Korean cinema has always had a special place in my heart. I can’t really explain why this is the case, but it is. Korean cinema has been bleeding into the US for quite some time with certain directors like Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho making films in English, along with certain films like Oldboy gaining international audiences. Though with the more recent successful releases of Parasite and Squid Game there has never been this much success with Korean films in the US. There are plenty of places on Earth that make terrific films, but with the recent success that Squid Game has had it’s a good time to share some Korean films that I think are worth checking out. My only rule while writing this list is that I can only include one movie per director, otherwise this entire list would be Bong Joon-ho. Now here are five Korean movies that are worth checking out.
I’m sure that many people have heard of the excellent zombie film, Train to Busan. I’m also sure many people think that it’s the only good film in its series with a disappointing sequel. But before Yeon Sang-ho came out with the hit zombie film he was a director and writer of animation. At the same time as the release of Train to Busan he also released a companion animated film called Seoul Station. While the film’s ending and arc aren’t as strong as the live-action counterpart, the scope and story in this movie are quite impressive. If you want a strong zombie film and a peek into Korean animation you will enjoy Seoul Station.
The Wailing might not be for everyone. It’s long, slow, and not always clear. But for its intended audience, this is a subtle and tense horror story about a father wanting to save his daughter. Its themes of desperation and deception shine strongly in this beautifully filmed horror. Though it did have some popularity here in the states, I’m shocked that it hasn’t blown up with the growing popularity of A24 horror movies. Na Hong-jin’s masterpiece is a must for fans of more contemplative horror.
The Taxi Driver
This was a recent watch for me. I was shocked at how taken I was with this movie. While the film does play it loose with certain elements of the real-life story that the film is based on, it’s a powerful viewing experience. It’s about social class, censorship, and violent suppression from a totalitarian government. The strongest aspect of this movie is the main character’s arc. In this film we watch a seemingly unlikable and ignorant man grow to become a more understanding and caring person. I’m not lying when I say this film nearly had me in tears by the end. The Taxi Driver is a must-watch.
Visionary director Park Chan-wook has caught some popularity in the states with the cult following around Oldboy. Though I love Oldboy, I have to admit to being annoyed at how some of his other work is overlooked. It was hard to pick out a film by him with films like Lady Vengeance, Thirst, and I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK (all of which are worth checking out). My favorite film by him has to be his more recent project, The Handmaiden. It might verge into what we consider softcore porn in the states, but it’s a thrilling erotic tale about family drama, taboo obsessions, and revenge. Though it might be off-putting at first, if you stick with The Handmaiden it will become one of the greatest thrillers that you’ve ever seen.
Memories of Murder
A tale of police abuse, and justice. Bong Joon-ho has had his largest global success with Parasite. While Parasite has become one of my favorite movies, it comes nowhere close to the masterpiece that is Memories of Murder. The genre juggling of thriller, drama, and comedy is graceful. The acting is terrific with due leads that change and reverse roles as the film progresses. The Themes are strong and make you think of what justice really is. Lastly, despite this movie having a pretty grounded story, the way this film is shot makes it feel like a large epic. Bong Joon-ho is one of the greatest directors around, and Memories of Murder is one of the greatest films ever made.