When Parasite won four Oscars in 2019, many film-lovers around the world sat up and took notice. But regular Korean movie fans weren’t surprised — the movie was the latest in a rich seam of quality content that South Korea has produced over the last half a century.
Beginning with classics such as The Housemaid in 1960 and continuing with the Korean New Wave in the ‘90s, the country boasts a proud history of filmmaking. The good news is that it’s set to continue into the 2020s, with an array of fantastic titles that entertain, fascinate and excite movie fans of all ages.
Here are some of this year’s best offerings so far.
Ha Jung-woo isn’t known for his horror movie roles. The Seoul-born actor’s career has spanned many genres, including fantasy, romantic comedy and thrillers, but scary movies were never on his radar.
Closet is a great place for him to start. When his character’s daughter disappears without warning from their new home, he approaches a strange man who claims he knows the answers to the mystery. And so begins a rollercoaster ride of thrills and terror as the search begins.
CJ Entertainment and Jung-woo are proving to be a great team after the success of last year’s award-winning Ashfall, and Closet is a worthy successor to it. Stay tuned for more collaborations over the next few years.
The Man Standing Next
Based on the ‘Koreagate’ political scandal, this drama sees members of the KCIA indulge in political gameplay to try to gain power. Lee Byung-hun — some viewers might remember him displaying the type of betting often seen in high roller casinos in All In — takes calculated risks as protagonist Kim Gyu-pyeong, alongside Lee Sung-min as fictional President Park.
Fans of shows such as House of Cards will love the scheming and plotting, and some of the acting is excellent. Its quality is reflected it winning four awards at the Chunsa and Baeksang awards ceremonies, and its earnings reaching nearly $33 million. Expect to see more awards coming director Woo Min-ho’s way in the future.
Time to Hunt
So, three young guys, desperate for money, plan to pull off a heist in a local gambling den. They go in, wave a gun or two around and take the money – simple, right? Well, not quite.
Set in a dystopian Korea where drugs and guns have become the order of the day, the film charts the aftermath of the heist. The group have an assassin on their tail who wants to take revenge for the robbery, but it’s not the money he’s after. They unwittingly stole a bunch of tapes that hold a great amount of value to certain people.
Time to Hunt is a non-stop thriller, with plenty of twists and turns along the way. The film premiered at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival and was the first Korean film in history to appear in the Berlinale Special section. An impressive achievement, indeed.
Heaven: To the Land of Happiness
When director Im Sang-soo started out on this project, he originally wanted the film to be a remake of Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, a mid-90s German film. After a while, though, he decided to change the storyline and produce his own script, so he ended up with a different movie altogether.
The result is an enjoyable 100 minutes of two men embarking on a quest for happiness. Choi Min-sik stars as one of the protagonists and puts in another fine performance to go with his successful showing in Forbidden Dream.
The film was shown at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival where it received rave reviews — always a sure sign of a good movie!
Hero is a tale revolving around the Korean independence movement and shows the plight of An Jung-Geun, a freedom fighter, and Seol-Hee, a former lady-in-waiting to Queen Myeongseong. Both contribute to the cause in their own special way, which culminates in a gripping end to the movie.
An adaptation of a stage musical, music plays a central theme to this tale, with various scenes performed to a powerful audio backdrop. It’s also based on historic events, which makes the story even more impressive and will have you rooting for the characters all the more. Kim Go-Eun continues her fine career to date with a strong performance while Jung Sung-Hwa is great as the heroic fighter. One to watch.
Summit: Steel Rain
What would happen if three world leaders were abducted as part of the same coup? Summit: Steel Rain takes us on a journey to find out in an action thriller that is a sequel to the blockbuster Steel Rain.
The two main actors from the first movie feature again, only this time they swap sides as Jung Woo-sung plays a South Korean and Kwak Do-won represents his North Korean counterpart. What follows is chaos, with lots of action and shouting and even more action.
While the plot may seem a little unrealistic, viewers are treated to a non-stop adventure with some fine acting performances along the way.
So, if you have a couple of hours to spare, try out one of these titles. The tradition of great Korean cinema is alive and well and promises to continue long into the future!