From the maid to the Burning, through the greatest hits of Bong Joon-ho, the pearls of Bae Yong-kyun and Kim Ki-duk and a wave of filmmakers: these are the essential titles from South Korea .
Although the first cinema in Korea dates back to 1903, and it is considered that the first Korean film in history should be not much later than the first feature film in general, the Australian was The Story of the Kelly Gang in 1906, the development of Korean cinema has always been uneven, marked by dependence on the political regime, which at one time, of course, there are great Korean films from all eras , but it is difficult to find copies of great classics from before 1960, and it is almost impossible, to assess the weight and forms of your cinematography as we should at least if you are a cineaste: here are 50 classics that you should have seen if you are a cineaste .
When we can not even determine what was the first Korean film in history. From 1910 to 1945, the country was occupied by the Japanese, who began to import films and forms of their own cinema. The biggest Japanese import although it backfired was the narrative character or Byeonsa in Japanese, Benshi, who talked about silent film projections. in 1926, na Woon-gyu wrote, directed and performed the name of a well-known Korean song in Arirang, in the screenings of which the narrators loudly propagated political messages, which complemented the not-so-subtle patriotic character of the film. Byeonsas, of course, would be banned by the regime soon after their very successful implementation. Would you like to know more about this time? Read about the best films of the 1920s, the climax and the end of silent cinema .
The first Korean sound film, Chunhyang-Jeon by Lee Myeong-woo, dates back to 1935. Although the film is lost, like so many others, it is known that its sound system was quite precarious, since there was no Korean technician who knew how to use the live audio recording system and who had to overplay everything afterwards. This is nothing if we look at the number of films that have been modified due to real events. To take advantage of the dynamics of cinema, Japan created the Korean colonial film unit for the production of propaganda films . With the war and the impoverishment of the country, we would never see the full results of their strategy.
The post-occupation period associated with the Korean War and the 1953 armistice was, of course, a disaster for the country’s cultural industry . Knowing that cinema had always been a great attraction for people in the mid-1950s, the Ministry of Defense tried to resume production on the basis of tax incentives. This is where the lists of the best Korean films in history begin: in the 50s and 60s, characterized by a brutal increase in production (by the end of the 50s, more than a hundred Korean films were released per year), a very good presence in theaters and enormous freedom in editions, between the administrations of Rhee and Park Chung Hee 1960-1961. If Korean cinema had had a greater international distribution, some of the pearls of 1960 would have ended up on our list of the highest-grossing films in history .
It would not last. In 1963, the Cinema Law was put into effect, which prescribed very strict quotas for foreign films shown in the country, censoring all content that it considered somewhat communist. But it was not censorship that ended the participation of the public in cinemas, but television , which arrived at the end of the 60s and reduced the utilization of cinemas by 70%. The 70s and 80s are full of moderate public successes: films that are heavily controlled by the government and shone on the billboard mainly because the rest of the international releases had a very small screen share.In In 1966, each cinema had to show at least 90 days of local films per year, in 1981 the screen share was increased to at least 165 days.
The 90s are a time of great productions and strong competitiveness . After the agreement with the United States on the Free trade agreement, the screen share of American productions was halved, but the Korean market was already ready and willing to invest in large-scale productions, and most importantly, the audience was ready to watch local films. Korea is a much-studied reference for the rest of the cultural industry, as its local cinema is successful. In the first years of the 2000s, the market share of local productions reached up to 64%, that is, more than half of what was collected in the box office.it it remained in the country and benefited the entire industry. Should we learn from this? These are the highest-grossing Spanish films in history .
If we add to this the trail of awards and achievements around the world, which we describe in detail in the list below, we have an international cinema, nonconformist and inevitable. The Oscar for Best Film for Parasite by Bong Joon-ho represents an unusual milestone, it seems to be just the tip of an iceberg that is yet to come. Strictly speaking, the 20 films that follow here want to confirm that there were and will be as many other pearls as bongos. Korean cinema deserves to be carefully studied.
Decision to Leave (2022)
Because Park Chan-wook signed (again!) Masterpiece. It is an atypical erotic thriller that looks (or rather parodies) like movies like Basic Instinct and raises the bar in its narrative that transforms us and makes us fall in love with fascinating characters. As one of the best films of 2022 presented at festivals, the decision to leave is an essential piece of Korean cinema, which is already among the candidates for the best international film at the 2023 Oscars .
The story follows Hae-Joon, an experienced detective investigating the highly suspicious death of a man who fell from the top of a high mountain outside Busan. Thus begins an investigation that leads him directly to a very elusive suspect: Sore, the wife of the deceased, with whom he will enter into a strange and unexpected relationship.
In Front of Your Face (2021)
Master Hong, I couldn’t lose! One of the best works of one of the best and most prolific Korean filmmakers, a film about the sadness of returning to the spaces where we live without being ourselves, a painful reflection on the fleetingness of fantasies and an act of absolute generosity , rolled with some profits. Ideal for people who think and feel too much.
A few days ago, an experienced actress returned to her native South Korea and broke into her sisters’ house. A filmmaker, a few years younger than her, asked her to join his project, and after a polite refusal, they agreed to meet for the first time. The center of Seoul is full of narrow streets where small old bars are located, and that’s where they are located. While they are getting drunk, it suddenly rains and thunders.
Little Forest (2018)
The sample of the good team of Korean directors of our century Lee Kyoung-mi, Juli Jung, Yoon Ga-Eun, Lee Soon-youn, based on the manga of the same name by Daisuke Igarashi. There is a lot of cooking, eating and talking in this deliberately small film, and then everything is much better. A simple and warm movie hug: why not add a little sweetness to the list?
A young woman is tired of urban life and returns to her hometown in the countryside, where she likes to just cook.
We could put someone on the list about Lee Chang-dong, but this was considered the best Korean film in history by the Chicago Film Critics Association. So why omit it? Adaptation of a novel by Haruki Murakami, which only a few months later paved the way for the success of Parasites (Bong Joon-ho).
During a delivery, Jongsu (Yoo), a young courier, accidentally meets Haemi (Jun), a girl who lived in his neighborhood. The young woman asks him to take care of her cat during a trip to Africa. Upon her return, Haemi introduces her to Ben (Yeun), a mysterious and wealthy young man she met there. One day Ben Jongsu reveals a very strange hobby adaptation of a Murakami story.
Train to Busan (2016)
Yeon Sang-ho was, is and will be a great opinion-maker about the rot and cynicism of contemporary Korean society. Sometimes the shooting does not go as we would expect (Seoul Station), but in the case of Train to Busan, we supported Guillermo del Toro when he said: “It’s the best zombie movie.”Fun, fear and a cast that showed us Ma Dong-seok (the Korean strongman). That’s fair enough.
A deadly virus is spreading in South Korea, leading to violent clashes. Passengers of a KTX train traveling from Seoul to Busan have to fight for their survival.
The Wailing (2016)
If you have not yet seen the lawsuit, you can prepare for a small excursion. From the first bars, in which we follow a group of policemen who share complicity and exciting discoveries, to a second section, which becomes tense, until we get to a sinister and deeply disturbing plot, to the real malaise of a final plot, which is pure tension. we won’t say anything more, it’s great to enter without knowing what’s ahead for you, as I said: a little trip.
The life of a Korean town is changed by a series of wild and mysterious murders that haunt the small rural community. Rumors and superstitions have spread because of the recent presence of an elderly foreigner who lives as a hermit. Faced with the inability of the police to find the killer, and without a rational explanation, some townspeople are looking for a shaman. Jong-gu, a policeman whose family is under direct threat, also believes that these are supernatural crimes.
A Girl at My Door (2014)
It had such a small budget as it had so much international impact, and is one of the biggest Asian LGTBIQ+ themed films in recent years. Juli Jung managed to convince the great Doona Bae (Sense8) to work with her for free, with an intimate but frank story that touches on everything from queer discrimination to alcoholism, with a good sample of domestic violence that no one dared to answer at the moment.
After an accident, Young-nam, a young policeman from Seoul, is sent to a small coastal town. Since her arrival, she meets an expressionless teenager who fascinates her. In his new environment, Young-nam meets Dohee’s stepfather, a violent, alcoholic man who exploits migrant workers. To protect Dohee from the mistreatment of her stepfathers, young Nam sets her up. The young woman then discovers the different facets of Dohee’s personality…
I Saw the Devil (2010)
Shockingly violent, revenge is served hot, cold and in every color in this intrepid and bloody film. Two of the best actors of Moderna Korean cinema, Lee Byung-hun A bittersweet Life and Choi Min-sik Oldboy, face off in a competition that allows only pure sadism Moderna. Attention: You must have stomach for this one, even over the other.
Kyung-chul is a dangerous psychopath who kills for pleasure and has committed several murders using devilish methods that are difficult to imagine. His victims are girls. The police have been trying to arrest him for some time. One day, the daughter of a retired police chief is found murdered. The girl’s boyfriend, a secret agent, swears revenge on her.
Memories of Murder (2013)
A rural crime thriller that focuses on the obsession that haunts every good detective and his fear of failure. The most disturbing story is based on serial murders that took place in Hwaseong between 1986 and 1991. The investigation team alone forms a glowing portrait of professional jealousy and the panic of incompetence. Because every detective is the first person.
It is 1986. A young woman is found brutally raped and murdered. Two months later, a series of rapes and murders occur under similar circumstances. To search for the killer, a special task force is organized, headed by a local police detective (Park Doo-man) and a Seoul police detective (Seo Tae-yoon), who asked to be assigned to the case.
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring (2003)
Silent beauty finds a lingering sense of doom in this stunning study of human nature and the consequences of our actions. The narrative of the films is about monks, but the life lessons and raw emotions are universal. Moderate, but deep, a film as impressive as its location in the Jusanji Lagoon.
Two monks live in a remote monastery. Under the watchful eye of the elder, the younger one observes the seasons of life. Spring: A monk boy laughs at a frog trying to free himself from a stone on his back. Summer: A young monk finds love. Autumn: a thirty-year-old monk is trying to do something that is contrary to his nature. Winter: the monk is approaching old age, and someone comes to the monastery. Spring: The old monk is talking to nature; a monk’s child is playing near him.
A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
It conquered the Korean box office at that time, although it was a horror movie! with the update of a popular scary story, but Kim JEE-Woon’s movie is the only one we let repeat on the list, impossible to choose was also a dark, unique and suffocating vision of sadness and distress. Come on, what would be a hereditary Ari-Aster fourteen years ago.
Two sisters arrive at the new home that their widowed father shares with his new wife. The growing cruelty of the stepmother, coupled with the appearances of the spirit of the mother of the girls, will create a disturbing atmosphere.
This is a fair case. You will know her, or you will have seen the American remake with Josh Brolin. This twisted revenge story is packed with stylized action and a whirlwind of ultra violence that will take your breath away. Oldboy is one of the highlights of Moderna Korean cinema, which, after its triumph at the Cannes Jury Grand Prix, strengthens the worldwide recognition of Korean cinema.
Oh Dae-su Choi Min-sik wakes up in a hotel room that will imprison him for the next 15 years. After his liberation, he will embark on his path of revenge to find his captors.
A Single Spark (1995)
The activist Jeon Tae-il occupies an important place in the history of the struggle for workers’ rights in Korea, as he is depicted in the film Park Kwang-su, a biopic that is perfect for learning more about the various labor movements that energized the country until 1970. Funded by 5,000 customers, it is now considered a collective effort on and off screen that demonstrates the true “Korean spirit”.The film was written by Professor Lee Chang-dong.
The voice of an intellectual named Kim Yong-su recalls the dark years of Park Cheng-hee’s dictatorship and the time when he wrote a book about the life of a union leader who committed self-immolations in 1970 in defense of his ideas.
The Man with Three Coffins (1987)
It may sound like a colorful road movie, but behind it lies a dazzling reflection on grief and the ability of grief to follow us everywhere, no matter what we do. Filled with ideas and discussions to be continued after the credits, the film is an impressive work about the painful memories of the loss of a loved one.
Sun-Seok embarks on a trip to Korea to forget his recently deceased wife, but on the way he meets three other women who are devoted to his wife. Everyone will teach you something different.