Top 10 Must See Korean Films (Video Edition)
SNOWPIERCER hits theaters today and is instantly a must see film for fans of scifi, action, and just all around solid movies. Since the film is in English, many may not realize it is actually a South Korean film and the latest in a long line of solid movies from the Asian country. Over the last two decades, South Korea has been in a film renaissance that has yielded some of the best films from around the world. But, most folks don't get a chance to see them or are scared away by the subtitles. Here are my picks for the best movies from South Korea that you must see. If you have a favorite that didn't make the list, feel free to add it to the talk backs below.
OLDBOY is likely the most seen Korean film so I felt it wouldn't be fair to keep it in the top ten. Still, if you have not seen the brilliant work of director Park Chan-wook, you must watch it immediately. Ignore Spike Lee's redundant English-language remake and watch the brilliant psychological thriller/dark comedy in it's native tongue.
You typically wouldn't think of Westerns being made outside of the United States, but Kim Jee-woon's homage to THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY is a bizarre mix of action, violence, and all of the classic elements of the cowboy genre. Check out the awesome chase scene in the video above and tell me that doesn't look as good (if not better) than most American westerns from the last twenty years.
SNOWPIERCER director Bong Joon-ho's widely acclaimed 2009 drama is both a courtroom thriller, murder mystery, and drama about family. Actress Kim Hye-ja, known only as Mother, delivers an amazing performance as a parent trying to clear the name of her disabled son. A beautifully shot film and one you will not soon forget.
Warner Bros bought the rights to remake THE CHASER and were in talks to have THE DEPARTED's William Monaghan and Leonardo DiCaprio bring it to American audiences, but that has yet to come to fruition. Following the formula of an ex-cop who must take the law into his own hands to solve a crime, THE CHASER mixes in some pretty great chase sequences (hence the title) as well as a good deal of humor.
Another cop on the hunt for a killer movie, but what makes NOWHERE TO HIDE so great is the unique editing style. Every trick you could think of is used in this movie and some you may never have seen before. I could go into more detail, but you really just need to check this one out.
Being so close to Japan, you knew there would have to be a kaiju movie on this list! But, THE HOST is not a dark and dour affair and could easily be considered a comedy. The creature design here is fantastic as is the family dynamic of the main characters. The monster is not a gargantuan beast like Godzilla but you definitely don't want to turn your back on this guy.
Another movie from SNOWPIERCER director Bong Joon-ho, MEMORIES OF MURDER is based on the true story of the first serial killer case in South Korean history. But, this movie is not like David Fincher's ZODIAC. MEMORIES OF MURDER, surprisingly, has a good deal of levity and that is thanks to the dynamic between the two lead actors. But, this is still a thrilling and haunting film that will captivate you as you watch and realize how foreign serial killing is outside of the United States.
South Korean horror shares a lot in common with films from Japan and other surrounding nations, but there are still some standouts worth noting. Forget the awful English remake of this movie (THE UNINVITED) and check out the original, loosely inspired by a Korean fairy tale. Yes, there are some horror elements but nothing like THE RING. A TALE OF TWO SISTERS is a haunting and disturbing thriller with supernatural overtones.
Part of Park Chan-wook's thematic trilogy that includes OLDBOY and SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE, this movie is one f*cked up roller coaster. It shares the same darkness as OLDBOY as well as some of the bent humor, but it is definitely it's own film. The extreme violence may be hard for some to swallow, but if you are up for the challenge, definitely check this one out.
Taking place during the Korean War, TAEGUKGI is a stunning film that is on par with the best Hollywood has to offer. Telling the story of two brothers drafted to fight in the war, director Kang Je-gyu wraps a mysterious plot thread that connects the contemporary story with the flashback tale of how the brothers endured the conflict. Wide in scope and emotional punch, TAEGUKGI is hard to watch like any well made war film should be.
SHIRI is where the Korean New Wave of cinema began. In 1999, SHIRI hit Korean theaters and signaled that the film industry in Asia would not be dominated by Japan and China. Hollywood caliber action sequences and set design along with flashy music and a kick ass screenplay, SHIRI opened the door for the next two decades of films from Korea. While SHIRI eventually became a TV series in Korea, it has yet to be remade in English. That is good for movie fans as this is one movie you should see in it's original incarnation.