5 Korean Film Recommendations

Undoubtedly, I feel an unprecedented excitement for the global attention received by Korean culture. And most recently, the film Minari has been gaining worldwide recognition, following in the footsteps of Parasite. As such, Korean films (or films with a Korean identity) are becoming more and more approachable and embraced by the masses. But at the same time, the fast momentum of the trend—popularity ranging from K-Pop to K-dramas, K-films, K-fashion, etc.—got me questioning if the phenomena was simply a phase within the American masses or even a mega-product of capitalism. 

Through my encounter with those who were invested in this K-trend, I learned that whether the initial interest resulted from a commercialistic tool or not, many folks found genuine interest in learning about another culture. Possibly, the oversimplified connotation of the trend itself may have belittled the curiosity that it has kindled. Still, in general, there is not a variety of Korean films known to the wider public. And as an avid film watcher, I hope I can provide some follow-ups to Minari and Parasite or simply intriguing recommendations for those who wish to explore deeper into K-cinema. 

  1. 1. The Handmaiden

    Created by a globally acclaimed director Park Chan-Wook—he also directed the famous OldboyThe Handmaiden first premiered in 2016. A young and clever girl collaborates with a conman in hopes of stealing the inheritance of a rich lady she is meant to serve. Despite the initial onset, the story has a unique development with a merge of thrillers, romance, drama, and an amazing plot twist. A heads up for violent and sexual content. And if you like the film, I suggest watching other films by Park Chan-Wook! 

  2. 2. 1987: When the Day Comes

    1987: When the Day Comes premiered in 2017, and it is categorized as a political drama. In 1987, which is pretty recent, Korean citizens fought for a revolution against an oppressive president following a cruel death of a student who sought justice. This film had me in tears at the theater, and though it handles weighty content, it delivers the steps towards democracy quite beautifully. Even without previous historical knowledge, the film is easy to follow as we all know injustice, oppression, and violence. 

  3. 3. Beauty Inside

    Beauty Inside is a romance/fantasy film from 2015. A man has an ability—or in fact, a disability—that changes his body every day that disregards gender, nationality, and age. Dealing with such inexplicable changes, the protagonist has no real connection with others except for his own mother and his best friend. Even more, he has to make a bigger change to his lifestyle as he gets a crush on someone. Overall, this film is very delicately crafted, and to see such a range of actors in a single film is really entertaining. 

  4. 4. The Chaser

    The Chaser, released in 2008, is an action/thriller film that revolves around the tightrope between a retired detective and a psychopathic serial killer. This film still leaves me relatively shaken with the violence and psychologically incomprehensible elements, but I believe that that is proof of a great thriller. If you enjoy gripping tales with realistic action sequences, I believe you’ll really like this one! 

  5. 5. Intimate Strangers

    Intimate Strangers (2018) is a Korean adaptation of the Italian film Perfect Strangers. A group of childhood friends and their current partners gather for a dinner event, which seems to be going just fine. That is until they start playing a risky game of sharing every phone notification with each other—calls, messages, emails, anything—during the duration of their meal. This film is truly hilarious but also carries a lot of dark satire in revealing how we never truly know one another. 

Now, these are only a few of the films that have left a mark on Korean cinema. But beyond K-films, some immense beauties and complexities are excavated and portrayed by such various cultures beyond the dominant media. I find it extremely brave for one to delve into another culture and to experience something other than one’s native. Although I may have given a strictly self-biased recommendation here, I hope that this list of movies sparks some interest! 

 

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