10 Best Contemporary Korean Films

August 15th, 2011 by Barak

South Korea’s Independence Day is celebrated August 15th. As fans of Korean cinema we decided to jump on the opportunity and dedicate a post to contemporary Korean movies. It’s a diverse and successful movie industry that offers the highest quality of disturbing and rough horror movies (The Chaser) alongside exciting and suspenseful action movies (Fulltime Killer), and of course award winning and touching dramas (Poetry). Here are my picks for the 10 best contemporary Korean movies:

10. The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008)

A big-budget take on the Western genre that takes place in the 1930s Manchurian desert, where a search for a map brings together three very different men who seem to exemplify the characteristics of the title. It’s an exciting and stylized adventure western that doesn’t shame the name of the movie it suggests (it’s definitely not as good as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, but it’s very good nonetheless).

9. The Yellow Sea (2010)

The Yellow Sea starts a bit slowly, but luckily, it has the necessary time to take off (2 hrs. and 36 min.). And when it does take off, it offers some chase scenes that wouldn’t shame The Bourne Ultimatum and some one man army fight scenes that reminded me of no less than Kill Bill.

8. Mother (2009)

In this captivating film about a mother’s love and dedication to her son, a woman is forced to investigate a murder after her son is accused of the crime. It’s an extraordinary and unique story about a mother who desperately wants her son to be innocent and will do anything she can in order to prove it.

7. Memories of Murder (2003)

Based on a true story, Memories of Murder tracks famous gruesome murders through the eyes of the two detectives investigating the case. The murders unfolded in 1986, a time when South Korea was under a military dictatorship, technological advances were lacking, and the detectives had very little evidence to work with. The victims were all women of various ages, and all were raped and murdered by the killer. It’s kind of the Korean Zodiac, only much better.

6. Friend (2001)

Yet another title that describes the plot of its movie very well, Friend deals with the various aspects of friendship and loyalty. It follows four friends from their childhood in 1970s Korea until adulthood. Though each of the four came from different family backgrounds, they stayed together through the tough economic times of those years. However, as they mature into adults, the boys’ lifelong friendship is broken when two of the friends become criminals in order to make their living. Soon, this once close group has split into two rival factions, turning old friends into bitter enemies.

5. The Man From Nowhere (2010)

A quiet pawnshop keeper with a violent past (ex Special Forces) takes on a drug and organ trafficking ring in hope of saving the child who is his only friend. If you loved Man on Fire (with Denzel Washington) and worried you’ll never find another movie quite like it, you can stop worrying. The Man from Nowhere is very reminiscent of Man on Fire but instead of an avenging and angry man with a shotgun, the hero of The Man From Nowhere is a quiet master warrior who uses mostly martial arts (and a gun when absolutely necessary) to extinguish the bad guys.

4. A Bittersweet Life (2005)

In the ending scene of the movie a voice over describes a dream. In the dream a disciple wakes up in the middle of the night crying. When his master sees him crying he asks him if he had a nightmare? The disciple says no. So did you have a sad dream? Asks the master, and the disciple also replays that he didn’t. “I had a sweet dream, and I’m crying because I know it can not be fulfilled”. A Bittersweet Life is a very violent and rough action movie about unfulfilled love.

3. A Dirty Carnival (2006)

Tracks a young wannabe gangster named Byung-doo on his way up the organized crime ladder and into a violent world filled with death. It’s a captivating tale about an ambitious criminal who rises to the top, where it’s never easy to stay. A Dirty Carnival borrows quite a lot from Scarface and Goodfellas – mainly the good parts.

2. 3-Iron (2004)

This romantic drama offers a wonderful piece of magical realism. It is considered to be one the best movies to come out of Asia in the last decade. It’s an offbeat and stylized film that shows an almost dialogue free love story between two people. If you haven’t seen this movie, you must, if you have seen it – it’s great also when you watch it for the second time.

1. The Spirit of Jeet Kune Do (2004)

This is probably the most mature coming of age movie I’ve ever seen. Its main character has to deal with unfulfilled love and the brutality of the 1970’s Korean school system on the road to self discovery and adulthood. The movie offers just the right combination of drama and action, with truly moving moments, alongside breathtaking martial arts scenes.

Just to prove my point that there are many fantastic movies being made in South Korea, here are 10 other great movies that didn’t make the top 10 list: The Host, The Chaser, Oldboy, Poetry, Fulltime Killer, I Saw the Devil, Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War, J.S.A.: Joint Security Area, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring, A Tale of Two Sisters.

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