Now here are 10 South Korean films of this decade.
1. House of Hummingbird
“House of Hummingbird”, the first feature film by director/writer Kim Bo-ra, observes a young ordinary girl’s life in specific place and period, but it eventually comes to us a universal coming-of-age tale packed with small but powerful moments. At first, I wondered a bit about why many critics have been so enthusiastic about the movie, but then I found myself emotionally involved in its adolescent heroine’s small world more than expected during the next 90 minutes, and that was why I was surprised as observing how strongly I reacted to what is superbly presented during the rest of the movie. In my inconsequential opinion, it is surely one of the great South Korean films of this decade, and you must check it out as soon as possible.
Bong Joon-ho’s latest film “Parasite’, which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival early in this year while also incidentally distinguishing itself as the first South Korean film to receive the award, is a funny and enthralling genre piece packed with superb elements to be appreciated and admired. Although I must say that I was initially not sure about its greatness unlike some other local critics, I eventually came to conclude that this is indeed a masterwork to be cherished for legitimate reasons, and I can assure you that you will not regret once you watch it.
3. Bleak Night
“From where did it go wrong?”, one character asks, but he does not get the answer, and neither do others. Centering around the suicide of one teenager, the director/writer Moon Sung-hyeon’s remarkable debut “Bleak Night” reveals how the boys can sometimes be more vulnerable than the girls. They are not wise, and they do foolish things, and they have not learned that others can be hurt as much as them. In addition, out of pettiness and anger, they cannot accept the apology even if it sincerely comes from the heart. Only after getting wiser(and older), they finally begin to grasp what they did to others, and ultimately to themselves. Alas, the water is spilt, and it is too late for them now.
“Sunny” is pretty pleasant and exuberant to say the least. The most remarkable thing about the screenplay co-written by the director Kang Hyeong-cheol is that, besides being a very hilarious comedy, it successfully juggles not only seven main characters but also their older counterparts and many supporting characters surrounding them; the characterization is broad, but each of main characters is given distinctive features. With small and big laughs bursting from here and there, this sunny comedy also works as a drama about the strong bond between the seven ladies. By re-awakening their past, their mundane, or miserable in some cases, lives begin to be enlivened. I cannot deny that it is possible because of money, but what a pleasant female empowerment it is.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
Alternatively funny and melancholic, Jeon Go-woon’s “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.
When Lee Chang-dong’ “Poetry” won Best Screenplay award at the Cannes Film festival, I was glad that the juries honored that subtle simplicity of this movie. In the rhythm of daily mundane life, the story slowly moves on with its increasingly senile heroine beautifully played by Yoon Jeong-hee, and everything eventually culminates to a somber scene in front of a shabby apartment building where she lives, which is then followed by a powerful ending to remember. Though I still do not understand poetry, I could feel about it at least during watching movie, and that is certainly an achievement in my trivial opinion.
10. The Nameless Gangster
“Nameless Gangster” is a compelling crime drama which is bitingly funny to me and other South Korean audiences, and you may also enjoy it as a funny guide to the dirty side of South Korean society which still remains with us even after more than 20 years. Through the story of a sleazy former custom official who rises above the ranks of one of the powerful crime organizations in Busan, the movie slyly comments that the line between an ordinary man and a gangster is not clear at all in South Korean society, and the director/writer Yoon Jong-bin’s earnest approach to his story without the glamor is commendable. The recreation of the 1980s is convincing and realistic, and the excellent cast led by Choi Min-sik and Ha Jeong-woo dances and fights around the screen until the president of South Korea declares “War Against Crime” on TV on October 13th of 1990. The epilogue sequence reminds us that South Korean society, or its people, has not been changed much even in the 21st century – and our recent presidential election result surely proved that.