Sunday, March 13, 2011

An A to Z Guide to Korean Cinema – Part 2

Today, I am going to continue with part 2 of my article, picking up where we left off yesterday:

Lover’s Concerto (2002): This romantic melodrama is a tearjerker. Its main cast, including Cha Tae-hyun, Son Ye-jin and the late Lee Eun-ju (Taegukgi), all gave likeable performances. While the story is not particularly original, the film is an example of an ordinary story told well. Viewers who like crying should have some tissues ready.

Memories of Murder (2003): Many great Korean films have English titles that start with the letter ‘m’. Examples include My Sassy Girl, Marathon and director Bong Joon-ho’s other film Mother. Of these, my favourite is Memories of Murder, a police procedural that is suspenseful and chilling. The strong cast shines brilliantly. It is one of the best Korean films ever made.

Joon Ho-bong's Memories of a Murder (2003)
Nowhere to Hide (1999): This is the ultimate demonstration of style over substance in cinema. What makes this cop thriller work is that there is so much style that a relative lack of substance becomes insignificant. This movie has some of the best action scenes ever captured on film, and the final fight scene in heavy rain has no doubt provided inspirations to many filmmakers.

Oasis (2002): This one comes from another one of Korea’s great directors- Lee Chang-Dong (Poetry, Peppermint Candy). It tells a love story, but if it is something sweet or touching you‘re after, Oasis may not be for you. It is actually a rather challenging film to sit through, but patient viewers should find this film very rewarding.

Public Enemy (2002): Featuring a hard-boiled cop out to catch some criminals, this film is both violent and funny. Actor Sol Kyung-gu (Oasis) gives another great performance as the main character who happens to be a corrupt cop. You may not like this character but the fact that he is so bad is what makes this film so much fun to watch.

Quiet Family, The (1998): This film was the directorial debut of Kim Jee-woon (A Tale of Two Sisters), and it shows that right from the beginning, this now famous director was already showing a great deal of talent. Boasting a strong ensemble cast, including Choi Min-shik (Failan, Old Boy) and Song Gang-ho, this dark comedy is both clever and brilliant.

"Something special": Kim Ki-duk's Rough Cut (2008)

Rough Cut (2008): When I saw this at the Korean Film Festival in Australia (KOFFIA) last year, I realised that I was watching something special. First time director Jang Hoon, protégé of Kim Ki-duk (who helped in writing the screenplay for this film) effectively mixes comedy, romance and action to deliver a truly original gangster movie.

Shiri (1999): This was the first Korean film that I ever saw. Not knowing much about the film, except for the information that it smashed box office records and literally sank Titanic in Korea, I was impressed by this spy thriller tremendously. The success of this film marked the beginning of the renaissance of the Korean film industry, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Take Care of My Cat (2001): This gentle film tells a touching and memorable coming-of-age story of five young women living in Korea. A few of the performances stand out, including that by the lovely Bae Doo-na (Barking Dogs Never Bite, Linda Linda Linda), one of my favourite Korean actresses. I still find this special film refreshing whenever I watch it.

Untold Scandal (2003): In this film, the filmmakers have cleverly adapted the French novel ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses’ and changed the story’s setting to Korea’s Chosun Dynasty with interesting effects. Skillful storytelling and high production values make this elegant period drama filled with lustful deceptions a really entertaining film.

"Elegant period drama": Untold Scandal (2003)
Volcano High (2001): This comic book-like film contains some of the most spectacular visual effects in a Korean film. The violence is cartoonish and the action is wild. While it certainly has some flaws, Volcano High is nevertheless a lot of fun to watch. I am disappointed and surprised there have not been many other similar films coming out of Korea.

Welcome to Dongmakgol (2005): This film did great business when it was released in 2005, and remains one of the biggest blockbusters in the history of Korean cinema. There is really a lot to like about this feel-good movie about war. Jeong Jae-yeong (Castaway on the Moon) and the rest of the cast all give strong performances. Also the story is very good.

(‘Xmas’) Christmas in August (1998): It stars Han Suk-kyu and another of the most popular actors at the beginning of the Korean New Wave, Shim Eun-ha. This beautiful actress turns in an award-winning performance in this love story, which is told in the most subtle manner. The result is a truly unforgettable film.

Jeon Do-yeon in You Are My Sunshine (2005)
You Are My Sunshine (2005): Yes, this is yet another Korean melodrama, but it’s a good one. Multi-award winning actress Jeon Do-yeon (Secret Sunshine, The Housemaid) stars in it, which pretty much automatically makes this film worth watching. With a sad story that pulls hard on those heart strings, this intimate little film may just make you drop a tear (or two).

Z - Art Museum by the Zoo (1998): Wait a minute, this film starts with ‘a’, I hear you say. I apologise as I haven’t seen any Korean film with an English title that starts with ‘z’. So this lovely film will have to do. Despite having a very simple story, this film is easy to fall in love with because of the wonderful chemistry between its two leads, Shim Eun-ha and Lee Sung-jae.

So there, you have it: my A to Z guide to Korean cinema. I hope you have found it interesting, and wish that the rest of the year will bring us many more great Korean films.

Samson Kwok writes for Heroic Cinema, the guide to Asian movies in Australia.

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