10 Must See Korean Movies
There are many people from all around the world who are totally unaware of the brilliance that is the Korean movie scene. If you’re one of those people, you’ve been missing out big time! So, I’ve compiled a list of what I think are the 10 best Korean movies ever to grace our screens.
Some of the best movies to have come out in the last decade or two have come out of South Korea. Part of the reason that Korean movies have such a high standard of quality is mainly due to the lack of funding on the industries’ part. Only the best scripts are chosen to be put forward and made into movies, which results in a lot of consistency. Another thing worth noting is the fact that Korean movies take far more risks in terms of plot development, and can be quite tragic in nature. Happy endings are very rare, and a majority of the time we are left with some unsettlingly bleak storytelling, which make for truthful cinema.
That said, on with the list…
10. My Sassy Girl
“Based on a series of true stories posted by Ho-sik Kim on the Internet describing his relationship with his girlfriend. These were later transformed into a best-selling book and the movie follows the book closely. It describes the meeting of Kyun-woo (Cha) and an unnamed girl. Kyun-woo is shamed into assisting the girl 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 girls abuses.”
My Sassy Girl is my favorite romantic comedy of all time. That said, I’ve only ever seen about four similar movies in the genre, mainly because It’s not a particularly appealing genre of movie for my tastes. Regardless, this movie breaks the mold for me, and had me hooked from the start, until it finished. It’s funny, witty, charming, and can ‘classically’ romantic at times. In saying that, stay well clear of the Hollywood remake at all costs! Unless you’re fond of romantic comedies without the comedy… and the romance…
“An average man is kidnapped and imprisoned in a shabby cell for 15 years without explanation. He then is released, equipped with money, a cellphone and expensive clothes. As he strives to explain his imprisonment and get his revenge, Oh Dae-Su soon finds out that his kidnapper has a greater plan for him and is set onto a path of pain and suffering in an attempt to uncover the motive of his mysterious tormentor.”
Oldboy is debatably one of the most renown Korean movie worldwide. It made a name for itself by being amazingly gritty, dramatic and for It’s unique presentation. It’s an original take of the classic vengeance story, that has an incredibly satisfying plot to become indulged in. I’ve always compared this movie to Kill Bill vol. 1 on the basis of It’s anime/comic book inspiration. Kill Bill had many moments throughout the movie that screamed ANIME! And Oldboy is no different.
8. Memories of Murder
“In 1986, in the province of Gyunggi, in South Korea, a second young and beautiful woman is found dead, raped and tied and gagged with 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. The Detective Seo Tae-Yoon from Seul comes to the country to help the investigations and is convinced that a serial-killer is killing the women. When a third woman is found dead in the same “modus-operandi”, the detectives find leads of the assassin.”
Memories of Murder is quite possibly one of the best (if not the best) serial killer movies in recent years. Beautiful cinematography, flawless acting and phenomenal storytelling make up a complete package that is incredibly satisfying to watch. It is one of those movies that has a somewhat slow start, but begins to pick up the pace steadily as the story progresses. That said, many people might be put off by It’s odd sense of humour, which pops up now and again throughout the movie. These light comical moments will not take you out of the immersion but the movie certainly could have done without them. However, don’t let something so minor discourage from seeing this fantastic piece of cinema. If you love murder mysteries and a story, you can sink your teeth into, then this is a must watch.
“A young drifter enters strangers’ houses – and lives – while owners are away. He spends a night or a day squatting in, repaying their unwitting hospitality by doing laundry or small repairs. His life changes when he runs into a beautiful woman in an affluent mansion who is ready to escape her unhappy, abusive marriage.”
A movie with few words, but much meaning. What we have is a surprisingly complex story about a young man who breaks into people’s houses but does not take anything of value. He does this not because he wants to steal, no, he does this in order to feel like he actually has a home to live in. During one of the young mans breaking and entering rituals, he comes across a lonely, abused woman. Oddly, without a word, she then follows the young man, and watches his every move until she realises that she can trust him. Their unusual encounter takes them into an unfamiliar territory which will unite them in more ways than one.
A truly unusual movie, that focuses on storytelling via emotions, rather than words and actions. It’s very rare for us to be able to watch a movie with such a strong artistic direction, let alone one that is utterly captivating.
6. Voice of a Murderer
“Han Kyung Bae (Sol Kyung Gu) is a successful news anchor with a beautiful wife (Kim Nam Joo) and a nine-year-old son, but his quiet life comes crashing down when his son gets kidnapped. In the next 44 days, they continuously receive calls from the kidnapper in his chillingly cold and emotionless voice with instructions and requests for ransom. The police are determined to find the kidnapper, but he effortlessly eludes capture; not only is he a step ahead at every turn, he seems to enjoy toying with the police in this cat-and-mouse chase. As the kidnapper keeps walking free, Kyung Bae becomes increasingly desperate and frustrated with the police, as he knows time is running out for his child.”
A modern tale of kidnap based on a true story. This movie does a brilliant job of capturing Korean culture as a whole. Throughout the entire story, there is such a different feeling you receive whilst watching than you would get with a western movie within the same genre. Examples would be how the authorities deal with the kidnapper’s threats; the methods used to capture the kidnapper and how media covers the story.
To be honest, I wish there were more movies like this one. It reminds me of what Hollywood used to be capable of accomplishing.
5. The Chaser
“Joong-ho is a dirty detective turned pimp in financial trouble as several of his girls have recently disappeared without clearing their debts. While trying to track them down, he finds a clue that the vanished girls were all called up by a same client whom one of his girls is meeting with right now.”
How about an original story of a former police officer turned pimp, who gets royally pissed off because all of his hoes are going missing? Shortly after doing some research, he then finds out that the person behind all of this is, in fact, a murder that has been on the loose for quite some time. Our Hero (let’s call him “The Pimp”) then goes on further by tacking down the murderer, finding him and then beating seven shades of sh*t out of him… twice. Do you like the sound of this? Well, you should because this is a modern classic in the thriller genre. The movie never wanes at any point, it doesn’t get dull, or boring; it stays interesting all the way through untill the end. That said, It’s also ‘closely’ based on a true story.
4. A Moment to Remember
“A heart broken girl probably would like get the bitter past erased, but what if it happened on a 27 years old woman. In A Moment to Remember, the young couple Sui Jin and Cheol-soo struggled in combat with the fatal Alzheimer which was ruining their marriage step by step. Cheol-soo could save Sin Jin from a bitter past, but who could be their savior in flight with losing the memories, love and life? Betrayed by the married man, Sui Jin left the tickets at the train station. When she came across a build laborer Cheol-soo at the gate of a shop, she had his cola, without knowing his name and the future that he was her real soul mate.”
A Moment to Remember is one of the only movies to have truly touched me deeply. Life, death, happiness, sorrow, come together brilliantly, with superb acting, stunning cinematography, and a splendid soundtrack. If you’re prone to tearing up whenever you watch a sad movie, then I suggest you have tissues at the ready.
“Jong-du, a young man just out of prison for manslaughter, is a social misfit: fidgety, snuffling, laughing inappropriately, without a super ego. When released, he calls on the family of the victim; they send him away, but not before he has seen Gong-ju, a young woman disabled severely by cerebral palsy. Both are abused by their families, and both are used by them as well. Although their relationship begins with Jong-du’s criminal behavior, a friendship develops. They talk of favorite things; he washes her hair; they go out; in late night phone calls, he helps her past her fears of the dark. Is there a place in the world for these two inarticulate people?”
Oasis is the story of a young man confined by his mind, and a young woman confined by her body. They come together and create a relationship because of their handicaps as in spite of them. When I first saw this movie, I was left with an uneasy feeling because it was nothing like I’ve ever seen before. This movie certainly doesn’t pull any punches, and for that I’m very thankful. This is a masterpiece, and I mean this in the classic sense of the word. I honestly can’t think of any other love story, which focuses on two unattractive (this is the most politically-correct word I can possibly use) young adults which both live with horrible afflictions (one being much worse than the other, of course) and are mistreated by everyone except each other… Heartbreaking, eye-opening and utterly compelling. Cinema at It’s best.
2. JSA (Joint Security Area)
“In the DMZ separating North and South Korea, two North Korean soldiers have been killed, supposedly by one South Korean soldier. But the 11 bullets found in the bodies, together with the 5 remaining bullets in the assassin’s magazine clip, amount to 16 bullets for a gun that should normally hold 15 bullets. The investigating Swiss/Swedish team from the neutral countries overseeing the DMZ suspects that another, unknown party was involved – all of which points to some sort of cover up. The truth is much simpler and much more tragic.”
“JSA” is a beautiful film that shows the viewer a grim look into the relationship between North Korea and South Korea. This is a story of four young soldiers (two from South Korea, and the other two from North Korea) forced to take sides because of national interests, but then go on to befriend one another out of odd circumstances. However, their dangerous friendship does not last very long… I urge people to understand the context of this film before watching for maximum enjoyment. A little insight into what truly divides North from South will shed some light on some contextual moments. This movie is not to be missed.
“After losing both her parents, Failan (Cecilia Cheung) emmigrates to Korea to seek her only remaining relatives. Once she reaches Korea, she finds out that her relatives have moved to Canada well over a year ago. Desperate to stay and make a living in Korea, Failan is forced to have an arranged marriage through a match-making agency. Kang Jae (Choi Min Shik) is an old and outdated gangster who has no respect from his peers. Short on money, Kang Jae decides to take on the arranged marriage. Having nothing more than a picture of Kang Jae, Failan spends her days dreaming and wishing that Kang Jae would come to visit her. Failan often writes to Kang Jae in sorrow about how much she misses and thinks about him, but never has the nerve to give the letters to Kang Jae. Things take a turn when Kang Jae is asked by his boss to take the fall for a murder in exchange for some money. The only hope in his worthless life is the wife he never met.”
Failan is quite possibly the best movie of the 21st century thus far. This is my favorite movie of all time, and has inspired me to make this post. After I finished watching this film for the first time, I was left dumb-founded… I was speechless and emotionally moved like I’d never been before. This is a truly heart-breaking movie that genuinely moved me to tears on more than one occasion. I was left thinking about this movie for days after I watched it – I just couldn’t shake the thought of Failan out of my thought process. I honestly don’t want to ruin any details, but if there is at least one movie you would consider watching in this list, please make it Failan. These are cinema and storytelling at It’s best.