Today, I’d like to share one of my great, big loves: South Korean movies!
I love South Korean cinema because it is at once familiar and foreign. All of the filmmakers in the country today were educated in Hollywood’s style and technique, so all the technical aspects from framing to camera movements to cutting are familiar to anyone who watches Hollywood movies (i.e. everyone). What makes it different, however, is that the filmmakers have taken all these recognizable tools and used them to craft distinctly Korean stories. For me, this combination creates an exciting mix of new and fun and easy to watch.
I also love that South Korean films seem to defy genre, blending and weaving sci-fi, action, melodrama, horror, comedy, romance and whatever else to create impossible to categorize but delightfully refreshing stories. (Many of the films I list below are genre-benders.)
In an effort to share my love of South Korean movies with everyone and encourage others to watch them, I’ve compiled a short list of some of my favorite South Korean movies. I tried to pick movies that I think are accessible to American audiences–ones that aren’t so culturally different as to be impenetrable from an outsider’s perspective–and I’ve included helpful suggestions on which South Korean movie you might enjoy by comparing them to Hollywood movies. Additionally, I only chose movies that can be easily found online.
Here we go:
Sunny (Dir. Kang Hyeong-cheol)
When a middle-aged woman discovers that an old friend is dying, she hunts down all of their friends from high school to reunite for her dying friend’s last wish. As she tracks them all down, the movie is layered with flashbacks of how they all became friends. It is a funny, poignant and slightly heartbreaking but ultimately heart-warming film that will make you wish your best friends were beside you. This movie gets me in the feels every time I watch it.
If you like Now and Then (Dir. Lesli Linka Glatter) or A League of Their Own (Dir. Penny Marshall), you’ll love Sunny. And it’s available on Hulu!
A Werewolf Boy (Dir. Jo Sung-hee)
Recently moved to the country, a family finds a boy who has been raised by wolves in the woods near their house. They, of course, adopt him. Love and friendship blossom as outside forces try to tear the boy away from the family.
I challenge you not to fall in love with Song Joon-ki, the titular werewolf boy, while watching this movie. Not possible.
If you like Edward Scissorhands (Dir. Tim Burton) or Ever After (Dir. Andy Tennant), this one is definitely for you. Available on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.
The Good, The Bad, The Weird (Dir. Kim Ji-woon)
This kimchi-Western takes places in a Mongolian no-man’s land where a bounty hunter, a gangster and a thief are all on a desperate hunt to eliminate each other and find an unknown treasure. Hijinks, hilarity, and kickass action sequences ensue.
This is not just one of my favorite South Korean movies, it’s one of my favorite movies ever. It’s usually the movie I recommend to others when they ask me about South Korean cinema. It’s pure entertainment. You’ll love it.
If you like Indiana Jones (Dir. Steven Spielberg) movies or the first Pirates of the Caribbean (Dir. Gore Verbinski), this one’s for you. Available on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.
Memories of Murder (Dir. Bong Joon-ho)
This movie is based off the true story of South Korea’s first serial killer. It’s set in the 80s in a rural town. Someone is brutally raping and killing young women and leaving no trace of themselves behind. A special detective comes in from Seoul to help the local cops.
This is a dark, complex, gritty movie. And it’s brilliantly crafted–some of the best direction there ever was. (Hi, my name is Clara; I am a Bong Joon-ho fangirl.)
If you like Zodiac (Dir. David Fincher) or Silence of the Lambs (Dir. Jonathan Demme), definitely check out this movie. Available on Hulu.
The Host (Dir. Bong Joon-ho)
Yes, The Host is another Bong movie, but it’s totally different than Memories of Murder! And, really, it shouldn’t matter anyway because he makes brilliant movies.
A monster appears in the Han river, killing people for food and kidnapping them for snacks later. One family’s daughter is taken by the monster and their desperate attempts to retrieve her are blocked by the government at every turn. So, of course, they go rogue, determined to save her against all odds.
If you like Jurassic Park (Dir. Steven Spielberg) or 28 Days Later (Dir. Danny Boyle), you’ll like this movie. Everyone likes this movie. Available on Netflix.
Spellbound (Dir. Hwang In-ho)
Who would have thought that romantic comedy and horror would work? But in this movie it just does. A magician recruits a strange woman to be a part of his act. Then he finds out she can literally see ghosts. Along the way he falls for her. There’s a meet-cute, there are best friends who dole out advice, proximity works its magic… nearly every romantic comedy trope is in this but it’s also legitimately scary–I mean goosebumps and jumping out of your seat scary. I love this movie to bits.
If you like She’s All That (Dir. Robert Iscove) or The Apartment (Dir. Billy Wilder), try this movie. In fact, if romantic comedies are your go-to movies, you’ll LOVE Spellbound. Available on Hulu.
This list may be short, but I love all of these movies. The next time you’re trying to decide on a movie to watch, I hope you’ll consider playing one of them. You won’t regret it!