Korean Cinema

We missed last week. Sorry about that. We were trying to research a topic and it proved challenging. Mainly because it is difficult sometimes to find English subtitles. Yes, we want to talk about movies. Specifically Korean movies.

Now obviously, this is a tricky subject. It's hard to get into a film when you can't understand the language. But we've come up with a trio that should be readily accessible, available in the US or other markets, with at least English subtitles. And they also have the virtue of being startlingly kick-ass.



Oldboy: Currently standing at 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, Oldboy is the oldest of our movies from back in 2005, and the goriest. It earns its "R" rating with a startling amount of violence and sexuality. It's a film about a man imprisoned for 15 years, without explanation, without having committed any crime. Then one day he is released and told he has five days to learn who locked him away, and why.

The movie demonstrates a mastery of cinematography that is just... wow. It's beautiful without being artsy, emotional without being maudlin, and very, very powerful. It's also got one of the best fight scenes I've ever seen, a three-minute, no-cuts shot of the hero taking on a hallway full of goons with nothing but a hammer. Contrast that with hyper-kinetic Hollywood, where every fight has to have a billion jump cuts, and this comes across even stronger. It was remade in the US in 2013, but the less said about that, the better (currently 41% on Rotten Tomatoes, and generally seen as inferior). If you want an example of old school action, brutal and hard, mixed with a quirky Korean sense of humor, Oldboy is your ticket.



The Host: With a towering 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, The Host is an outstanding monster movie. It's funny-scary, mixed with touches of satire. And it's another startlingly well made film. This one's rated R, too, but more for bloody monster violence, ripping people apart and the like. In this film, a monster emerges from the Han river in downtown Seoul and begins terrorizing the city. When a girl is snatched, her slacker father has to pull himself together (along with the rest of his family) to go off on a rescue mission.

It's a fun movie, and satisfying. But I have to warn you now. When you go looking for this film, do not confuse it with the 2013 Stephanie Meyer film of the same name. You will be very, very sad if you do. Also, DO NOT WATCH THE DUBBED VERSION. Watch the subtitled version if you can. The dubbing is horribly acted, and does not do this movie justice. Here's an example of the subtitled version, as the monster first begins its rampage.



Snowpiercer: From 2014, Snowpiercer is quite recent. It's also the best reviewed of the lot with a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes. It's unique, well-acted, and full of action. The film takes place on a train, the last in existence. The world has fallen into a deep freeze. The few survivors live by never stopping, never staying in one place. Their train circles the globe on a massive track, always moving, carrying the last remnants of warmth and food. But there is inequity on board. Some passengers live in luxury, others live in misery. Which leads to a revolution.

Starring a mix of Korean and American actors, Snowpiercer has social commentary, beautiful set pieces, and a stylish grace. If it has a downfall, it is that it can be preachy. But the creativity of the setting and the fascinating world this film creates are outstanding. As an interesting side-note, the Korean father-daughter team in Snowpiercer also play father and daughter in The Host, our previous entry. Anyway, here's a trailer to Snowpiercer to wet your whistle.


Anyway, that's our Korean movie roundup. This is just the tiniest sliver of the films available. South Korean cinema is rich and very vibrant, and it's definitely worth a look for anyone interested in expanding their horizons a bit.