TOP 10 FILMS

Best South Korean Films (1)

1. LADY VENGEANCE (2005).

After 13 years of false imprisonment for the kidnap and murder of a 6-year-old boy, the beautiful yet ruthless Geum-ja Lee wreaks havoc on the man who was actually responsible for the boy’s death. This is the third installment in Chan-Wook Park’s vengeance trilogy and is my personal favourite. What’s not to like – she is relentless, vindictive, utterly disturbed, and yet you can’t take your eyes off her.

 2. A BITTERSWEET LIFE (2005).

A loyal hotel manager/enforcer is asked by his crime boss to kill his girlfriend’s lover. Daring to defy him, his actions lead to terrible personal consequences and set in motion a cavalcade of blood, violence and mayhem. This is an absolute gem from the masterful yet diverse director, Jee-Woon Kim. Regarding the enforcer, Byung-Hun Lee, I see this guy, and I want to be this guy. He is the epitome of cool.

 3. THE CHASER (2008).

Joong-ho is a dirty detective turned pimp in financial trouble, as several of his hookers have recently disappeared. While trying to track them down, he finds a clue that the vanished girls were all booked by the same client with whom one of his girls is meeting with right now. Along with some of Takashi Miike’s stomach churns, this goes down as one of the most explicitly violent films I’ve ever seen. The detective has found his killer; now all he has to do is find the killer’s next victim. This film really does never stop moving.

 4. OLDBOY (2003).

After being kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years, Oh Dae-Su is released, only to find that he must find his captor in 5 days. A winner of the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival and the second installment in the Chan-Wook Park trilogy, I remember vividly seeing this in cinema and thinking that it pisses all over most Hollywood gangster pap. If you want a gritty watch, this has everything – violence, kidnapping, torture, incest, sex, and a badass protagonist that is quite simply a force to be reckoned with.

 5. MEMORIES OF MURDER (2003).

In 1986, in the province of Gyunggi, in South Korea, a second young and beautiful woman is found dead, raped, tied and gagged with her underwear. Detective Park Doo-Man and Detective Cho Yong-koo, two brutal and stupid local detectives without any technique, investigate the murder using brutality and through torturing the suspects, without any practical result. Based on a true story, this is exactly what a serial killer/detective thriller should be – no subtext, no subgenre – just two cops kicking over rocks in order to protect a community.

 6. JSA: JOINT SECURITY AREA (2000).

In the DMZ (De-militarised zone) separating North and South Korea, two North Korean soldiers have been killed, supposedly by one South Korean soldier. However, the 11 bullets found in the bodies, together with the 5 remaining bullets in the assassin’s magazine clip, amount to 16 bullets for a gun that should normally hold 15 bullets. A cover-up is suspected. I discovered this film whilst on a mission to watch all Chan-Wook Park’s complete filmography. This film is a must-see for anyone interested in reading about a rather lesser-known history.

 7. I’M A CYBORG (2006).

A girl who believes she is a combat cyborg checks into a mental hospital, where she encounters other psychotics and very interesting people. Eventually, she falls for a man who thinks he can steal people’s souls. This film is sheer proof that Chan-Wook Park is no one-trick-pony. He is capable of bouncing from blood and gore to whimsy and magical creativity almost effortlessly. This film isn’t groundbreaking for sure. However, a blend of charisma, quirkiness and a real sweetheart allows this film to really settle nicely in the stomach.

 8. MY SASSY GIRL (2001).

Based on a series of true stories posted by Ho-sik Kim on the Internet describing his relationship with his girlfriend, it describes the meeting of Kyun-woo (Cha) and an unnamed girl. Kyun-woo is shamed into assisting the girl because other passengers on a train mistakenly think she is his girlfriend. Once he helps her, Kyun-woo develops a deep sense of responsibility for her, thus enabling him to tolerate (somehow) the girl’s abuse. If you were unfortunate enough to watch the Hollywood version first, or have only watched the Hollywood version, then my deepest condolences go out to you. This is a rom-com that only the Asians could have pulled off. It is sincere, and demonstrates the sort of behaviour only a victimised yet smitten relationship-goer can relate to.

 9. SAVE THE GREEN PLANET (2003).

Byeong-gu believes that the world is on the verge of an alien invasion, and sets out to save the world. For some time, he has been documenting suspected aliens already inhabiting Earth. One of these aliens (suspected), a CEO of a large company, he takes hostage in return for information of the invasion. I’m not quite sure how, but this film manages to effortlessly blend together the comedy, fantasy, drama, thriller and sci-fi genres without breaking a sweat. The protagonist is truly unforgettable. From the off, you have no clue as to whether he is completely insane or a genius.

 10. THIRST (2009).

Through a failed medical experiment, a priest is stricken with vampirism and is forced to abandon his ascetic ways. Another film from the truly diverse Chan-Wook Park, this is exactly what a vampire film should be – the unequivocal need for blood, in which to survive. This is no Twilight, Vampire Diaries or True Blood so don’t expect any of that gooey love shit.

Written by Conley Low

One thought on “Best South Korean Films (1)

  1. Great site, thanks for the cool references.. I can honestley say there isnt a single film on here I have seen.. but thats about to change!

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