Korean Movies


Korean Films

What a vast mix of style and quality! Korean movies include excellent if confusing dramas as well as an abundance of high school horror films. A few are well worth your time, but we have not sorted them out. Here a list of all the Korean movies we have sat through:

Tell Me Something

Plastic garbage bags filled with chopped up male corpses are turning up at regular intervals in Seoul. The tainted Detective Cho is given a chance to clear his tarnished reputation if he can solve the case. He quickly discovers that all the victims were involved with the attractive Su-yeon, and her last jealous boyfriend is the obvious suspect. That is until he, too, turns up dissected in a hefty bag. As Cho becomes familiar with her past, we find she is a seriously disturbed young woman who was abused by her famous artist father. You'll probably peg the killer in the first ten minutes, so don't bother watching this for anything other than the exploding bags of bloody body parts. They turn up in parks, elevators, dropped on highways and other inconvenient locales. As a bonus, his partner, Detective Oh, gets skewered to death by a fork lift. Lots and lots of gore. Written and directed by Youn-hyun Chang. Korean. 2001.

R-Zone

Korean Movies - OldboyDid you know there were South Korean troops involved in the Vietnam War? In a tough fight, an entire squad gets wiped out in an area known as the R-zone. The problem is that radio messages keep arriving from the zone asking for help. A hand-picked group are selected from the syphilis ward and sent north to check it out. They set up camp in an old abandoned French colonial building and begin their search. Weird stuff starts happening, and before long everyone is dying, and it's obvious there are ghosts at work. Hey, that's the rule, all Korean films must be ghost stories, ultra violent, or sappy love tales. This one has two out of the three. Guess which two. Korean. 2005.

The Classic

Most Korean films are either astoundingly brutal or ridiculous schoolgirl ghost stories. So when we found this endless Korean romance, it seemed worth a mention. It tells the tale of a threesome: Joon-ha, Tae-soo and their girlfriend Joo-hee, who had a lengthy and tortuous romance that spanned two generations. The story is told through a series of flashbacks as their daughter reads old love letters and diaries from her parents' courtship. Well told, well filmed, a bit long at 118 minutes, but good fodder for hopeless romantics. Korean. 2003. Zhao Cheng You.

A Bittersweet Life

How far will you go for love? This is a true test of a young mobster's resolve, as he is asked to look after his master's girlfriend for a few days. When he catches her with another man, he does the wrong thing and is asked to pay with his life. There still another hour and a half left in the film, so needless to say, he doesn't die so quickly. This is a really funny, entertaining, violent and romantic Korean mobster film. The cinematography is superb, and eventually some American studio will buy the rights to this story and screw it up. Directed by Kim Joo Woon. 2005. Korean. 2 hours.

Sympathy For Lady Vengeance

The long awaited third installment in Park Chan Wook's vengeance trilogy will surprise and perhaps entertain all you sick perverted bastards that loved Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance and Old Boy. Lee Geum-ja confessed to abducting and killing a five year old boy when she was only 19. We meet her thirteen years later when she is finally released from prison. She has done what was needed to get out, a model inmate, shamming piety and remorse to gain her freedom, with only one thought in mind. Vengeance.

Geum-ja has had plenty of time to plan how she'll get even with the guy who did this to her. It starts off slow, but you'll eventually come to see the brilliance of her scheme. Her target is the kidnapping pederast who made her confess to his crime by kidnapping her illegitimate daughter. Lee Geum-ja slowly calls in all the favors she has accrued among her prison inmates. She begins by finding her daughter in Australia and taking a 19 year old lover. She finds her victim Mr. Baek, still teaching children and still up to his old ways. What a beautiful web she weaves.

Of course Park Chan Wook does not disappoint his fans. There's plenty of his trademark ultra violence, when needed, but this film is more subtle and less gruesome than its predecessors. The cinematic touches and excellent photography are even better than in Old Boy. As Park gets better budgets, he has honed his craft and perhaps tempered his shock factor to reach an audience greater than you handful of twisted souls who adored Mr. Vengeance. I have to say, I was a trifle disappointed when I first saw it. It was great but the wince factor was only a 7 out of 10. On a second viewing, I have to admit. it's excellent. If you are not already a fan, work your way backwards through the trilogy as it is perhaps more palatable that way. 2005. 95 minutes. Korean.

Oldboy

Time and again we have warned you about Korean films being particularly violent. Oldboy wins the Pal d'Or for unnecessary squirm in your seat and avert your eyes brutality in Technicolor. Somebody kidnaps Dae-su, an obnoxious businessman, and locks him in a secured hotel room. Occasionally, his jailers gas him and cut his hair and straighten up the room while he's unconscious. At other times they drug him and infuse his brain with hypnotic suggestions. For no apparent reason, they dump him in a vacant lot after 15 years of imprisonment. He can't remember much, but a kind sushi waitress takes him home and cleans him up. He sets out to discover what he can about his captors. By methodically eating dumplings across the city, he eventually locates the food source used by his jailers. The delivery boy leads him to his place of entrapment and he wreaks havoc on the place. He gathers some clues, but large sections of his memory have been erased, which hinders his search.

Eventually, he finds his tormentor, a kid whom he had crossed in high school. Revenge takes a far different route than you'd anticipate, or ever conceive. If you turned your head during Marathon Man or were uncomfortable with A Clockwork Orange, then Oldboy will be too much to take. It's rated IIb which is equivalent to PG13. If I saw this at 14, I'd still be having nightmares. Otherwise it is an unbelievable tale that breaches more taboo subjects than a Todd Solondz film. 2004. Directed by Park chan-wook, who took the best directors prize at Canne for this gem. This is the second film in his gruesome revenge trilogy. If you can handle this, look for Sympathy for Mr. Vengance.

Wishing Stairs

Jin-Sung and Soo-Hee are best friends and ballet students at an all girls art school that has a peculiar staircase that grants wishes. Wishing Stairs is from the "Korean Girl School Ghost Story Genre", but it's not as awful as some of them. The two friends are in competition for a slot at a Russian ballet academy, until Jin-sung takes the lead by pushing her friend down a flight of stairs. When doctors tell Soo-hee that she can no longer dance, she self defenestrates out the hospital window, thus providing the necessary ghost for the tale. Meanwhile there was a fat girl ,Hae-ju,in school who really takes a lot of abuse for her corpulence, She makes use of the wishing stairs to trim down, which works well but upsets the cosmos. Eerie stuff becomes the norm; ghosts and bloody showers haunt the dorms. The ghost of So-hee must exact revenge on her friend, but we'll let you discover the details if you're that interested. Korean w/subtitles. 97 minutes. 2004.

Tube

As the title suggests, Tube centers around the Seoul subway system, which looks pretty cool, especially the engineers' uniforms. Written and directed by Woon-Hak Baek, this Korean thriller begins with a blaze of gunfire as a well organized mob stealing a computer chip at the airport from an arriving executive. A local cop, Detective Jay, grabs a rifle and helps fight off the attackers, but he only gets a reprimand for his efforts. We later see him apprehending suspects at the mall where he comes in contact with a rather enigmatic and tough young woman pickpocket. Anyway, Jay's protagonist is a criminal master mind named T, who apparently cut off his pinkie in a fight. Anyway, our boy Jay is not only a screw up, he is also a one man police force and kind of a Korean Jackie Chan. When the mayor decides to take a PR ride on the subway, T and his gang hijack the train. Jay and his mall girl Kay are also on the train, and they try to settle the matter. Suspenseful with a comic book quality.

Face

A forensic anthropologist is being haunted by one of his facial reconstructions. As added stress, he is a single parent raising a young daughter who has had a heart transplant. The girl is having recurring rejection problems due to something called a beta allergy. Well, it turns out the specialist who did the surgery had a murderous assistant who acquired hearts especially for beta allergic patients. It seems the little girl and her father are being haunted by the original owner of her heart. When dad finally solves the case the doctor is arrested and the ghost who was assisting him is laid to rest. Sort of a hybrid Asian ghost story with a little extra gore thrown in. Better than most; the photography is decent, it is not overly hokey and actually gets a little scary at times. Directed by Yoo san-gon Korean w/subtitles 2004 unrated

Who's Got the Tape?

Dong moo runs off with a couple of video tapes during a fight at his neighborhood video store. The problem was one of them was an evidence tape stolen by the mob, which leads to a rather predictable series of chases and some unpredictable comedy. The guys who are chasing him are some fairly lame thugs, and they all end up as buddies and teach the kid a few things about being a criminal and a man. For a Korean film, Who's Got the Tape is surprisingly lighthearted and not overly brutal. Korean w/English subtitles, including lots and lots of foul language. 2003. Directed by Cho Jin-gyu.

Acacia

Korean director Park kyi-hung steers this unsettling tale of a middle aged couple who adopt a young boy, Jin-sung, who has a strong affinity for trees. There is a barren acacia tree in their yard that he speaks with and nurtures back to health, all the while carrying a beetle around in his palm. Like many Korean films, Acacia starts off slowly, but from the beginning there is a subtle trace of dread that you know will escalate accompanied by eerie music. When he is not talking to the barren tree, the boy plays with Min-jee, the hemophiliac little girl next door. Before the tree bears fruit, his adopted mother becomes miraculously pregnant, which results in Jin-sung acting up. The birth of the baby and all the attention lead to some obvious problems with some unforeseen consequences. Korean w/subtitles. 113 minutes. 2003.

Samaritan

If you missed this years Pusan film festival you have probably not encountered the director Kim Ki-duk. who made this unusual film about two young high school girls who pick up middle aged men in chat rooms and charge them for sex. They are saving for a trip to Europe. Jue Young sets up the liaisons and collects the cash, while Jue Woo actually sleeps with their johns. She kind of feels sorry for them and takes notes on their professions and idiosyncrasies. Unfortunately, the police catch up with them, and Jue Woo leaps out a motel window and dies. Her distraught friend decides to revisit all their tricks and refund their cash since she no longer needs it for their trip. She also sleeps with them just to relive her friend's experiences. Her policeman father catches wind of her hobby and starts to tail her male escorts. At first he just harasses them, then he drives one to suicide. The next one he beats to death. So this is just as brutal as many Korean films, but it is more challenging and as cerebral as it is visceral. Also look for Kim Ki-duk's recent film 3 Iron. 95 minutes. Korean w/subtitles. 2004.

Koma

There's a scalpel wielding kidney thief preying on women in Shanghai. Ching accidentally stumbles across on of the unfortunate victims while attending a friends wedding. She incorrectly identifies a woman Suen Ling as the possible organ collector. Actually, Suen was at the hotel stalking Ching's boyfriend. Now, Ching is being stalked by the scalpel wielding ex girlfriend of her fiancÚ. Yet when Ching is drugged in a bar and kidnapped by a band of freelance organ thieves Suen comes to her rescue, perhaps so she an carve her up at a later date. The two women share more than a boyfriend, and after the rescue these two become friends, with some strange results. As it turns out, Ching is actually in need of a transplant herself, and it looks likely that her boyfriend, the surgeon, may be behind the renal larceny. Huh? Nicely filmed, but the poor subtitles only added to the confusion. 90 minutes. Cantonese. 2004.

Interview

This Korean Dogma 7 film is a cleverly woven story wrapped around the making of a documentary. The documentary's director, Eun Ha, and his staff, wander around Seoul asking people to tell them their love stories. While interviewing a young hairdresser, Younghee, he is smitten by her and her simple tale. In fact, her real story is far more complex than the false story she has related for the camera. As the director tries to get closer to her, she artfully discourages him in an attempt to protect her lies. It all unwinds in an unlikely fashion, but it is the sequencing of the scenes and your changing perspective when some scenes are replayed that will hold your interest. It is really the editing and not the story or action that make this film so entertaining. Directed by Eun-Sok, who plays himself in the film. Korean w/subtitles.

Greenfish

Mak Dong has just been released from the army and is on his way home, when he helps out a woman on the train. A couple of guys are hassling her, and he steps in gets his ass kicked and gets booted off the train. She calls him, because she collected his luggage, and they agree to meet. It turns out she is a mobster's girlfriend, and she gets him a job with the gang. Meanwhile, his real family consists of three brothers, one is a wife beating detective, the second is severely handicapped and happy, while the third sells eggs. He is still getting his ass kicked on a regular basis, but the mob boss Bae Tse-Yong, takes him into the family and allows his to call him "Big Brother". Apparently this is a big thing among Korean mobsters. Now he's got two families and can't seem to handle either of them, but one of them is going to be the death of him. Written & directed by Lee Chang-dong. 1997. Korean w/subtitles.

The Quiet Family

Dad loses his job in the city so he buys an out of the way inn and employs his wife and kids as his staff. Their first customer commits suicide, which is not a good omen. Rather than spoil their reputation, they clean up, bury him out back, and go on about their business. Their next guests, a pair of young lovers, overdose, so they also get relegated to a spot in the garden. As you may have guessed, they get few repeat customers. Kind of a malevolent Korean version of Fawlty Towers, it is equally as funny. Excellent soundtrack. Written & directed by Kim Ji-Woon. 1996. 93 minutes. Korean w/subtitles.

The Isle

You probably don't get too many Korean films at you local theater, so you'll have to hunt for this one. The story has a lot to do with fishhooks, both figuratively and literally. A nameless mute woman, runs a fishing colony out on a lonely lake. The cabins are small houses on floating docks spread out over the lake. She supplies the mostly male occupants with bait, food, and sex, as their needs require. She saves the life of a suicidal fisherman/cop who appears to be on the lam. A rather tempestuous affairs erupts between them with some real torrid and unexpected results. Rather gruesome in parts, but an excellent film if you have a strong constitution. Written and directed by Ki-Duk Kim, and starring Jung Shu and Yoo-Seok-Kim. 2000. Korean w/subtitles.

Barking Dogs Never Bite

Yoon Ju hates dogs, or at least he hates barking dogs. To help preserve his calm, he kidnaps dogs in his building and dispatches them in various ways. A cute little chow is eaten by the superintendent, while another he flings off the roof. A woman in the management office is wise to him and sets out to thwart his dognapping. There is a disclaimer at the end which says "No puppies were hurt in making this film," but you may question that statement after you've seen this film. Oh, yeah, it's a comedy. This was a runaway hit in Korea, honest. Directed by Bong Joon-Ho. Korean w/subtitles. 2002. 110 minutes.

Bloody Beach

Eight internet buddies rent a beach house together and head out of Seoul for a summer of fun. One is dead before she even gets off the train. By the second night, they are almost all chopped up, stabbed, run over or fallen victim to some fatal mishap. It can all attributed to "Sandmanzz," who was a malignant chat room buddy of the group. We suspect this is a Korean remake of a bad American film. Watch it only if you need another good reason to quit AOL.

301/302

Named after two adjacent apartments, this Korean tidbit is more subtle than a Jeffrey Dahmer documentary. The tenants are quite different. 302 is a reclusive writer who is past bulimic; she pukes at the very thought of food. Soon-Hee is 301, a youngish divorcee who loves to cook for her loved ones. She feels 302 is rejecting her love by failing to enjoy her intricate meals. To prove her love, 302 makes the ultimate sacrifice (in a Christ-like manner) . Even in subtitles, this movie loses very little of the emotion it jams down your throat. 1995.

Momento Mori

Min Ah finds a diary on her way to the all girls high school she attends. After reading it , she discovers it was written by two of her classmates who are lovers. She watches them, clandestinely fascinated, until one of the pair jumps off the school roof. The dead girl begins to haunt the school until a teacher, Mr. Goh, also commits suicide. It's not clear if this is a tragic lesbian love story or a high school horror film. Perhaps it's neither. Directed by Kim Tae-Yong. Korean w/English subtitles. 90 minutes.

The Record

Another Korean high school horror story, The Record begins with a practical joke played on the class dufus. They take him on vacation and stage a fake murder only to discover they've killed him. The kids all swear to secrecy and set his body on fire. It might have worked, but he wakes up while he's burning and runs off a cliff. The kids dummy up about their crime, but there are psychic dues to pay. Pretty poor. Korean w/subtitles. 90 minutes.

 

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