Korean movies
January 10, 2004 8:07 PM   Subscribe

What are some good Korean movies? [more inside]

I'm already a huge Hong Kong film fan. However, save a couple of rare exceptions (Infernal Affairs, Shaolin Soccer), HK cinema has been going down the tubes in the past 5 years or so.

I've heard that Korean cinema is the hot new thing, but I don't know where to start, especially when so many of the covers look like really sappy romantic comedies. The only Korean movie I've seen so far is Shiri, which I thought was a fairly serviceable, but not exceptional action thriller.

I'm looking both for something a bit on the artsy side (like Wong Kar-Wai) or on the action side.
posted by alidarbac to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Can't personally recommend but Netflix user ratings for Southeast Asia films (includes Korea like The Way Home (2002). GreenCine doesn't have a Korea sub-category but has a good user community blog and message base for researching.
posted by stbalbach at 9:08 PM on January 10, 2004

Joint Security Area was excellent. I'm told that Volcano High is good, but I haven't seen it.

I'll forward your question to a friend of mine who really loves Korean films, and see if I can get back to you with anything.
posted by majcher at 9:13 PM on January 10, 2004

Recommendations were pretty thin the last time the question was asked, but bobo123 did mention koreanfilm.org as a resource.
posted by majick at 9:22 PM on January 10, 2004

A few years back I saw Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors and really enjoyed it, although it's sure to bore some. It's not a sex movie. It's almost like a Jim Jarmusch movie. Check the reviews/comments at that link.

Oh, that year I also saw Barking Dogs Never Bite, a comedy which had some hilarious moments, although I saw it in a crowded theater and maybe that had something to do with the laughs.

It looks like both are available via hkflix.com.
posted by gluechunk at 9:27 PM on January 10, 2004

Nurri sez this is "beautiful and very sad": "Three Friends"
posted by adamgreenfield at 9:27 PM on January 10, 2004

The list from my friend:

'The Quiet Family' - hysterical dark comedy

'YMCA baseball' - writer of JSA takes his first turn at directing

'Oasis' - social misfit rapes a parapalegic, then falls in love with her. can be read as a analogy ofthe north/south korean relationship. incredible acting.

'Christmas in August', 'One Fine Spring Day' - 2 fine romantic movies, one about falling in love, the other about falling out

and i've heard good things about both 'my sassy girl' and 'attack the gas station' though i have yet to see either.

Thanks, Phil!
posted by majcher at 9:29 PM on January 10, 2004


'happy funereal director' begins as slapsticky comedy, but become a lyrical meditation on small town life
posted by majcher at 9:31 PM on January 10, 2004

I'm willing to bet that "Where Is (a/the) Toilet?" isn't an instant classic, its high-art concept notwithstanding.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:50 PM on January 10, 2004

One thing about Korean cinema--is it is both soulful and commercial; intensely proud and personal while also being polished. I haven't seen a lot of Korean movies (maybe 10 in the last 2 years) but the kind of 'artsy' movies of Wong Kar Wai or Hsiao-hsien Hou are not as common in Korean film.

Not that they aren't capable of it--but perhaps they are less interested in it.

The Korean film industry is exceptionally talented and the level of production polish is amazing--the best in asia, in my opinion. They definitely have nailed 'the look' production-value-wise, of Hollywood.

The films that majcher's friend recommended are all fine films. Happy Funereal Director also has a fine, fine cigarette smoking scene.

If you are looking for something in the vein of Hou or wong Kar Wai, may I recommend The Best of Times and Somewhere over the Dreamland. both from Taiwan. While Taiwanese films are often emotionally wringing ('The River', anyone?) they definitely have lyrical down pat.
posted by filsa at 9:56 PM on January 10, 2004

Expanding on my previous comments, Joint Security Area (JSA) is my favourite so far, top notch Hollywood style military thriller which broke all of Shiri's box office records (later bested by Friend).

JSA starts off with a shootout at a pair of military outposts on the border of North and South Korea. A South Korean soldier comes running across a bridge who says he was kidnapped and escaped, the North Koreans say they were attacked by surprise by the South Korean soldier, neither sides story holds up. Several dead. A Swiss official is brought in to investigate... an exciting film. Lots of good word about the directors new film, Old Boy, the guys over at aintitcool keep salivating over it.

Resurrection of the Little Match Girl is interesting if you want to see one of the biggest financial flops in Korean history, not a terrible film though, sorta like the Korean Heaven's Gate.

The Gingko Bed is another favourite of mine, a sort of a modern fairytale like romance. I thought Volcano High was good not great. Interview, the Korean dogme film sucked. I've heard a few people highly recommend the comedy Attack the Gas Station. Shiri didn't move me.

As for Hong Kong films being in a slump, I'd agree but there've been a few gems such as The Eye, Time and Tide and especially P.T.U. (I'd been putting off seeing it since I wasn't familiar with any of the actors and wished I'd seen it sooner, extremely stylish film that is sorta like The Mission with cops), and director Fruit Chan's stuff has been interesting.
posted by bobo123 at 9:56 PM on January 10, 2004

Wonderful Days
posted by erebora at 10:03 PM on January 10, 2004

Thanks for this thread and the recs. I've added a couple of the suggestions to my NetFlix queue. I just wish NetFlix would permit you to make notes on the movies you queue. I very often forget why I've added some. Hopefully these won't be in that category.
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:03 PM on January 10, 2004

Back on topic:

For more hints on Korean movies to see, try checking out what Korean movies play at various festivals. Asian movies get a fair amount of exposure at both the Toronto Int'l Film Festival and the Rotterdam International Film Festival.

In NYC, Subway Cinema held a 2001 Korean Film Fest, and they also have a yearly Asian film fest. Of course, in San Francisco, the National Asian-american Telecommunications Association holds the SF Asian-American Film Festival, which, while highlighting American-made films, also has a number of asian films, including Korean.

One more Korean Film recommendation: Double Agent -- a solid spy thriller. That built in north-south korea tension just gets me every time.

(one more thing--ya, Hong Kong film is not as strong as in it's heyday... but if you haven't seen Johnny To's The Mission, it's a wonderful, suspenseful tale of a gang of bodyguards hired to protect a triad boss under siege. Together with Running out of Time and Where a Good Man goes --both made just before The Mission-- these are arguably To's strongest storytelling.)
posted by filsa at 10:16 PM on January 10, 2004

but bobo123 did mention koreanfilm.org as a resource

hey, that's my cousin darcy's site...! excellent link, of course :-)
posted by t r a c y at 9:01 AM on January 11, 2004

I hated, HATED "Attack the Gas Station." Long periods of ennui intermixed with dumb violence. Then the aggressors started whining about their childhoods while assuming tortured expressions.

But my (half-Korean, but that's neither here nor there) friend Jason loved it, so YMMV.
posted by Vidiot at 8:51 PM on January 13, 2004

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