Very few countries produce cinema as instantly recognisable as South Korea. Regardless of the genre South Korean films have a distinctive and unmistakable style. Sometimes dark and often thought-provoking, Korean film has a visual style and tone all of its own.
Following the huge success of Parasite, the first foreign language to win multiple Oscars, including Best Picture, we look at five must watch Korean films. Some of the best Korean movies are amongst the greatest films ever made. Each of the films on our list spans a different genre but yet could only be from South Korea.
Starting with perhaps the most famous of them all, here’s our guide to five of the best South Korean movies.
Perhaps the most well-known South Korean film to western audiences, Oldboy is a taut, dark and tense thriller. Kidnapped and held hostage for 15 years in a hotel room, Oh Dae-Su, played brilliantly by Choi Min-sik, dreams of escape and revenge.
Suddenly released without explanation he finds himself in the middle of a violent and deadly game of cat and mouse with those responsible for his lengthy and unexplained imprisonment. Slowly the reasons behind Dae-Su’s capture and the conditions of his release are revealed. A bloody pursuit of revenge ensues.
Oldboy was nominated for and won several awards worldwide, including the Grand Prix at Cannes Film Festival in 2004. Beautifully shot and directed throughout Oldboy grips you from the first to the very last scene and stays with you long after it has finished.
Bluebird is another dark, mysterious psychological thriller, but this time on the frenzied hunt for a serial killer. Doctor Seung-hoon relocates from Gangnam to Hwaseonga, a city outside of Seoul still synonymous with the unsolved murders committed by a serial killer in the recent past.
Seemingly under something of a cloud, Seung-hoon has left behind his failed private practise, as well as his ex-wife and their son, and is forced into renting a cramped box room above a butcher shop. One day a sedated patient appears to provide startling details of a horrific murder.
When body parts are discovered in the river soon after, Seung-hoon is drawn into an world of unending mystery and plot twists in trying to track down the killers, who he suspects may be the butcher downstairs.
Convinced that they may also be after him, the nightmarish tension and paranoia builds and builds. Nothing can be taken for certain and nobody is above suspicion in a film that keeps you guessing right until the very final scene.
My Love Don’t Cross That River is a tender, funny and incredibly emotional documentary that follows the daily lives of 95-year-old Jo Byeong-man and 90-year-old Kang Kye-yeol. The couple have been married for 76 years and despite their advancing ages remain incredibly active in mind and body.
Still living in their own home in the mountains of Hoengseong County, the elderly couple are as playful with each other as if they were teenagers. Seemingly inseparable, they still enjoy snowball fights and moments of tender affection.
The pair seem to be representative of a Korea from a slightly different era. Both dress in bright and beautiful traditional Korean robes and still observe old traditions. Yet they also have to contend with modern day family issues, such as their own bickering children, themselves now advancing in years.
Eventually time passes and the inevitable occurs, making this documentary an incredibly powerful reflection on life, love and death.
Oasis is an incredible film. At first glance it appears pretty heavy. Hong Jong-du, a man with mild mental difficulties, is released from prison after serving two years for manslaughter following a hit and run accident.
Whilst trying to find and apologise to the victim’s family he encounters the victim’s daughter, Gong-ju, who suffers from cerebral palsy. Gong-ju has been left to live alone in her apartment whilst her family pockets her disability pension.
Hong Jong-du and Gong-ju become inseparable and what follows is a remarkable testament to the power of love and companionship in the face of societal – as well as physical and mental – challenges. Often a searing indictment on how those marginalised by society are misunderstood or even ignored, even by their own families, Oasis is an unforgettable film.
The performances of the two main actors, Sol Kyung-gu and Moon So-ri, are staggering, depicting difficult and sensitive afflictions with huge pathos and dignity. One scene in particular, in a subway station at night, is absolutely breathtaking and unforgettable. Oasis won countless awards on its release and is easily one of the best South Korean movies of all time.
(Apologies for the poor quality trailer here, but believe us, this is a wonderful film).
Several years after a pathologist pours 200 bottles of formaldehyde down a drain that leads into the Han River, a strange creature emerges from the sewers. The huge beast makes its way on to the banks of the river, attacking and killing groups of people.
In the process the monster captures a young girl and returns with her to the sewers where she is kept alive, initially unbeknownst to her family. After managing to make contact with her father, and amidst the backdrop of a panicked government and bureaucratic ineptitude, her family go all out to try and rescue the daughter from the monster’s lair.
A big budget monster thriller starring one of South Korea’s finest actors, Song Kang-ho, The Host won several awards, including Best Film at the Asian Film Awards.
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