Any Korean Films worth watching

Discussions on Asian cinemas: Japanese, Korean, Thai, ....

Postby Brian Thibodeau » Wed Feb 28, 2007 4:24 pm

tried to cut and paste; lost the whole post :(
Last edited by Brian Thibodeau on Sun May 17, 2009 3:33 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby steve_cole1 » Wed Feb 28, 2007 6:59 pm

Mike Thomason wrote:Of what I've seen out of what I've got (on DVD) these are the ones I'd feel happy recommending:

2009 Lost Memories
3 Iron
Antarctic Journal
Art Museum By The Zoo
Bad Guy
Barking Dogs Never Bite
Bet On My Disco
The Big Swindle
A Bittersweet Life
Bloody Tie
Boss X File
The Bow
Christmas In August
Crying Fist
Double Agent (aka: Comrade)
Family: Action Vs Love
The Foul King
The Ghost (aka: Dead Friend)
A Good Lawyer's Wife
Holiday In Seoul
The Host
Hypnotised (aka: Faceless Beauty)
The Isle
JSA: Joint Security Area
Love Phobia
Love, So Divine
Lovely Rivals
Mapado: The Island of Fortunes
Marrying The Mafia
Memories of Murder
Murder, Take One (aka: The Big Scene)
My Little Bride
My Sassy Girl
My Tutor Friend
My Wife Is A Gangster 1 & 2
No Blood No Tears
Old Boy
Please Teach Me English
Plum Blossom
Princess Aurora
Public Enemy
The Red Shoes
Rules of Dating
Samaritan Girl (aka: Samaria)
Sex Is Zero
Spider Forest
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring
Summer Time
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
Sympathy for Mr Vengeance
A Tale of Two Sisters
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thanks thats a great help
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Postby Bearserk » Wed Feb 28, 2007 8:00 pm

Nice list, will have to take a look and see if I should add some of them on my to buy list :)
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Postby bkasten » Wed Feb 28, 2007 9:47 pm

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Postby dleedlee » Thu Mar 01, 2007 2:09 am

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Postby dleedlee » Thu Mar 01, 2007 2:10 am

Bearserk wrote:Nice list, will have to take a look and see if I should add some of them on my to buy list :)

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Postby bkasten » Thu Mar 01, 2007 2:13 am

OK, is it working yet?
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Postby dleedlee » Thu Mar 01, 2007 3:03 am

Looks good, Bob.
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Re: Any Korean Films worth watching

Postby Brian Thibodeau » Sun May 17, 2009 3:30 am

A few more reviews for this old thread, some recent, some I've been sitting on for ages for no reason. These are in no way a "best of" collection or anything like that; they were just some films that placed workable critical thoughts into my head, thoughts I remembered long enough to write down! :lol:

Typical underdog story about a fallen dance champ (Park Kyon-hyeong) forced pair up with a mousy Korean-Chinese immigrant (Moon Geun-young from A TALE OF TWO SISTERS) in need of citizenship in order to take back the crown. Plays all the familiar notes from just about any sporting movie you'd care to remember, but cleverly opts out of the usual, predictable triumphant ending by having Moon enter the big dance finals with with Park's dirty rival (!). Moon's a doll in this, as she has been in everything she's been in so far (think LOVER'S CONCERTO or better yet, MY LITTLE BRIDE). WIth a face designed for crying when heartbroken, she can only be a natural; her character has to remain doe-eyed, lovestruck with Park and typically selfless in spite of his harsh ways while becoming a seasoned professional dancer in a very short period of time. Another reason I like a movie like this: the leads are actually required to dance. Their routines are modest, but frequent long tales reveal that they did indeed learn some killer moves. The championship dance is built from editing more than performer skill, but one can still see the effort being applied.

Had I seen this when I first bought it nearly four years ago (wow!), I'd have thought it was a small patch on a very tired genre: the jopok/gangster comedy. The plot's nothing new--undercover cop (Jo Jae-hyeon) starts to sympathize with the dapper gangster/drug dealer (Cha In-pyo) he's trying to nab--but the homoerotic elements, arguable subtext in many of the serious films in this genre, are writ so large and loud here that they threaten to squirt you in the eye. The filmmakers probably though it would be funny to make explicit what other films only suggest, but the joke wears thin right around the moment that one of the leads feeds the other a live-squid-on-a-stick (a uniquely Korean treat) held at crotch level, and minions outside see the seemingly fellatial event in silhouette against the window blinds. Hmmm. There IS an explosive diarrhea gag that made me laugh, but then I felt really guilty afterwards. Good looking film, but not a keeper.

BLUE (2003):
One of the oldest unwatched DVDs in my pile, a military-themed drama that would have seemed exceedingly familiar to western audiences even in 2003, perhaps less so to domestic viewers. Because this is a Korean film, the cliches of a couple of decades worth of American naval thrillers are balanced by the cliches of the Korean Romance®, which dictates that two lifelong friends and Navy underwater salvage specialists (Kim Yeong-ho and BICHUNMOO brooder Shin Hyeon-jun) will have their friendship tested by the superior officer (Shin Eun-kyung) they both love and their lives tested by an almost laughable number of mishaps that occur both during their training exercises and real-world rescue missions they undertake. In fact, so many "incidents" occur in the name of hoary melodrama in this movie that I'm surprised the Korean Navy would want to be associated with it in any way. It actually makes them look bad. One for the sell pile.

This ambitious mystical adventure-thriller pre-dates the Korean renaissance by a year, and stands as a textbook example of why so few Korean genre movies pre-1999 were worth watching: the ideas of writer Jang Yong-min and director Yu Sang-wook--who MUST have been the biggest geeks in high school--far outweigh their budget. Their story of a group of attractive students on a mission to uncover secrets buried in the work of a mysterious poet and possibly restore Korea's screwed-up chi is undoubtedly the wet dream of many a card-carrying library clubber. The theories underlying the story are just so much paranormal bunkum from the colonial days, along the lines of water dousing or geomancy or zombies, but the filmmakers treat them with the utmost reverence. Unfortunately, the special effects sequences, while frequent and grand in scope, are decidedly less so in execution, which kills the picture's "reality" every time they're brought into play.

BOSS X-FILE (2002):
I recall reading somewhere that this madcap farce was designed as a jab at a well-known Korean political official, as well as a few other easy targets of the era. Jeong Woon-taek, the homely, much abused sidekick in MY BOSS MY HERO is a prosecutor who, with the help of the police, creates a phony hostess bar to catch a crooked gangster politician. Most of the humor is character driven, as a distaff crew of cops is brought in to play hostesses and waiters, professions they're clearly not cut out for. A lot of well-earned laughs in this one, thanks largely to well-drawn characters. Bit long, though, for what it is.

A structurally sound and colorful working-class comedy in which an educated prostitute (Ye Ji-won) runs for a senate seat, causing untold embarrassment to her old boy political rivals (the comedy) and unintended consequences for some of her hooker companions once the spotlights get a little too hot (the drama). The screenplay by Choi Jong-tae and Kim Jin-su eschews the broad laughs one might reasonably expect from a high concept Korean comedy like this, and instead allows sharp dialogue and realistic situations do the heavy lifting. Probably more remake potential in this film than in the dozen or so Korean horror pictures that were picked up by opportunistic American producers.

This is an overly slapsticky date movie starring Lee Na-young as an uber-dorky (and thus uber-cute) public service drone encouraged by her coworkers to take an English class in an effort to improve relations with English-speaking customers. In the class, our hitherto loveless heroine falls fast for suave shoe salesman (Jang Hyuk), a slick player who has played far less frequently than he lets on and who's taking the class so he can communicate with his American-raised sister, who was given up for adoption as a child. Lee's infatuated. Jang thinks she's a dork (which she is) and is himself besotted with the English teacher (Angela Kelly, one of the precious few white actors in Korean films who could actually act as of 2003; pity she seems to have ventured behind the camera in low-level tech jobs since this). Characters are broadly drawn (with the exception of Kelly, oddly enough), which means gags are plentiful; some stick, some slide down the wall, and others are delivered with little animated word bubbles and cartoon heads that pop up on screen, The mangled use of English by the leads and their classmates carries a certain charm for both Korean and non-Korean audiences, but the picture is done irreparable damage in it's third act when the American sister shows up, played by an beautiful woman with dire acting ability and a little-girl voice. Her scenes with Jang and their guild-ridden mother are supposed to be the film's melodramatic crescendo, but this performer's absolute wrongness for the part stops the movie dead in its tracks. I can't seem to find this woman's name anywhere online; perhaps it's for the best.

SAY YES (2001):
That scene where C. Thomas Howell falls asleep in the police station and awakens to find dead cops? It's here. A villain who bullies the hero into trying to kill him? He's here. The love interest (in this case wife) who doesn't end up in a very nice way? She's here, too. And don't forget the vehicular carnage. Gotta have that if you're gonna remake Robert Harmon's THE HITCHER (1986). This thriller about a couple (Kim Ju-hyuk, Chu Sang-mi) menaced by a (mostly) motiveless psychopath (Park Joong-hoon) during a road trip to a small resort town owes a great deal of its existence to the American cult thriller. As such, it's very well made and hits the right shock and gore buttons even as it goes through the motions and director Kim Sung-hong adds almost no new ingredients outside of a somewhat difficult-to-swallow twist ending that doesn't really square with the the hero's character up to that point, but DOES suggest that both he and villain Park are just part of an ongoing cycle of senseless violence. Comedy and action-comedy mainstay Park fills Rutger Hauer's shoes with the same mix of sotto voce menace and unstoppable (and seemingly unkillable) force of nature, but he doesn't bother with the sparkle of bemusement in Hauer's eye that made his grim acts all the more hissable. Director Kim hasn't directed a feature since this one, which is too bad, as he's got some muscle.

Director Kang Woo-suk dresses up his diatribes about the social ills of modern Korea in the worn-in civvies of American cop-vs-serial-killer thrillers. Disheveled cop Sol Kyung-gu, unrepentantly violent and perpetually on the take--because, let's face it, that's just how thing's get done in Korea--relentlessly pursues a dapper, smarmy financial whiz (Lee Sung-jae) he believes killed his parents over his father's decision to remove a large chunk of money from a big investment deal in order to save an orphanage from the bulldozers. There's no doubt Lee is guilty of the crime--we see the act in all it's squishy glory, and he further confounds the investigators by randomly killing a hapless stranger to make all the murders appear to be the work of a serial killer, but Sol knows better, and will use every dirty trick at his disposal to put this doggy down. The real target of director Kang's venomous social criticism is quite obviously the soulless corporate culture he seems convinced has poisoned Korean society and subverted traditional family values far more than corrupt law enforcement ever could, and which he views as the wellspring of self-obsessed Armani-clad sociopaths who would slit their own mothers' throats to score a big ROI, only here the metaphor isn't actually a metaphor, it's the central plot device! (I'm guessing he read "American Psycho" or at least saw the movie; certainly Lee's icy villain would make an ideal overseas penpal for Bret Easton Ellis' Patrick Bateman). As in TWO COPS 1 and 2, the director sides squarely with the overworked, underpaid cops, and he lovingly (and humourously) illustrates the complex, even necessary web of corruption and deception they must weave in order to maintain the status quo.

(ported this one from Amazon, more or less)
3-IRON (2004):
Here's EXACTLY what you need to know about 3-IRON before you watch it. It's a Buddhist allegory. Period. I've yet to find one single review of this film, professional or amateur, wherein the reviewer picked up on its true essence. And somewhere, Kim Ki-duk just quietly smiles, knowing that virtually no one, even professional critics, understood what he was trying to say, even if they adored the final result. Reviewers who don't understand the film's theme (which IS concrete) but still love the film itself practically fall over themselves coming up with elaborate ways to describe what it's "really" about--or that it's "deep" or full of "hidden meaning"--in order to dance around the fact that they just didn't get it. Those who dislike or hate it inevitably cry that it "didn't make sense". None of this, believe it or not, is meant to invalidate the collective body of criticism and scholarship devoted to the picture (everybody's right after all, in their own way). But I'm righter. ;)

And the film does make sense. As an allegory. And If you're a Buddhist. And anyone familiar with the work of Kim Ki-duk should be used to that by now..

Roughly speaking, there are three stages to enlightenment in Buddhism. The following is a gross simplification on my part, but it should make it extremely easy to see the three stages as they're illustrated in the film.

1) IMPERMANENCE: there is no "self" to cling to; existence is impermanent; and desire leads to suffering. Understanding this allows one to achieve detachment and make desire extinct. ALL OF THIS describes the first portion of 3-IRON.

2) TRANQUILITY AND INSIGHT THROUGH MEDITATION: one must build up a sense of the "non-self" through meditation. This is what the lead character does during his time in prison. No prison guard in the real world would be that susceptible to Tae-Suk's little games, but because this is ALLEGORY, the guard becomes the litmus strip by which Tae-Suk measures his ability to become invisible with the world around him. Once he's released, he tests this further by revisiting the homes he previously broke into, only this time with the residents inside.

3) NIRVANA: Impurities are eliminated. Purity and pleasantness remain. The "walls" that separate the (artificial) individuality of the self from the totality of Being are torn down, not unlike the walls of a house; thus the film's Korean title translation as "Empty House", which describes so much more than the simple constructs this young man breaks into. Likewise, once Tae-Suk has achieved a certain one-ness, or non-ness, he can effectively hide in plain sight, much to the delight of the reinvigorated Sun-Hwa, who now realizes she can tolerate/placate her scuzzball husband because her lover will always be part of the universe in which she lives. Physically, he's still there (and very much alive, contrary to what some viewers have baffling postulated), but he's achieved his own brand of Nirvana. He no longer needs to desire this woman and fear the suffering her husband is capable of inflicting, because he can be with her all the time right under the villain's nose. In their unique way, they've both achieved Nirvana (don't forget, she follows him on his path to enlightenment). It may not be via conventional method, and it may require tinkering with a bathroom scale to reinforce what they believe they've done, but in essence, that's exactly what they've done.

Some people might try to argue something along the lines of "well, if the husband turned around real quick, he'd see the guy" but because this is an ALLEGORY, that will never happen. So don't listen to those people. You may now watch (or rewatch) 3-IRON with an enlightened mind.

They might as well have called this PIRATES OF THE KOREABBEAN owing to all the, tatty-chic costuming, ratty-rasta hairdos and Sharpie-marker eyeliner drawn on virtually the entire cast. Oh yes, we mustn't forget the greatest underwater fight sequence ever! Fresh story idea, too: deliver the reluctant, recalcitrant king to his rightful throne. Safe to say this one got picked up for a U.S. DVD release precisely because it had hair, mascara, swords and flying people, the latter duo a particularly easy sell to certain western auds. Lots of wired-up flying swordplay, but much of the momentum in these sequences is created by the editing, not the choreography, and that's not necessarily a good thing.

This is definitely one of the more pleasant surprises in recent K-film cinema, more so perhaps on a personal level coming as it did with no foreknowledge (how'd I not hear about this one?) and only limited familiarity with Super Junior, the 13-member boy band phenomenon who make up the principal cast of high-schoolers beset by a serial "feces terrorist" whose attacks result in such a rise in popularity for the victims that the latest round of likely candidates practically falls all over one another in an effort to be the next target. It's not a perfect film, but at a spry 80 minutes or so, it's nothing like I might have expected from a prefab movie constructed around a prefab pop band comprised of prefab Korean pretty-boys. There's mild but genuine wit in the writing here, the cast is affably self-deprecating, and the sparkly little flash-animated cosmetic touches throughout must surely speak to the band's adolescent female fanbase (and grown-up graphic designers, I suppose). And if the second act threatens to relinquish the mystery of the serial poop-thrower to near-irrelevancy (which I'm not entirely sure wasn't the point anyways) and none of these young performers are exactly stretched to capacity, the third-act is footnoted with (what else?) an energetic musical number that all but reminds you that you could not have possibly taken the preceding 70+ minutes seriously. Good fun. Could have been more fun, but still one of the most unique Korean movies of 2007.

BABY SALE (1997):
Were it not for the 1997 copyright date in the closing credits, you'd swear this conservative-minded role-reversal comedy was made in 1992. In the United States. As a sitcom. The hair! The clothing! The makeup! You half expect Lisa Bonet or Screech to come bounding through a door as an unwanted punchline to someone else's complaint. This is the kind of film that, visually, makes you realize just what a massive leap forward SHIRI was to Korean cinema in terms of character, costuming, production design, lighting, screenwriting and just about everything else. It's competently made, but beyond a couple of scenes filmed outdoors, this is entirely a set-bound affair; most of those sets are windowless, garishly decorated with primary and secondary colours (even doors have little squares of colour running top to bottom), and constructed and lit as though a studio audience would be sitting just outside camera range. Costuming follows the same methodology. I suspect director Kim Bon is a television mainstay, and presumably remained one as this appears to be his only feature, but I wouldn't guess comedy to be his forte as he lets minor comic setpieces unfold in poorly framed compositions and with precious little editing (which might have given them some kick). I also suspect the only reason such a forgettable film appeared on Hong Kong DVD in October, 2008 was because it toplined one of that year's tragic Korean Celebrity Suicides®, Choi Jin-sil. Sidelined by the birth of her baby boy, professional event planner Choi fakes being a bad mother so that her husband (Lee Kyeong-Young) will offer to become a stay-at-home daddy and she can return to work, where she soon discovers that a) her husband is just as adept at raising the baby (at least at first) as he was at his regular job, and b) Korean women should stay home and raise babies, because if parents don't fill traditional roles, toddlers can end up perched precariously atop high-diving boards at public swimming pools. (don't ask). At under 90 minutes, it's a reminder of an simpler era when Korean movies didn't HAVE to be 2 hours long, but it's also too easily digested and too easily forgotten. Bring on 1999.

Korea's film industry was by the autumn of 1999 taking toddler steps toward the Great Renaissance, but domestic audiences still had to contend with the kind of bland, cliched, low-calorie snack films that Chungmuro had been cranking out for years, movies which all but dared viewers to spend their entertainment money on flashier import fare. DANCE DANCE is just such a film. It's a warmly-photographed underdog dance musical fronted by two attractive leads (Whang In-yeong, Yang Dong-kun) who don't really dance very well, or act very well. She's an almost-pro dancer uncertain of her desire to attend school overseas; he's a hunky med student who simply must dance after witnessing one of her solo workouts. Her motley crew of dance schoolmates want to make a name for themselves. And that's about it. There's no tension here because there's virtually no spark between these two pretty people from different worlds, and neither of them does anything--alone or together--that helps or hinders the fortunes of the larger group, except for Whang's brief run-in with a lecherous out-of-town concert promoter that costs them a gig, a subplot which lasts about 25 seconds. By Korean standards, this is remarkably free of melodrama, which is not a good thing in any film about people with a burning passion. There IS plenty of dancing in the film--14 sequences by my count (training, rehearsals and performances), with at least six of those blended into wistful/mopey montage sequences. Whang's a beautiful woman, a weak actress and a game if ungraceful dancer; in the larger group dance sequences, she's often off to one side in the foreground, shot from the chest up, or in the back row, the better to disguise her shortcomings. The climactic, multi-group dance performance is primo stuff because the supporting players and extras get to strut their very real stuff, but it's capped with a spectacular and well-choreographed full-group hip-hop roof-raiser for which gruelling rehearsal is implied by its intricate and effortless nature but never seen throughout the film. At the same time, the sequence is gestational evidence of the B-Boy movement that would erupt only a few years later.

The title presumes a lot in this weak, often illogical romantic comedy about an educated, hunky playboy (Park Keon-hyeong) who lives to blow his disgraced grandfather's fortune on club-hopping and trying to score bar girls, but who's secretly a very sensitive and lonely individual (in other words, every Korean woman's fantasy; a "bad boy" just crying out to be tamed, but with no serious effort). Tired of the games, granddad cuts him out of the will with the proviso that he'll only be cut back in if he becomes a teacher for a period of two years, so, with a little magic movie fairy dust, he's a teacher! And a shoddy one at that, but the filmmakers couldn't be bothered with explaining the fine points of the Korean school system, or how it could let such a reprobate near a classroom, because they've got to put their lead pretty boy Park Keon-hyeong (much better in INNOCENT STEPS the previous year) to good use chasing chaste music teacher Kim Hyo-jin, who screws up her face a lot trying to make him a better person while slowly, and more or less unconvincingly, falling in love with him. To date, the only feature film for newbie director Kim Dong-wook.

The lovely Ha Ji-won plays a screwy-faced high school student who unwittingly kicks a can at the car of wealthy playboy college student and all-around "sassy boy" Kim Won-Jae, who in turn forces her to be his "slave" for 100 days to repay the damages, but slavery amounts to housecleaning, bags-carrying and even an unexpected vacation, at least until Ha discovers the real cost of the car repairs and attempts to turn the tables. That the rivalry turns to love (albeit rather late in the picture) in a completely inorganic manner is entirely a requirement of a script rather than a result of inherent desire on the part of these two unlikable characters or any chemistry between the actors who play them outside of good genetic breeding. The ending is a real slapdash affair requiring a laughably hasty "flashback" sequence to make any sense at all. Probably one of the most artificial Korean romantic comedies ever made. Ha's borderline embarrassing performance, which consists almost entirely of cartoonish mugging until she's required to deliver her Korean-standard-issue Big Crying Jag, isn't matched by the tone of the film. Visual effects enhance one scene where she attempts to flee from Kim in fast motion, leaving a trail of smoke behind her, but otherwise, newbie director Shin Dong-yeob (whose career went nowhere after this) seems to think his characters and their "antics" are funny enough on their own, which they're not. Apparently based on an internet novel, and thus further evidence that the printed word--as in books, remember those?--remains the preferred source for movie adaptation if you don't have the next MY SASSY GIRL at your disposal.

MONOPOLY (2006):
A lonely, sensitive computer programmer (Yang Dong-kun) is drawn into an elaborate banking scam--and a surprising bisexual love triangle--orchestrated by the enigmatic leader (Kim Seong-su) of a secret organization of highly-positioned fraud artists and his femme fatale girlfriend (Yun Ji-min). Yun tries to warn Yang that he's being used--in more ways than one--but his attraction to both the dangerous game and it's apparent ringmaster is clearly intoxicating. Almost by necessity, one-time director Lee Hang-bae deliberately tries to one-up a similar American noir thriller from the 90's (which must remain nameless lest it spoil this film completely) by having two of the participants (Yang and Yun) narrate the twisty tale after-the-fact from police headquarters, under hypnosis no less, presumably to make them seem even more clever when the true nature of the con is revealed at the climax. All in all, not bad, though the front end is loaded with an awful lot of perfume-commercial posing from the cast; it all makes sense in the end, but Lee could have found a less cliched visual motif with which to spin his modestly clever yarn.

Other films that stood out (not a complete list of titles watched, though; boldface indicates discs I'll be keeping; the rest [mostly] aren't bad, but have been or will be sold off):

**Dark Forest is by far one of the worst Korean films I've ever seen, despite its good intentions, and I defy anyone to prove me wrong! :D
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