Beyond Parasite: Journey into South Korean cinema
If the success of Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite at the Oscars has whetted your appetite for South Korean movies, here are some films you should include in your must-watch list.
Loved Parasite so much you binge-watched all of Bong Joon Ho’s films? We understand if you are still craving more from the creative juggernaut that is the South Korean film industry. Here’s a list of entertaining films across genres that you should include in your exploration of Korean movies!
Train To Busan (2016): A lot of people have watched the film without realising the zombie apocalypse blockbuster was a Korean creation. One of the most nuanced zombie movies out there, it truly elevates the genre out of the ‘trashy but fun’ and into the ‘cinematic masterpiece deserving of a big screen watch’. Poignantly human and thought-provoking aren’t the phrases most would associate with a film about ravenous undead taking over a train, but it fits Train to Busan like a glove.
Train To Busan is a zombie apocalypse blockbuster .
The Handmaiden (2016): The Handmaiden is an erotic thriller based on the novel Fingersmith. It competed for Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival 2016 and won best foreign film at Bafta 2018. A tale of deception with a love story at its core, the film revolves around a Japanese heiress and a Korean woman hired to con her. Look out for the stunning framing and dark humour that filmmaker Park Chan Wook is reputed for. Best known for the Vengeance Trilogy (Heard of Oldboy? No?! Gasp!), he is another cinematic genius whose work you need to explore.
The Handmaiden won best foreign film at Bafta 2018.
Swing Kids (2018): Set in a prison camp during the Korean war, this musical drama by Kang Hyeong Cheol is in equal parts joyous and brutal. It is about a motley bunch of characters, forced to form an unlikely alliance in a tap dancing team. However, their desire to “just dance” doesn’t go down well with the political powers-that-be. Touted as “the most rhythmic Korean film ever made”, it features David Bowie’s Modern Love and The Beatles’ Free as a Bird. An unforgettable viewing experience starring K-pop group EXO’s D.O. (Doh Kyung Soo), it’s sure to get your heart racing.
Swing Kids stars EXO D.O. (Doh Kyung Soo).
The Spy Gone North (2018): Inspired by a true story, this spy drama is about a South Korean secret agent who infiltrates North Korea’s nuclear facilities. However, he gets entangled in a political maze due to secret deals between the two nations. High-stakes espionage, unexpected twists, and sharp performances make this a thrilling watch.
is inspired by a true story.
Kim Ji Young, Born 1982 (2019): This film is about an ordinary woman — a wife, a mother, a daughter — in her 30s, with a happy domestic life. Suddenly, she begins to behave weirdly and talk like other people. Based on a best-selling controversial novel of the same name, this movie set conservative South Korea abuzz. Despite the backlash that came with the announcement of the film, director Kim Do Young maintained that this was a story “that must be told”.
Kim Ji Young, Born 1982 is based on a best-selling controversial novel.
The House of Hummingbird (2018): The House of Hummingbird is about a lonely 14-year-old girl meandering through adolescence in mid-90s. One can’t help but care about the artistic teen with a dysfunctional family, as she wanders in search of affection. The poignant coming-of-age film by Kim Bora won the Grand Prix award at the 2019 Berlin International Film Festival, one of its many recognitions in the global festival circuit. The surprisingly mature performance got leading actor Park Ji Hoo accolades aplenty.
The House of Hummingbird won the Grand Prix award at the 2019 Berlin International Film Festival.
The Wailing (2016): South Korea makes some of the best horror movies in the whole world! One example is The Wailing, which has quickly gained something of a cult status since its release. This film is an allegorical masterpiece that requires multiple nerve-wracking watches to appreciate its brilliance. Extremely terrifying, the horror thriller is about a mysterious, violent sickness plaguing a small village. The investigation leads to a denouement that had the audience divided about its genius.
The Wailing has gained something of a cult status since its release.
Sunny (2011): A middle-aged woman attempts to track down her high school friends for a reunion, and ends up changing their lives. With nostalgia as the core theme, this is another well-loved film by Kang Hyeong Cheol. One of the reasons it’s such a touching watch is that one can easily find themselves reflected in each of the characters. The narrative alternates between two timelines, peppered with rich humour, tear-jerking moments, and infectious music (Kang’s trademark, it seems).
Sunny has nostalgia as the core theme.
A Taxi Driver (2017): A taxi driver is hired by a foreign reporter to travel to a city that would become ground zero for a rebellion. Starring Song Kang Ho (papa Kim from Parasite), this film is based on a true story. Despite its sombre subject matter, it manages to be entertaining, thanks to well-crafted screenplay, skilful direction and powerful performances.
A Taxi Driver stars Song Kang Ho (papa Kim from Parasite).
Extreme Job (2019): When a bunch of bumbling police officers decide to run a chicken restaurant for an undercover operation, it leads to some hilarious entertainment. This action comedy, featuring plenty of mouth-watering fried chicken, is among the top grossers in South Korean cinema’s history. Endlessly amusing, Extreme Job is a mood enhancer in visual form!
Extreme Job is among the top grossers in South Korean cinema’s history.
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