Host [DVD]
Some people moan about The Host because they say it's too patchy. Certainly, it's many films rolled into one. It's not really the horror film people claim it to be - more of a Korean monster movie. But it's got fantastic CGI, and it's really well shot, and it's very funny, and the second half of the film isn't just a witty and well-paced monster movie but also a massive satire on the failings of Korean government and society. All that in one film? Bonus.
This one's kind of a curio. Are you ready for a korean supernatural thriller stroke superhero movie? You are? Good. Cho-In can control other people's minds, but only when he can see them. And there's just one man he can't control - a man who is immune to his powers. Within the first 15 minutes you'll know this almost-but-not-quite superhero film is designed not to provoke but to entertain. It's zany, wild, and exciting. And makes no sense. Watch it and throw your popcorn in the air. DO IT.
13. Memories of Murder
Lucky number 13 - this really is one of the best korean films of all time. In 1986, in the province of Gyunggi, in South Korea, a second young and beautiful woman is found dead, forcibly violated and bound in her underwear. Detective Park Doo-Man and Detective Cho Yong-koo, two brutal and stupid local detectives without any technique, investigate the murder using brutality and torturing the suspects, without any practical result. Detective Seo Tae-Yoon arrives to help with investigations and is convinced there's a serial-killer on the loose... This film is disturbing but cathartic. It's based on a true story. It's painstakingly researched with outstanding performances, and based on its topic it should be disturbing. A masterpiece.
14. Lady Vengeance
Lady Vengeance is the final part of the excellent Vengeance trilogy by lovely Chan-wook Park (which includes Oldboy). After a decade in prison for kidnapping and murdering a little boy, Geum-ja Lee just wants a peaceful life... but she's not going to get it. Lady Vengeance has the dark humour of Oldboy and the low-key elegance of Mister Vengeance. Again, a great plot, fine build of pace and tension, and twists and turns. Most Korean films have those. This one is, however... elegant. Truly elegant. The music, the cinematography, the icy cool of the lead actress... you'd want Lady Vengeance to be your friend. You'd best not make her your enemy.
Yay it's a korean vampire movie! Directed by... again... Chan-wook Park. He gets around, doesn't he? Chan-wook Park is Korea's answer to Darren Aronofosky, in many ways... Anyway, this ubergory horror movie's plot centres on a priest who 'catches' vampirism through a failed medical experiment and has to give up his holy ways. Although gory with a bit of nudity, vampire lovers simply MUST see Thirst because it pokes a great big hole in all the vampire cliches. It splices inventive plot, dialogue and visceral display with pithy surreal comedy... and as for the love scene? Wow. Weird love scene. Enjoy...
16. I Saw The Devil
When his pregnant fiancee becomes the latest victim of a serial killer, a secret agent is torn between good and evil in his pursuit of revenge. Korean films are at their best when they blur the boundaries between evil and good... no-one is ever purely one thing or the other. And that makes for great cinema. I Saw the Devil is an absolute masterpiece... but it's violent. Be prepared.
17. Bedevilled or Be Devil
(Kim Bok-nam salinsageonui jeonmal)
Buy Bedevilled [DVD]
When her pleas for help are ignored and cause her daughter's death, a woman seeks revenge on the person she blames. Death and revenge... korean films can't get enough of it. Neither can Mookychick. This horror thriller is pretty much a unique genre and it's handled in a unique way. For one thing, it's told from the point of view of someone who is not a central character. For another, it dripfeeds you clever little twists and turns through flashbacks that will leave you guessing and wanting more. Lastly, it's got two REALLY powerful female leads. Oh, it's so much more than just a boring, standard revenge drama...
(Nae yeojachingureul sogae habnida)
We're getting near to the end of our list now, and we don't want you to think all the best korean movies are just blood, guts, cops and revenge tragedies. They're really not. Windstruck is a romance that will stay with you forever. An emotional rollercoaster, it's about love transcending death... some people rate it even higher than My Sassy Girl.
This powerful, brave film centres on a mean old debt collector who starts to see the good in life when he meets a high school girl. It touches on the really painful subject of domestic violence, but sometimes it's really important to watch films like this. Don't be scared. Watch the film. It's time to face the truth.
20. A Moment to Remember
(Nae meorisokui jiwoogae)
Oh, man... purists would be so cross with us if this one didn't get listed as one of the truly best korean films ever. It's a Korean love story about a young couple's enduring love and how that love is tested when 27 year old Sun-jin is diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimer's disease. Yes, it's emotional, and yes, you will cry. It's a simple story, but so well directed that it rises above itself to become something beautiful and pure and holy and true, like going to film church. Did we mention you'll cry? Sorry, but it's true - you will.
And on that cheery note... These are, pretty much, the 20 best korean films of all time. From horror to drama to romance to comedy to strange, wonderful films that bust Hollywood genres to become something exciting and new, korean cinema is some of the most expensive-looking, thoughtful and inventive in the world.
We can't wait to see what those crazy-wonderful korean film directors will come up with in 2012...
See more Music, Films, Books, Comics and Video Game Reviews on Mookychick
@MagdaKnight is the Co-Founding Editor of Mookychick. Her YA fiction and other writings have been published in anthologies and in 2000AD. She likes you already, so Email her and say hi, or visit her blog. She is on Google+.