Now here are 11 South Korean films of this year.
- “Moving On”
Yoon Dan-bi’s first feature film “Moving On” often made me smile during my viewing, and that is quite an achievement considering what a grumpy guy I usually am. Slowly and tenderly doling out one precious human moment after another, the movie depicts its few main characters with loving care and attention, and you will come to like and care about them a lot more than expected around the time when it eventually arrives at its haunting finale shot along with them. Apparently influenced a lot by the works of Edward Yang and Hirokazu Kore-eda, “Moving On” is a very charming piece of work to be appreciated for many reasons, and I think Yoon, who previously made short film “Firework” (2014) before making her feature film debut here, is another promising South Korean female filmmaker to watch.
- “Samjin Company English Class”
We need some healthy dose of spirit and optimism these worrisome days of COVID-19, and I am happy to report to you that “Samjin Company English Class”, directed and wiriteen by Lee Jong-pil, has plenty of that. While sharply recognizing the various hardships with which its three female main characters have to deal everyday, the movie cheerfully follows their risky journey for doing the right thing, and we come to root for them a lot as observing how they come to find inner strength not only from themselves but also others around them.
- “Lucky Chan-sil”
Kim Cho-hee’s first feature film “Lucky Chan-sil” is often amusing and interesting for several good reasons. While clearly reminiscent of those little comedy films of Hong Sang-soo, the movie distinguishes itself via its filmmaker heroine’s comic struggle with what seems to be the dead end of her modest filmmaking career, and it eventually comes to us as a sincere and sweet affirmation on life and artistic passion. To be frank with you, I have no idea on how much this autobiographical work of hers is based on her real-life experience, but now Kim moves onto the next phase of her life and career just like her heroine does at the end of the film, and I will certainly have some expectation on her next work.
- “The Woman Who Ran”
Hong Sang-soo’s new film “The Woman Who Ran”, which won the Silver Bear award for Best Director at the Berlin International Film Festival early in this year, is a breezy three-act comedy mainly focusing on the interactions amidst its female main characters. While I must confess that I do not fully grasp what it is about below its plain surface, I appreciate at least its humorous moments and good performances to be savored, and it is surely another enjoyable work from Hong.
- “Baseball Girl”
I love it when I come to root for a movie character a lot more than expected, and Choi Yun-ta’s “Baseball Girl” is one of such wonderful examples. Like a number of certain unforgettable movie heroines I encountered during last three decades, its young heroine often made me worry about her as trying to give all to what she really wants, and I must confess that I sometimes became rather skeptical about where her defiance and determination will lead her in the end. Nonetheless, she eventually persuaded me, and I came to agree to her adamant position while also admiring and respecting her more than before.
- “An Old Lady”
“An Old Lady”, directed by Lim Seon-ae, calmly observes and then gradually empathizes with its old heroine’s infuriating situation. While we do not know that much about her even in the end, we are also reminded of how she is unfairly denied of justice she deserves, and it is moving to see her finally expressing herself without any ounce of shame at the end of the story. The movie is imperfect for several reasons including its overwrought finale, but it is still worthwhile to watch thanks to Ye Soo-jung’s splendid performance, and its strong moments certainly resonate a lot with the ongoing #MeToo era.
- “More Than Family”
Choi Ha-na’s comedy film “More Than Family” surprised me more than expected. At first, it seems to be merely depending on one absurd comic story premise, but then it comes to show more depth in terms of story and characters, and then it surprises us again as handling its story and characters with considerable common sense and thoughtfulness without never losing its comic momentum at all. Packed with uproarious moments equipped with witty and snappy dialogues as well as precise good timing, the movie is funny and entertaining on the whole, and it is certainly smarter and fresher than many of recent South Korean comedy films.
- “Secret Zoo”
When I watched the trailer of Son Jae-gon’s new comedy film “Secret Zoo”, I seriously wondered whether its outrageous comic premise could work on the big screen. Several moments glimpsed from the trailer seemed so silly and unrealistic to me that I had considerable reservation on the success of the movie, but, what do you know, it turns out that the movie somehow finds a witty, smart way to amuse and entertain us a lot as pushing the premise as much as it can along with its likable main characters, and I have to tell you that I frequently chuckled and laughed along with other audiences around me during last evening.
- “Move the Grave”
Jeong Seung-o’s “Move the Grave” revolves around four different sisters and their little family matter. As humorously observing the rocky interactions among them, the movie also throws some sharp jabs at the main source of their frustration and exasperation, and we come to understand and emphasize more with their conflicting thoughts and feelings while getting to know them more in the end.
“Call”, directed by Lee Chung-hyun, is an increasingly tense and chilling thriller film coupled with a bit of fantasy element. While it is automatically compared with other similar films such as “Frequency” (2000) in my mind during my viewing, the movie is an efficient genre piece which skillfully toys with our expectation and prediction, and it is also supported well by two different strong performances from its two lead actresses Park Shin-hye and Jeon Jong-seo.
Special mention: “Untold”
Lee-kil Bo-ra’s documentary film “Untold”, which was released in local theaters as “A War of Memories” early in this year, simply listens and observes. Even without any particular comment, this small but haunting documentary calmly but palpably conveys to us the old pains and sorrows from a relatively obscure side of the Vietnam War, and it often shines with compassion and empathy while indirectly demanding the justice for those numerous victims and survivors out there. It stumbles a bit at times, but you can clearly sense the passion and sincerity beneath its restrained attitude, and you will come to reflect more on its main subjects more after watching it.