Now here is my list of 10 South Korean films of this year.
1. The World of Us
“The World of Us”, the first feature film by its director Yoon Ga-eun, shows that kids are no less clumsy than most of us in developing and maintaining relationship. Closely observing one little bumpy relationship dynamically being shifted here and there around the wide spectrum of various clashing emotions, this small but fabulous coming-of-age drama immerses us into its young heroine’s small world via its seemingly simple, unadorned approach, and we come to emphasize a lot with her emotional struggles with her accidental school friend. Sure, kids may make many big mistakes as being angry and inconsiderate, but they usually learn from their mistakes as growing up day by day, and they can do better than us sometimes, you know.
2. The Wailing
The deviously overwhelming chaos shown in “The Wailing” disturbed and frightened me. The movie lured me as setting the ground under its unnerving mood, and then it grabbed me tight as going wild with its genre elements, and then it pressed me hard as plunging into gut-chilling inevitability during its breathtakingly intense moments of suspense and dread. To be frank with you, I am not so sure about how I can possibly explain everything in the movie, but I can tell you that this is another superb genre piece from Na Hong-jin, one of the top-notch filmmakers in South Korea.
3. Our Love Story
Lee Hyeon-joo’s “Our Love Story” is a wonderfully intimate drama revolving around one specific romantic relationship. As its two young lesbian heroines get closer to each other after their incidental encounter, they move onto the next step, but then there is always the reality they must deal with everyday – even when they are happy together. I do not know what future lies before them, but I can tell you that the film is another interesting romance movie worthwhile to be compared with “Carol” or “The Handmaiden”.
4. Worst Woman
While it is reminiscent of not only many of Hong Sang-soo’s films including “Hill of Freedom” but also other films such as “Gyeongju” and “A Midsummer’s Fantasia”, “Worst Woman”, directed by Kim Jong-kwan, has its own mood and personality as supported by dexterous direction and solid acting, and it also utilizes well its locations in the Seochon neighbourhood and Namsan Park. As the movie enters a less realistic area around the finale, the movie gives us a haunting poetic moment to remember, and we come to think more about the story itself while listening to its touching final words. It was indeed a hard day for her, and she does deserve such an ending like that – even if it exists only in somebody’s imagination.
5. The Handmaiden
Park Chan-wook’s new film “The Handmaiden” is a droll, morbid exercise in sensuality and perversity. Besides being a sumptuous erotic melodrama which tantalizes and enthralls our eyes with its ornate moods and details, this is also a delightfully twisted thriller which thrills and amuses us as revealing whatever lies behind or below its apparently unreliable settings. When its convoluted plot becomes more loose and straightforward during its last act, it becomes relatively less interesting, but the movie provides enough naughty fun to support its long running time, and we are willing to go along with the potentially dangerous dynamics of seduction, perversion, and manipulation among its main characters. I paid, and I got as much as I could expect from Park Chan-wook’s work.
6. The Truth Beneath
I expected one thing before watching Lee Gyeong-mi’s second feature film “The Truth Beneath”, but the movie served me the other thing I did not expect at all. When it takes its first steps with a familiar thriller premise, you may think you know where it is going, but then it keeps throwing totally unexpected elements into its mixed bag as baffling or surprising you. While the movie is a little too chaotic and confusing at times, I enjoyed a wry sense of humor hovering over its increasingly unhinged mystery plot, and I also liked how it goes all the way for delivering all those offbeat moments to be loved or hated by its audiences. You may not be an ideal audience of the movie, but you will not be disappointed if you are ready for something different.
7. Queen of Walking
“Queen of Walking” is refreshingly bright and sincere with its optimistic attitude. The director Baek Seung-hwa balances his story and characters well between lightweight humor and heartfelt drama, and there are a number of funny moments which succeeded in inducing big chuckles from me during my viewing. Incidentally, the movie is also one of recent South Korean films which show strong, interesting female characters to remember, and its plucky optimism will certainly make you wish that this emerging feministic trend will be continued for a long time.
8. Train to Busan
“Train to Busan”, the first live action feature film by acclaimed animation director Yeon Sang-ho, combines one of my least favorite movie subjects with one of my most favorite movie subjects: zombie and train. As you have already guessed, this is basically another typical zombie movie in which a group of ordinary characters struggle to stay or run away from a sudden zombie epidemic, but the movie is scary and thrilling enough to fix us on the edge of our sear during most of its running time, and it also plays well with its refreshing premise while relentlessly passing by its plot points one by one as demanded. The movie surley made me frightened for what might happen for its characters, and I think I will be a little more watchful in the next time when I get on a train.
Like “Queen of Walking”, Seo Eun-young’s “Overman” is a genuine feel-good coming-of-age drama you cannot miss. Sure, there are several gray moments as its two adolescent characters come to deal more directly with each own trouble later in the story, but the movie earns its hope and optimism as honestly and touchingly observing how they help each other through their accidental relationship. Life is indeed hard and difficult, but they are ready to move forward as fully embracing life – and we come to cheer for them with smile.
10. Phantom Detective
“Phantom Detective” is an amusing mixed bag stuffed with different genre elements which do not seem to fit together at first but somehow work on the whole in its offbeat concoction. After all, not many movies have all those things including 1) a hard-boiled hero haunted by his past, 2) a couple of plucky grade-schoolers in serious dangers, 3) a shadowy organization with the diabolical plan for attaining something a bit more modest than world domination, and 4) an ominous secret place remained hidden from the outside thanks to the understandable absence of Google Earth. The director Jo Sung-hee and his lead actor Lee Je-hoon give us a smart, engaging detective character accompanied with offbeat qualities to be savored, and I hope that Gil-dong will return for another fun adventure to delight and excite us.