And now here is the list of 11 South Korean films you should not miss.
As the remake version of Hong Kong thriller film “Eye in the Sky” produced by Johnnie To, South Korean film “Cold Eyes” can stand on its own place with style and substance like Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed”. Revolving around the special department members of Seoul Police and a bunch of career criminals pursued by them, the movie is a pure exercise in thriller and professionalism. Starting with the tense opening scene accompanied with not many words, we are served with the series of good action/thriller sequences unfolded in the downtown areas of Seoul, and we also get top-notch performances by the cast members including Seol Kyeon-goo and Han Hyo-joo, This taut, efficient work does its job well like its professional characters, and the result is an unexpectedly splendid genre piece which also happens to be the best South Korean film of this year.
They say every man has his own daddy issue to deal with, and Hwayi(Yeo Jin-goo), who just looks like an ordinary high school kid on the surface, has a particularly overwhelming one. He has been raised, taught, and influenced by five men who have taken care of him since he was taken to their dark criminal world, and now he finds himself struggling with his own darkness inherited from his ‘fathers’ including the charismatic and ruthless leader Seok-tae(Kim Yoon-Seok). The movie goes darker and bloodier as Hwayi comes to learn about himself more than he has ever imagined, and the director Jang Joon-hwan, who previous made a surprising debut with “Save the Green Planet!”(2003), gives us a gripping noir drama pulsating with its dark power to leave a big impression on you after watching it. Hwayi hates his fathers, but they are still a part of his life and his identity no matter how much he resists, and he eventually finds himself becoming more like them – will he become the very monster he has feared since his childhood?
As usual, Hong Sang-soo gives South Korean audiences another fun in this year, and he arrives with two smart, interesting films to be savored. While I enjoyed “Our Sunhi” more than “Nobody’s Daughter Haewon”, the latter is a playful story going around dream and reality as its pretty and likable heroine(Jeong Eun-chae) wondering about what to do next in her future, and I came to like it more after the second watching. In case of “Our Sunhi”, it has many amusing moments as three guys are revolving around our girl named Sunhi(Jeong Yu-mi), and I am still tickled by that drunk conversation sequence between Lee Seon-gyoon and Jeong Jae-young. They actually drank as going through several takes, and this surely proves that Hong Sang-soo is a director any recovering alcoholic actor should think twice about working with.
“Pluto” shows us a very disturbing(and very realistic) side of South Korean education system in which anyone is expendable for better test scores and better college enrollment. Starting with a horrible murder case at one respectable high school, the movie immediately thrusts us into an equally terrible revenge plot by one of the students, and, step by step, we come to learn about how some of the students in this rotten school are more pitiable while others are more despicable than we initially thought. You may wish this is just a fiction, but our reality in South Korea is not so far from what is shown in “Pluto” except its revenge plot, and, considering boiling anger and frustration reflected in this shattering film, I am glad about gun control in our country. Seriously, I really do not want to imagine what can possibly happen if guns are easily accessible to our troubled high school students who must be suffering even at this point.
Joo-hee(Kim Joo-ryeong) and Hyeon-soo(Kim Soo-hyeon), a couple in South Korean independent film “Sleepless Night”, have been happy to be with each other for a while, but now they face a crucial point of their relationship. They begin to wonder about whether they should have kids or not, and they discuss with each other about that, but they only become more uncertain about their future with no clear answer given to them – and it becomes harder for them to sleep well at night due to this matter. The running time of this small gem is only a little more than an hour, but we come to know and care a lot about its main characters through the succinct storytelling by the director Jang Kun-jae, and we are left with satisfaction around the end credits. Their night still feels uncertain and sleepless for them – but we can also see the faint possibility of better things to come.
“How to Use Guys with Secret Tips”, the underrated South Korean film of this year, knows how to draw good laughs from its fictional self-help guide and other fun elements in its witty story, and the result is smarter and funnier than its rather corny title suggests. I must say I had little expectation due to its trailer, but I enjoyed it more than I thought, and I found myself frequently laughing even though I was aware of its cheerfully campy absurdity. The director/writer Lee Won-seok goes all the way for good laughs, and the lighthearted tone of the movie is well maintained by Lee Si-yeong’s lovable lead performance as the heroine surprised to find her life getting actually improved by a questionable self-help guide, and I am really glad that somebody finally made a good comedy about self-help guide. It may look silly to you at first, but, folks, please don’t judge it by its cover.
O. Meul’s “Jiseul” reminded me that I did not know much about the Jeju uprising in 1948, which was one of the most tragic incidents in the modern Korean history but a merely small fact in my high school history textbook. Although it is neither informative nor revealing, this South Korean independent film closely focuses on the ill-fated people who happened to be swirled into the massive tragedy without fully grasping its scale, and all these human matters and the landscapes of Jeju Island encompassing them are beautifully captured by terrific black and white cinematography by Yang Jeong-hoon. The movie is a sincere tribute both mournful and respectful to the nameless victims of this unjust massacre, and its sad, harrowing elegy may linger on your mind after you watch it.
The conflict between South and North Korea, which has been continuing since the Korean War, has literally been asking for the 21th century Cold War espionage story like “The Berlin File”, and the director Ryoo Seung-wan gives us a slick action film full of ferocious physical actions. Ha Jeong-woo plays a North Korean agent who comes to realize even his country cannot be trusted much through his perilous struggle to survive, Han Seok-kyu is a South Korean agent who comes to make an uneasy alliance with his opponent, Ryoo Seung-beom is a lethal agent sent from North Korea, and Jeon Ji-hyeon is the sole substantial female character in the movie we come to care about more than expected – regardless of what is in her mind.
South Korean movie “The Attorney” has its heart at the right place inside its generic mix of gentle comedy and angry courtroom drama, and, despite its several weak points, its big heart sometimes beats powerfully to resonate with my own heart due to the current troublesome political situation of South Korea. Song Kang-ho gives one of his best performances as a man who finds himself driven by idealism and justice more than he expected when he comes to defend the students wrongfully accused of being communists and North Korean sympathizers in 1981, and the movie has successfully delivered its urgent message to me and other audiences since it was released at South Korean theaters two week ago. Once his eyes are opened, he just can’t stop, and he is determined to fight against that injustice with all the strength he has – and I cannot help but be touched by that.
Have you ever heard of a South Korean director named Bong Man-dae? Well, to be frank with you, I had never heard of him until I came across one article on his small hilarious mokumentary film “Playboy Bong”, and I learned that he was actually famous for his ‘erotic movies’. While looking like a wacky cross between “Day for Night”(1973) and “Boogie Nights”(1997) with a touch of mokumentary style, the movie has several amusing moments as Bong Man-dea and his actors and crews desperately try to complete their cheap horror film in some Indonesian location, and I had a good time with this funny and honest self-portrayal of a shabby artist with some ego. As you know, there are lots of movie directors desperately wishing to be remembered for making at least one good/successful movie, and I think Bong may get his wish through this film.