Korean cinema encompasses both the South and the North. Each country of the divided whole has strong films which are driven by character and plot, with the popular genres of comedy, romance, fantasy and suspense high on the list of scripts. Though South Korean movies are known and acclaimed internationally, North Korean movies often portray themes of revolution or communism. Still, the film buff who would like to understand more about each country has many movies which are excellent. Korean cinema, as a whole, is active and filled with engaging movies that appeal to all tastes.
Here are five of the best.
This 2003 drama by director Chan-wook Park consistently makes the lists of top Korean movies ever made. It is a suspenseful tale about Oh Dae-Su, who has been trapped in a room inside a hotel. It’s been years…15 to be exact. The twist is that he’s given 5 days to discover, and find, who imprisoned him. He doesn’t remember what he’s done, or why he’s suddenly released. He’s also been slipping into madness for the entirety of his imprisonment. It’s a thriller of a film, based on Japanese manga, and brilliantly directed by Park Chan-Wook. Its popularity prompted a Josh Brolin remake in 2013, but fans urge viewers to see the original.
A Moment to Remember
For many South Koreans, this film is not only one of the most emotional but also one of the most loved. It’s a tragic story about love that lasts through illness. The wife is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and is terrified that her illness will cause her to not know her husband. His love for her after she no longer knows him is the stuff of great love stories. Some Koreans note that this film truly identifies the romantic nature of Koreans, though they are often misunderstood within the international community as being stubborn, factual or unemotional. Koreans often will describe themselves as the most romantic people, and this film is one of their romantic treasures.
Memories of Murder
This movie is based on the true story of a serial killer and the detectives who attempt to unravel the mysteries surrounding the brutal deaths of women found raped and left for dead. It is set in 1986 in the South Korean province of Gyunggi. The local detectives who work the cases are brutal and prone to torturing their suspects. It’s a disturbing film, but it rings true to life based on the painstaking research. It is considered a masterpiece and one of the best Korean movies ever made.
North Korean Must Watch Movies
Writing for The Guardian, Simon Fowler is an expert on North Korean films. He began his lifelong interest in North Korean film while working in Beijing for Time Out. His work as a film critic led him to learn that the Chinese production of films was almost completely discontinued from 1966 to 1976 when Mao’s Red Guard enforced the Cultural Revolution. This political circumstance paralleled that of North Korea in many ways. Fowler embarked on a quest to get his hands on as many copies of North Korean films which were smuggled out of the country, and in doing so he discovered obscure titles and ultra-rare films. The first film from North Korea shown in China was the 1972 hugely popular The Flower Girl, which Fowler believes is one of many which allow glimpses of the country and serve as documents which are important for the cultural and political history they portray. Here are the top two from his list of must see North Korean films.
The Flower Girl
North Koreans refer to this film as their immortal classic. Kim Jong -il produced the 1972 film. The writings of Kim Il-sung, who founded North Korea, are said to be the film’s literary source. Kim Jong-il is well known to have loved the cinema his entire life, and his father, the country’s late leader is said to have admired his son for working to modernize the North Korean film industry. The star of The Flower Girl, Hong Yong-hee is considered a national hero. Her image is found of the North Korean one won bank note; such is the reverence North Koreans place upon this film.
The Flower Girl is a historical drama set in the 1920s and 30s when Japan occupied the country. It is a story about a young woman whose family suffers mistreatment and bad luck in a society gone wrong. The family is saved when the communist army led by Kim Il-sung arrives to put the entire country on its right path, making a better life for North Koreans. The film is tragic, depicting the anti-Japanese guerrilla movements in the country. It portrays something of how North Koreans view life, and it includes picturesque scenes of life and culture in a country which remains mysterious to most of the Western world.
Hong Kil Dong
This epic Hong Kong-style kung fu film was created by Shin Sang-ok, the famed South Korean director. Kim Jong-il ordered his kidnap. Shin Sang-ok was imprisoned and forced to create seven Kim Jong-il guided films. In 1986, Shin Sang-ok, along with his wife, escaped from North Korea. His film is considered the first made In North Korea for pure entertainment rather than political reasons. It is a film about hero Hong Kil Dong and his adventures within the realm of Korean folk law. Hong Kil Dong is a type of Robin Hood, and legendary among Korean people.
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