Right now all across the world, the dancing sensation of Psy and his Gangnam Style is introducing legions of people to what they thought was some kind of breakfast cereal, K-Pop. Even the NY Times has tapped into this media event writing an interesting article about Psy and Korean culture:
Dafna Zur, a professor at the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Stanford University, says South Koreans still have “an inferiority complex” that makes them happy for exposure. “I think Koreans are still at the stage where they think any publicity is good publicity,” she said.–NY TIMES
This so called Korean “Macarena Moment” will fade within days and people will continue life thinking Korea is the country run by that dictator who sings I’m So Ronery.
Yet Korea has been exporting its culture via some incredible movies for years. The masterpiece that is Old Boy or the surprising, gripping Mother (Sometimes titled under the Korean: Madeo) are incredible viewing experiences. Maybe this magic comes from years living first under an oppressive dictator, then a revolution and modern prosperity side by side the remnants of poverty but whatever it is the Korean movie industry has its fingers on the pulse of excellence.
Of course not every Korean movie is sold gold, Asian comedies don’t translate well and Koreans are obsessed about horrible soul wrenching romantic dramas but their action/thrillers are amazing. Of course it helps South Korea has a lot of material to work with. Two of the movies I’ve listed are “based” on real Korean serial killers like Yoo Young-chul who tried to kill dozens and whose killings were ignored by inept police. He was only tracked down by a pimp whose story is retold in dramatic fashion in Chaser
If you’re unfamiliar with the Korean action there might be some confusion like with guns or rather the lack of guns. Korean “heroes” rarely use guns seemingly preferring to get up close and personal with knives and hatchets ( Just by watching their movies I assume Korea is awash with tomahawk style hatchets). The Internet says that is because firearms are rare in Korea and gun crime is unheard of. However, I find that hard to believe considering the country has huge military bases and universal conscription with every man going through military service. You mean to tell me you can’t find one corrupt military man in all of Korea to sell guns on the black market? Either American, or Korean? My theory is Directors avoid pistols as bladed objects make for much better fight scenes as per the hallway brawl in Old Boy which was beautifully reenacted in Jude Law’s Repo Men. One more puzzling point in Korean murder mysteries was the crime reenactments put on by police after a murder but further research has shown that when a murderer is caught he/she has to reenact the crime in front of police and a bloody media circus.
Below is a list of probably the best Korean movies out right now. It’s not a definitive list, there are others movies that I’ve probably missed out but if you haven’t seen these already go and get them now! Post any that you think I’ve missed in the comments.
Good Bad Ugly
Man from Nowhere
Memories of Murder
Check out “A Bitter Sweet Life” and fall in love with the main character’s BADASSNESS and then watch “Lady Vengeance” to see the main character from Oldboy play a viscious villain. Once your heart has settled and is ready…GET a copy of “I Saw The Devil” It pits the guy from Bitter against the guy from Oldboy and Lady. They both are playing their best characters ever. It is a long drawn out sick vengeancefest of shear awesome. The guy from Oldboy is one of the greatest cinema villains in a long time. Bittersweet has a martial arts fluid badassness to it and Oldboy is a raw fists type of fighting. The long hard hallway sequence from OLDBOY was one long continuous shot that really set the bar to an all new high for action sequences. Seeing these two fight it out and get revenge in the sickest ways is one hell of an evening. I SAW THE DEVIL
Yeah I’ve seen the Vengeance Trilogy:
Which is really made up of three movies:
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
I actually just watched I Saw the Devil but I didn’t think to include them in the six. Old Boy was by far the best revenge movie and I agree with you whole heartdly about the hallway scene I didn’t realize it was one long shot.
I saw the devil was … good but not as good as the ones listed.
Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance has a slow quiet Japanese feel to it. At least for me it does. It reminds me of some of the more Japanese films that don’t seem to do well in foreign markets. That slow, realistic feel with so much going on in the still or quiet moments is something I have grown to love in movies when I find it. Japanese films do it best, but the Korean ones with it aren’t far off.
Don’t discount Lady Vengeance too easily. The prison sequences alone are amazing.
I saw the devil was like a dream match between two movie type cast legends for me.
Way better than Freddy VS Jason, but thats the only thing I have to compare it to right now…my mind is distracted to say the least.
The best part of A Bitter Sweet Life was watching him at the end. He is alone and practicing looking cool in front of his reflection in a window. It shows the inner childlike nature of the hero and really makes him human. Interesting camera work in some of the actions sequences, like the I-just-crawled-out-of-my-own-grave-and-am-now-gonna-use-this-car- (Car-Fu) to-kick-your-asses-while-you-try-to-fight-with-boards-scene.
Yeah the prison scenes were pretty cool. I loved that fat lady, prison boss character. There were some cool insights too like the tofu when she got out of prison.
I really enjoyed Lady Vengeance out of the three movies. They were all pretty good but that last one was my fave.
Bittersweet was OK but stretched on for too long and I thought the Mexican stand off at the end was just … Hollywood and I love Mexican stand offs.
I also like more melancholic Korean movies like Bin Jip (3-Iron)
. It’s not a horror or even an action movie, but it still has that unique feeling to it.
To be honest, I don’t think Korean culture has as much to offer as Japanese culture, at least not at first glance. But Korea has a very interesting (and for them probably haunting) history and this somehow makes their culture special and interesting.
I haven’t seen an attitude this colonialist in quite a while. quit India!
Bad Guy (the movie not the show) and Samaritan Girl are worth checking out.
Please, tell me more about this Samaritan Girl? The title intrigues me.
Bother are by Kim Ki-duk and both are about call girls (Seems to be a common theme in Korean movies.)
Here is Samaritan Girl, sounds dark, dark, dark:
And Bad Guy:
It is dark drama indeed. I preferred Samaritan Girl (Samaria is the original title) over Bad Guy.
I liked how I was baffled that Yeo-Jin had the need to sleep with every guy that Jae-Young had been with AND returns their money. The father-daughter ending was pretty sad too.
Gangham style makes me want to get out some hachets myself! Luckily, I live in my own little bubble so I’ve only heard it twice.
I love the romantic dramas but not the soul wrenching ones. More the quirky/fun ones. They are so formulaic but I’ve gotten addicted to the formula. I now feel ripped off if I watch a drama and there is no wacky montage on Jeju Island!
Adults don’t watch movies because it’s artistic. When a movie director tries too hard to make an artistic movie, meaning all factors of that movie somehow make sense all together and that particular director is well-known for his/her awards only at movie festivals in Europe, and it’s very preachy and hardly entertaining other than this “smarty pantsy artsy fartsy” factor, chances are that movie is artistic and only artistic so only “smart” people go and appreciate the “artistic” value of that movie. If you’re an adult and still have to watch artistic movies, then you’re either belonging to that industry or a serious moron. And I personally don’t like to hang out with entertainment business people or morons.
Please don’t ride Segways and think you’re cool. I think roller skates are way cooler.