Now here are 12 South Korean films of this year.
Alternatively funny and melancholic, “Microhabitat” presents an unconventional heroine to remember. Here is a young, resourceful woman determined to stick to her simple pleasures as much as she can, and the movie is often amusing as generating a number of humorous moments between her and other characters around her, but it is also quite poignant at times as we come to see how adamantly she tries to maintain her modest happiness in her tough daily life. To be frank with you, I have often wondered whether South Korean movies are actually going downhill these days due to their serious lack of diversity, but there are still some excellent ones out there, and I can assure you that “Microhabitat” is one of such fabulous films.
2. Last Child
Calmly observing its three main characters who have been stuck in the gloomy and suffocating aftermath of one irreversible tragedy, “Last Child” gradually reveals their respective pain, confusion, and guilt in front of our eyes, and that leads to a number of tough but undeniably powerful moments which will linger on your mind for a long time after the movie is over. I do not know whether I will be able to watch it again, but I still remember well how much I was touched by a small glimmer of hope and redemption shown from its last shot, and that is more than enough for recommendation in my humble opinion.
3. After My Death
I winced at times while watching “After My Death”, a stark, melancholic drama about the anger, frustration, and grievance revolving around one devastating incident. Although this is not a pleasant experience at all, the movie is alternatively compelling and harrowing even as calmly observing its main characters’ increasingly complex situation from the distance, and there are small but striking moments of considerable emotional power which you have to see for yourself. In short, this is a superlative drama packed with considerable emotional power and sensitivity, and it is surely another significant South Korean film of this year.
“Adulthood” is a simple but charming comedy drama to be cherished. Alternatively humorous and sensitive in its low-key comic approach, the movie generates a number of nice intimate scenes to enjoy, and it is also anchored well by the solid acting from its main cast members. The overall result may be modest on the surface, but it will linger on your mind through its dexterous storytelling and engaging performance, and I am willing to revisit the film someday for appreciating it more.
It is hard for me not to be emotional about the infuriating injustice reflected by the fictional drama of South Korean film “Herstory”, which is inspired by one significant real-life lawsuit against the Japanese government. During the World War II, many young Korean women were taken away from their families and then sexually exploited by the Japanese Army as ‘comfort women’, but the Japanese government has adamantly refused to apologize for this atrocity, and the remaining survivors are still suffering from their sad, painful past even at this point. Steadily focusing on the long, difficult process of that real-life lawsuit, the movie handles its subject with care and respect, and it often gives us emotionally powerful moments as watching how much its main characters try hard for their closure. I was well aware of what it intends to do, but I could not help but touched by its story and characters, and that is more than enough for me to recommend this solid drama film.
“Young-ju” is a simple but bleak drama about guilt and torment. Although there are several moments which are quite difficult to watch for their considerable emotional intensity, the movie steadily engages us as closely observing its main characters’ stark and desperate emotional states, and we come to care a lot about them while also worrying about what may happen among them in the end. Yes, it often feels harsh and gloomy, and it is certainly not something you can watch for entertainment, but it is still worthwhile to watch for its engaging drama and commendable acting.
7. In Between Seasons / Mothers
“In Between Seasons” is the first feature film by director/writer Lee Dong-eun, who subsequently made “Mothers” (2017). While the former is a mild but sensitive drama which respects and cares about its two main characters who have been close to each other but then suddenly come to confront an invisible gap between them, the latter is an equally intimate character drama about the emotional journey of two different characters who happen to live together by accident, and I admire the thoughtful storytelling and unadorned performance in both films. Through these two solid works which were incidentally released in South Korea early in this year, Lee demonstrates that he is a competent filmmaker who is also a good storyteller, and I think he is another promising South Korean movie director to watch.
8. Swing Kids
There are several spirited moments in “Swing Kids”, a funny, delightful comedy drama movie about a group of different characters trying to do a tap dance performance at a Korean War prison camp. Although it starts to lose its comic momentum during its second half and its melodramatic ending feels rather jarring compared to the climatic performance sequence preceding it, the movie is still one of more enjoyable South Korean movies during this year, and I had a fairly good time on the whole.
9. Door Lock
“Door Lock” terrified me more than I expected. When I saw its poster and synopsis a few weeks ago, I thought it was just another woman-in-danger movie, but then I heard some good words from others, and it did not disappoint me at all when I watched it along with my father and a few other audiences early in this month. After I and my father walked out of the screening room, we talked a bit about the movie, and we agreed on how chillingly it often reflects the harsh reality of many South Korean women out there. If they see the movie, they will probably see themselves from its heroine, and they may be a lot more scared than me because of that.
10. Miss Baek
“Miss Baek” is a glum tale of a woman who simply wants to help a young little girl who is not so different from who she once was. While it is often uncomfortable to watch due to several dark, horrific moments associated with domestic abuse, the movie mostly works well as a gritty but sincere drama, and we come to care a lot about two desperate characters at the center of the story. Although there are several notable weak aspects including a number of plot contrivances in the story, the movie is still engaging to watch despite its uncomfortable subject, and it surely distinguishes itself with a strong, independent heroine, which has been quite rare in South Korean films these days.
Special Mention: The Remnants
Documentary film “The Remnants” closely looks into the bitter aftermath of one tragic incident which shocked the whole nation at that time. What happened in Yongsan district of Seoul during the early of January 20th, 2009 was indeed terrible, but the incident has been forgotten too quickly by the South Korean society and its people without any more investigation during next several years, and the survivors who were at the middle of the incident still suffer from their trauma and guilt. The documentary calmly and thoughtfully observes how these people have respectively struggled to live since their release, and the result is a superb documentary to be watched along with its preceding documentary film “Two Doors” (2012).