TOP FILMS FROM SOUTH KOREA


1. Oldboy 2003 Park Chan-wook



An average man is kidnapped and imprisoned in a shabby cell for 15 years without explanation. He then is released, equipped with money, a cellphone and expensive clothes. As he strives to explain his imprisonment and get his revenge, he soon finds out that not only his kidnapper has still plans for him, but that those plans will serve as the even worse finale to 15 years of imprisonment. (IMDB)

2. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring 2003 Ki-duk Kim



In the midst of the Korean wilderness, a Budhist master patiently raises a young boy to grow up in wisdom and compassion, trough experience and endless exercises. Once the pupil discovers his sexual lust, he seems lost to contemplative life and follows his first love, but soon fails to adapt to the modern world, gets in jail for a crime of passion and returns to the master in search of spiritual redemption and reconciliation with karma, at a high price of physical catharsis... (IMDB)

3. My Sassy Girl - Yeopgijeogin geunyeo 2001 Jae-young Kwak



The film tells the story of a male college student, Gyeon-woo (Cha Tae-Hyun), and the Girl (Jun Ji-hyun) who is never named in the movie. Gyeon-woo just cannot seem to catch a romantic break. His prospects are so pathetic that even his mother tries to help, telling him to visit his aunt for two reasons. Firstly, because Gyeon-woo reminds his aunt of her son who drowned recently; secondly, because there is a girl his aunt wants to introduce him to. Gyeon-woo repeatedly puts off going to see his aunt. (IMDB)

4. The Brotherhood Of War - Taegukgi hwinalrimyeo 2004 Kang Je-gyu



In 1950, in South Korea, shoe-shiner Jin-tae Lee and his 18-year-old old student brother, Jin-seok Lee, form a poor but happy family with their mother, Jin-tae's fiancé Young-shin Kim, and her young sisters. Jin-tae and his mother are tough workers, who sacrifice themselves to send Jin-seok to the university. When North Korea invades the South, the family escapes to a relative's house in the country, but along their journey, Jin-seok is forced to join the army to fight in the front, and Jin-tae enlists too to protect his young brother. The commander promises Jin-tae that if he gets a medal he would release his brother, and Jin-tae becomes the braver soldier in the company. Along the bloody war between brothers, the relationship of Jin-seok with his older brother deteriorates leading to a dramatic and tragic end. (IMDB)


5. 3-Iron - Bin-jip 2004 Ki-duk Kim


A young drifter enters strangers' houses - and lives - while owners are away. He spends a night or a day squatting in, repaying their unwitting hospitality by doing laundry or small repairs. His life changes when he runs into a beautiful woman in an affluent mansion who is ready to escape her unhappy, abusive marriage. (IMDB)

6. Memories of Murder - Salinui Chueok 2003 Joon-ho Bong


At the start of the film, in October 1986, a young woman is found raped and murdered in a ditch near a field. Soon after, another woman is found raped and murdered in a field. Local detective Park Doo-man, not having dealt with such a serious case before, is overwhelmed; key evidence is improperly collected, the police's investigative methods are suspect, and their forensic technology is near non-existent. Detective Seo Tae-yoon is sent from Seoul to assist them; their methods clash and he is unable to convince them they are dealing with a serial killer until his predictions of another murder come true. He realizes that the killer waits until a rainy night, and only kills women wearing red. A female police officer realizes that a local radio station is always requested to play a particular song during the nights the murders are committed.

While Seo investigates and tries to piece together the clues, Park and his men beat confessions out of a local man found masturbating at the scene of one crime, and a mentally retarded boy whom they threaten to kill, going so far as to make him dig his own grave. Seo clears both of those suspects and follows a trail of clues to a factory worker who had only moved to the area a short time before the first murder. The detectives are unable to pin anything on him; when they realize that the retarded boy witnessed one of the crimes and try to speak to him, they frighten him so badly that he runs in front of an oncoming train and is killed.

Finally, when yet another murder is committed and DNA evidence sent for processing in the United States comes back inconclusive, Seo's frustrations flow over and he snaps. He flies into a rage and roughs up the factory worker; only Park stops Seo from shooting the suspect. In the end, the crimes remain unsolved. (IMDB)

7. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance - Boksuneun naui geot 2002 Chan-wook Park

In Seoul, the deaf and dumb worker Ryu is very attached to his sister, who needs a transplantation of kidney. He tries to donate his own kidney to his sister, but his blood B type is not compatible with her. When Ryu is fired from Ilshin Electronics, he meets illegal dealers of organs and the criminals propose Ryu's kidney plus ten millions Won per a kidney suitable for his sister. Ryu accepts the trade, but he does not have money to pay for the surgery. His anarchist revolutionary girlfriend Cha Young-mi convinces him to kidnap Yossun, the daughter of his former employer Park, who owns Ilshin Electronics. However, a tragedy happens, generating revenge and a series of acts of violence. (IMDB)


8. Lady Vengeance - Chinjeolhan geumjassi 2005 Park Chan-wook



After thirteen and half years in prison for kidnapping and murdering the boy Park Won-mo, Geum-ja Lee is released and tries to fix her life. She finds a job in a bakery; she orders the manufacturing of a special weapon; she reunites with her daughter, who was adopted by an Australian family; and she plots revenge against the real killer of Won-mo, the English teacher Mr. Baek. With the support of former inmates from prison, Geum-ja seeks an unattained redemption with her vengeance. (IMDB)

9. Joint Security Area 2000 Chan-wook Park



In the DMZ separating North and South Korea, two North Korean soldiers have been killed, supposedly by one South Korean soldier. But 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. The investigating Swiss/Swedish team from the neutral countries overseeing the DMZ suspects that another, unknown party was involved - all of which points to some sort of cover up. The truth is much simpler and much more tragic. (IMDB)

10. Hanyo 1960 Ki-young Kim

The hero, a composer, has an immoral relation to a maid. The maid is jealous of his wife and gives vent to her bad temper to him. When the hero rebukes her, she asks him for dying together for love . (IMDB)

11. A Tale of Two Sisters - Janghwa, Hongryeon 2003 Kim Ji-woon



Two sisters who, after spending time in a mental institution, return to the home of their father and cruel stepmother. Once there, in addition to dealing with their stepmother's obsessive and unbalanced ways, an interfering ghost also affects their recovery. (IMDB)

12. The Host - Gwoemul 2006 Joon-ho Bong



On 09 February 2000, the American military base of Yongson releases toxic chemicals in the drain to the Han River under the direct order of an arrogant coroner. Six years later, a mutant squid monster leaves the water and attacks people on the side of the river. The teenager Park Hyun-seo is carried by the creature and vanishes in the river. While grieving her loss, her slow father Park Gang-du; her grandfather and owner of a bar-kiosk nearby the river Park Hie-bong; her aunt and archery medalist Park Nam-Joo; and her graduated unemployed uncle Park Nam-il are sent by the army with all the people that had some sort of contact with the monster to quarantine in a facility. During the night, Gang-du receives a phone call from Hyun-seo telling that she is alive in a big sewage nearby the river. Gang-du tell the militaries but nobody believes on his words, saying that he is delusional due to the shock of his loss. The Park family joins forces trying to find Hyun-seo and rescue her. (IMDB)

13. A Bittersweet Life - Dalkomhan insaeng 2005 Kim Ji-woon

14. A Moment to Remember - Nae meorisokui jiwoogae 2004 John H. Lee

A Korean love story about a young couple's enduring love, which is tested when 27 year old Sun-jin is diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimer's disease. (IMDB)

15. The Aimless Bullet - Obaltan 1961 Hyun Mok Yoo

A public accountant's salary is far too small for him to even get a cavity fixed, let alone support his family. However, he must somehow provide for his senile, shell-shocked mother, his malnurished, pregnant wife, a younger brother who won't work, his unmarried sister who is prostituting herself to foreigners for extra money, and two young children. (IMDB)

16. The Chaser - Chugyeogja 2008 Hong-jin Na

Joong-ho is a dirty detective turned pimp in financial trouble as several of his girls have recently disappeared without clearing their debts. While trying to track them down, he finds a clue that the vanished girls were all called up by a same client whom one of his girls is meeting with right now. (IMDB)

17. Oasis 2002 Chang-dong Lee

Jong-du, a young man just out of prison for manslaughter, is a social misfit: fidgety, snuffling, laughing inappropriately, without a super ego. When released, he calls on the family of the victim; they send him away, but not before he has seen Gong-ju, a young woman disabled severely by cerebral palsy. Both are abused by their families, and both are used by them as well. Although their relationship begins with Jong-du's criminal behavior, a friendship develops. They talk of favorite things; he washes her hair; they go out; in late night phone calls, he helps her past her fears of the dark. Is there a place in the world for these two inarticulate people? (IMDB)

18. Il Mare - Siworae 2000 Hyun-seung Lee

Moving into "Il Mare", his new apartment building, Sung-hyun finds a delivery in his mailbox, a love letter sent by a woman called Eun-ju to the man who has left her. They begin a correspondence and arrange to meet. (IMDB)

19. The Warrior - Musa 2001 Sung-su Kim

In 1375, China was in chaos between Yuan Dynasty and Ming Dynasty. Coryo (an ancient kingdom of Korea then) sent a delegation of many diplomats, soldiers and a silent slave to make peace with the new Chinese government. However, this delegation got charged as spies and sent in exile to a remote desert. On the way the group came across a Yuan troop, and the Coryo soldiers managed to survive the battle. They began the journey toward the faraway home country, where they met the Yuan troop again. When they found out the Yuan troop kidnapped a Ming princess, they decided to rescue her so that they could get a ship to go home. Then the battle began... (IMDB)

20. Burying Old Alive -  Goryeo jang 1963 Ki-young Kim

21. Save the Green Planet! - Jigureul jikyeora! 2003 Joon-Hwan Jang

Byeong-gu believes that the world is on the verge of an alien invasion, and sets out to save the world.

22. Three... Extremes - Sam gang yi 2004 Fruit Chan

An Asian cross-cultural trilogy of horror films from accomplished indie directors. (IMDB)

23. Sopyonje - Seopyeonje 1993 Kwon-taek Im

The specifically Korean tradition that is reclaimed in Sopyonje is the type of folk-song known as pansori, described as a musical sublimation of South-West Korea's collective grief and suffering - in other words, a kind of blues. The film's three central characters are itinerant pansori singers in the 1950s, a time when many aspects of Korean culture came under siege from Japanese and western influences. The story unfolds through flashbacks. A man named Dong-ho is roaming the rural hinterlands, ostensibly to find rare herbal medicines for his sick son back in Seoul, but actually in search of Song-hwa, the woman he grew up with. Orphans, they were both apprenticed to the pansori master Yu-bong who pressured them to sacrifice everything for the art. Dong-ho rebelled and ran away, to become the man he is now. Song-hwa stayed, lost her sight, and outlived Yu-bong. Rumor has it that she is still traveling and still singing pansori... The tale has one truly shocking twist, but the overall one is plaintive, elegiac and serenely beautiful.  (IMDB)

24. Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East?: A Zen Fable 1989 Yong-Kyun Bae

Three people live in a remote Buddhist monastery near Mount Chonan: Hyegok, the old master; Yong Nan, a young man who has left his extended family in the city to seek enlightenment - Hyegok calls him Kibong!; and, an orphan lad Haejin, whom Hyegok has brought to the monastery to raise as a monk. The story is mostly Yong Nan's, told in flashbacks: how he came to the monastery, his brief return to the city, his vacillation between the turbulence of the world and his hope to overcome passions and escape the idea of self. We also see Hyegok as a teacher, a protector, and a father figure, and we watch Haejin make his way as a curious and nearly self-sufficient child. (IMDB)

25. Samaritan Girl - Samaria 2004 Ki-duk Kim

Jae-Young is an amateur prostitute who sleeps with men while her best friend Yeo-Jin "manages" her, fixing dates, taking care of the money and making sure the coast is clear. When Jae-Young falls in love with one of those man she surpresses her feelings towards him in respect of her friend who's jealous. One Day Yeo-Jin fails in doing her job overlooking police officers looking for underaged porstitutes. In order to not get caught Jae-Young jumps out of a window almost killing herself. On her deathbed, she wishes to see the man again whom she fell in love with and turned away from. But the man only agrees if Yeo-Jin sleeps with him. She does but as they arrive in the hospital Jae-Young is already dead. Trying to understand her best friend, Yeo-Jin tracks down every man she slept with and does the same. As her father learns about this he gets on revenge with fatal consequences... (IMDB)

26. Thirst - Bakjwi 2009 Chan-wook Park

Sang-hyun, a priest working for a hospital, selflessly volunteers for a secret vaccine development project intended to eradicate a deadly virus. However, the virus eventually takes over the priest. He nearly dies, but makes a miraculous recovery by an accidental transfusion of vampire blood. He realizes his sole reason for living: the pleasures of the flesh. (IMDB)

27. The Good, the Bad, the Weird - Joheunnom nabbeunnom isanghannom 2008 Kim Ji-woon

The story of three Korean outlaws in 1940s Manchuria and their rivalry to possess a treasure map while being pursued by the Japanese army and Chinese bandits. (IMDB)

28. The Isle - Seom 2000 Ki-duk Kim

Mute Hee-Jin is working as a clerk in a fishing resort in the Korean wilderness; selling baits, food and occasionally her body to the fishing tourists. One day she falls in love to Hyun-Shik, who is on the run for the police and rescues him with a fish hook, when he tries to commit suicide.

29. Time - Shi gan 2006 Ki-duk Kim

Seh-hee and Ji-woo have dated for two years; jealousy consumes her. She worries he will tire of her face. Then, she disappears. Telling no one, she goes to a plastic surgeon for a new face. Ji-woo has no idea where she is, although when he does respond to other women, someone unseen intervenes. Then, he meets See-hee, and although he tells her he misses Seh-hee, this new relationship blossoms into love. They talk at the same coffee house, visit the same sculpture park, and pose for the same photographs he did with Seh-hee. We know they are the same woman. Has this new face and renewed love made her happy? And what will Ji-woo do when he learns the truth? Is losing face losing self?   

30. I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK - Saibogujiman kwenchana 2006 Chan-wook Park

A young woman who believes she's a cyborg hears voices and harms herself while at work making radios. She's hospitalized in a mental institution where she eats nothing and talks to inanimate objects. She's Young-goon, granddaughter of a woman who thought she was a mouse (and whose dentures Young-goon wears) and a mother who's a butcher without much social grace. Young-goon comes to the attention of Il-sun, a ping-pong playing patient at the institution who makes it his goal to get her to eat. Will he succeed? Which way does sanity lie?

31. Friend - Chingoo 2001 Kyung-Taek Kwak

Despite their different family backgrounds, four friends grew up together in the wearisome years of the 70s. But as time goes by, each of them takes a different life path. After enrolling in college, Sang-taek and Joong-ho return to visit Dong-su (Jang Dong-gun) and Joon-suk (Yoo Oh-sung), only to find one of them in jail and the other on drugs. Slowly life takes difficult turns where friends become rivals in the crime world.   
32. The Bow - Hwal 2005 Ki-duk Kim

A sixty and something year old captain has been raising for ten years a girl since she was six in his old fishing vessel that is permanently anchored offshore with the intention of marrying her on her seventeenth birthday. He survives bringing fishermen to fish in the vessel and predicting the future using his bow and shooting arrows in a Buddhist painting on the hull of the vessel while the girl moves back and forth in a swing. He also uses the bow and arrows to protect the girl against sexual assault of the fishermen. They live happily until the day that a teenage student comes to the ship and the girl feels attracted for him. When the teenager discovers that the girl was abducted when she was six and does not know the world, he returns to the vessel to bring the girl back to her parents.   

33. To the Starry Island - Geu seome gago shibda 1993 Kwang-su Park

Moon Chae-Ku and his friend Kim Chul try to bring the body of Moon's father back to his native Kwisong Island for burial. Their ferry is intercepted by resentful islanders who will not let the boat dock, because of the father's political activities in the 1950's, informing on Communist sympathizers. Kim Chul, through flashbacks, recalls people and events from his island childhood.   

34. Black Republic - Keduldo urichurum 1990 Kwang-su Park

In a mining village layered in gray dust, a man posing as Kim Ki-Young finds refuge from winter and the law. Wanted by the police for an offense he commited under the authoritarian rule of the 1980's, he conceals himself as an odd-jobber in a briquette factory. There he meets old and feeble Shim, heavily indebted Chung, Sooney's mother who must nurse her husband, and little Dae-Sik. He befriends Sung-Chul, an apparently immoral hellraiser with true maternal kindness. When Ki-Young meets Young-Sook, a lonely waitress, their lives get altered in a loving, philosophical manner.

35. The Man from Nowhere - Ajeossi 2010 Jeong-beom Lee

36. I Saw the Devil - Akmareul boatda 2010 Ji-woon Kim

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10 comments:

Alex Tonner said...

Thanks for your excellent list. I'll be checking out some of these over the coming weeks. It's not easy finding out the best foreign language films, but on one site you've done it. A invaluable service to all foreign language movie lovers. This site really is great. Alex

Anonymous said...

Yo recomendarĂ­a I saw the devil, y El hombre que fue superman. me gustaron bastante

Anonymous said...

A Man Who Was Superman and Castaway on the Moon will make this list a perfect one.

Anonymous said...

Castaway on the Moon must be among the great films of South Korea.

Chitta Ranjan Biswal said...

Oldboy
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring
My Sassy Girl
Memories of Murder
A Moment to Remember
Time

6/36

Dany said...

-Kimssi pyoryugi (2009) Lee Hae-Joon
-Jibeuro (2002)Lee Jeong-hyang

Anonymous said...

The classic and Windstruck are really good movies

keziarhh said...

i recommend "Peppermint Candy" and "Secret Sunshine"

keziarhh said...

please do check The Quiet Family, Nobody's Daughter Haewon, and Come Rain, Come Shine

Anonymous said...

Accordin to my opinion The Classic, and Scret Reunion, and the Russian Coffee are missing. But I liked the Double Agent also.