My first Korean Movie that I loved most is “A Moment to Remember” and from then onwards I started watching all kinds of Korean & Japanese movies which I never tried in the past. Korean Movies are either dark themed action/crime/psychological thrillers or Romantic tearjerkers. Their quality of cinema and the script are way different to Hollywood and most of the movies are much better than so called top grossing Hollywood Blockbusters. I was introduced to Korean Cinema by my brother and hence special thanks to him. Since I had made this post a year back, I thought it is better to update the list or reformat them and rank in order. As its difficult to rank them in top 10 I decided to categorize them based on Genre so that it will be easier for me to list according my likeness and repeat viewings. I also expect some good discussion and recommendations on this topic. Your feedback is very important.
Top 10 Action drama / Spy Thrillers – Korean
Infernal Affairs (2002) – A beautiful thriller, exciting and engrossing with powerhouse of performances that compelled legendary Hollywood director Martin Scorsese to remake it in Hollywood titled “The Departed” starring “A” list actors to repeat the same roles is no less than an achievement. It’s a spy thriller where an undercover cop joins the gangster and a gangster joins the police following many twists and turns that affects all the lead characters of the movie. Even if you have seen The Departed, I assure you that you will fall in love with this film. The pace of the movie is apt with unfolding of layers of mysteries, performances fulfills the satisfaction value of the viewers and engaging enough to miss you your little timely intervals during the film watching experience. One of the finest directed, enacted and produced thriller from Korea.
The Man From Nowhere (2010) – One of the best Stylish and Slick action korean movie that I have watched so far. The lead actor is amazing in his performance be it, action, emotional or style quotient, he justifies the act. A person who is leading a low profile lifestyle as a pawn shop keeper is often stunned by the cute little girl living next door. She is the only girl he talks to and one day her mother is being kidnapped by the goons/human flesh traders looking out for the drugs she stole. It also reveals the dark side of the pawn shop keeper who is very well trained in combats and pain infliction. the story doesn’t hold any big surprises, but the sheer force of the characters and action drives it forward with style. You will look for his other movies once you complete this movie because he is will be the one actor you look forward watching in future.
The Berlin File (2013) – A top government agent of North Korea takes a U-turn and turns against its own people and plan an escape to South Korea. He somehow is caught and punished but he leaves a hint to his trusted officer and secret agent about the conspiracy of the people in higher hierarchy of the North Korean Military chiefs. The theme is loosely based on the Government secret agents that are highly skilled in various combats but turn against their own government when they find out the true conspiracy behind their missions. It is similar to Bourne series in terms of theme but execution, screenplay, action and combats are entirely different to each other. It has high octane actions using guns as well as martial art combats and you will enjoy the most of these combats because of strong and aggressive antagonist who is equally capable or little stronger than the main Protagonist. It’s a fast paced action thriller and emotionally impactful on the viewers.
New World 2013 – The plot of the movie looks heavily inspired from the other Korean Movie named Internal Affairs 2002 / The Departed by Martin Scorsese but it is a totally different film with different texture and treatment with its own uniqueness. Even if there isn’t much of real action, the movie pumps up the flow of adrenaline in your body along with the pace of the movie with which each layer unfolds with twists and turns. Excellent performance from the lead, his friend and police chief Kang. The psychological gang wars carried out with finesse and the unsolicited events that occurs pumps your adrenaline rush in the body. The attitude of the movie, the psychological game played by the police, the loyalty and betrayal are executed brilliantly with excellent editing, becoming most entertaining Korean film of the year.
War of the Arrows (2011)– It’s kind of a historical film during the times of kings and their crusades over other states, provinces and countries. In one of those times a brother is delegated a responsibility of his sisters protection from a dying father who is overrun by arch rivals for opposing and protesting against the ruler king. That brother grows to become the finest archer in one of the region’s he grew and finds himself in the same situation when one of the legions attach their village only to find his sister being abducted and others killed. He relentlessly chases down the culprits with his great archery skills alone up to a certain point. He is joined by his fellow villagers later on to find and rescue his sister. The film features some amazing archery skills at display followed by stunning chase and other rescue operation shot vividly and choreographed brilliantly.
A Dirty Carnival (2006) – One of the purest and best Gangster Movie from Korea I have seen so far and it’s based on the life of Byeong-du the protagonist of the film. There is a parallel story to it where his school friend is shown as struggling director in the movie and how this friendship takes one to elation of joy and success and other, to extreme depression and betrayal. The realism displayed in this movie wins lot of accolades and appreciation. There is some fight scenes that are gruesome which brings you closer to the real gangster fights and even might relate to your own personal experience, if ever you have been involved in fights or being victimized. The performances by all 3 major characters of the film are just brilliant.
The Good The Bad, The Weird (2008) – The story is about the three characters bounty hunter, the thief and the bandit along comes the MAP and its value holds different meaning to each character. To the bandit legend Park Chang-yi, it will help solidify his name in history. To the thief Tae-goo, it means he and his grandmother are set for life. As for the bounty hunter Do-won… well, he wants a little bit of both. The Film has funny moments, sad moments and more over its kind of a comic relief to the viewers. It is engrossing with little bit of comedy, action and over the top bizarreness. You will love all the characters and all of them have done justice to the characters they play.
Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War (2004) – A story of two brothers and their coerced journey in the battlefield of War against North Korea, their survival, their bonding, their different opinions, mindset and aims of life. The two brothers were coerced to join the South Korean army due to pre-emptive strike by North Korean army on South Korean Soil. The elder brother shows his bravery, daredevil acts and put his life in danger for the sake of freedom of his young brother from the battlefield and army to put his brother safe from danger and educate him for the better prospects and future of his family. But these daredevil acts by his elder brother changes the views of his young brother towards his elder brother. They get into verbal fights, accusations and kind of a jealousy… The action sequence and the rawness of the war are worth watching. Stunning cinematography followed by good direction.
Swiri (1999)– A brilliant Korean Masala flavored film yet slick and stylist; bit of suspense and thrills with an ensemble star cast leaves you with overwhelming experience. It is one of those good feel masala action thrillers that entertain you throughout and keeps you hooked until you find out how it ends. It has a typical storyline in which north Koreans highly trained agents that are not associated with the government enters into South Korea with some major plans to kill the presidents of both the countries with an aim to merge two countries together. The narration and screenplay is fabulous with brilliant performance from the star casts. It was the highest grossing film in Korea the year Titanic released.
Daisy (2006) – A young girl that runs an antique shop belonged to her grandfather in Amsterdam, paints during weekend to earn extra income for the living. A cop develops a relationship with her due to his frequent visits at the place during the weekends, the purpose of which is not disclosed to her. She is also been watched by one of the criminal who gets intimidated from the cop’s entry into her life. He tries to win her over with various other ways and times come when both the guys had to face off each other. The climax ends with a twist and excellent performances from the star cast. It is a sweet romantic thriller that is filled with some clichés and predictability yet lovable and adorable.
Top 10 Crime / Psychological Thrillers – Korean
Oldboy (2003) – The lead protagonist is being kidnapped and imprisoned in a hotel room. The reason is unknown. Time is unknown. TV was the only sole connection to the outside world and watching it helplessly about her wife death and he considered as the murderer of her wife’s death who ran away from the scene. He trains himself physically and plans a Shawshank redemption type escape from the captivity. As soon as he finds out the way for an exit suddenly he is thrown onto the rooftop of a building with a cellphone and some cash. Now he has only one aim in life i.e., to find out the reason for his abduction and imprisonment for 15yrs. He meets a lovely girl in a sushi bar type restaurant and his journey to find out the truth behind his imprisonment begins which comes with horrifying, shocking and somewhat disgusting (especially to Indian audience) revelation one after the other. Please watch out this movie solely for only one reason – The thrilling end.
Memories of Murder (2003) – It is a film about the Serial Killer, Mysteries, Suspense, Thriller, Brutal deaths and Murders. It is one of those rare films that meet an unexpected end. A Serial Killer who likes to play the game of Catch me if you can with the police officials and detectives at the same time being a horror to young women especially at nights. Victims are found dead brutally wounded that sends shivers across the village. It has many twists and much guessing goes on till the end. It has amazing screenplay which keeps you engaged throughout and wanting more of it at the end. The performances are really great and the chase to hunt down this mystery serial killer is shot astutely.
Confessions (2010) – It’s about a teacher’s revenge against the two students of her that she considers them responsible for the death of her little daughter. It’s violent, gritty, dark and full of madness. The film is shot beautifully and intelligently. Cinematography is phenomenal, Editing on par with the best, direction is very good, performance is flawless and script is entirely different but great. Korean thriller movie fans must watch this movie and others too. Film is very delicate as the two main antagonists are the lead protagonists of the film and the main protagonist is the antagonist in the film. The background score is very good and at times pleasing to ears. It tries to evoke the feelings of a devastated mother (who lost her young little daughter and whose husband died due to illness) and the vengeance against the guilty ones. It gets confusing sometimes if you don’t concentrate and it’s a psychological thriller with vengeance.
The Chaser (2008) – Murder was a shame to be considered as a remake on this gory thriller called Chaser. Most of you have seen the film Murder but watch this film to know the difference in quality, performances and Rawness of brutal killings, chase and many minute details. The story keeps you engrossed throughout the duration of the film and you will be surprised at the end because most of the Korean films have either sad/surprise/chaotic endings with loads and loads of tearjerkers. A thriller with lot of suspense drama surrounding to unsolved cases and mysteries is very rare thing in Hindi Cinema and Bhatt’s have utilized every opportunity to explore the untapped market of Indian Cinema.
A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)– It is a psychological thriller with suspense and horror that keeps you on the edge of the seat, compelling you to unravel the mysteries behind the events occurring during the movie ASAP. Two sisters after getting discharged from the mental institutions fear for their life from their stepmother and haunted by a ghost in the house of their father. They fail to prove their father about the evil intentions of their stepmother and her torture to one of the sister. It’s intense, horrifying and loaded with mystery, twists and fantastic climax. Performance from the two little girls and cruel stepmother successfully convinces you to think what the director aims. The movie ends with fantastic climax that is unique and one of its kind for its time. There are few Hollywood movies that are inspired from it’s twisted plot that includes a like Shutter Island
I Saw the Devil (2010) – It is a thriller that is brutal and gory and puts most of the violent movies in the past to shame. There are so many violent scenes where you don’t feel comfortable at times but at the same time you don’t want miss it. A psychopath serial killer kills the fiancé of a secret agent and to avenge the brutal death of her fiancé he does all he can to make him suffer until his last breadth. There are some twists at the end and flaws relating to police investigation method but the sheer power of the film lies on violence and psychopath killer’s powerful performance. He is absolutely brilliant and the way he carried out his killings makes you hate him more. It is a very disturbing violent movie that I won’t recommend for the women.
Confession of Murder (2012) – The most wanted serial killer becomes overnight sensation when he releases his book, an autobiography about the murders he committed, in detail but can’t be held responsible by police due to lack of evidence. The police officer who was nearly killed and had confrontation in an ugly fight denies accepting him as the same serial killer based on his instincts and calling him the impostor. He develops cult followings among young girls for his looks even though he is accused of raping, killing and chopping off women & children. However during one interview, a caller calls him fake, an impostor and claims to be the real serial killer. Film is excellent and performances are great. You will love it if you have not seen a Hindi film called “Fox” starring Sunny Deol and Arjun Rampal as this looks heavily inspired from it and which off-course is inspired from Hollywood movie called “A Murder of Crows”.
Mother (2009) – It tells about a mother who is willing to go at any stretch to save her son (little immature) framed against false charges of killing a teen age girl. Mother desperately searches the real killer in order to prove her son’s innocence with the help of her son’s friend. The film is slow but the twist in the end ultimately pays off… The mother’s son is “Bin Won” – remember ‘the man from nowhere”? He is just brilliant and you won’t recognize him as “Bin Won” or the man from nowhere fame unless you have read about him featuring in the film.
J.S.A.: Joint Security Area (2000) – It’s the story about North and South Korean border security soldiers safeguarding the joint security area (borderline) and about the investigation carried out in the murder of one official (border security official belonging to North Korea) which is shown in the beginning of the film. It has lot of depth and layers to understand the culture of Koreans that also displays the fondness among the people of the country even if they stand divided but doesn’t compromise on their loyalty and patriotism for their respective country. Excellent performance from the two lead protagonist and direction is executed very well to capture the moments, fear and trust among the two divided nation’s army personnel.
Silmido (2003) – It is sort of high octane action drama at the back drop of political conspiracies and shriveling accusations. In 1986, South Korean Government plans to execute or kill North Korean President Kim il-Sung by training death row victims in a secrete unit called Silmido unit. They are trained rigorously without many breaks, preparing them to be suicidal squad whose aims and vision are nothing but the target set by the Government and in succeeding the mission they get their life back as the citizens of South Korea. As they go hard on the victims during training sessions, witnessing the killings of their fellow companions for failing to stand the gruesome training, they develop a bond that binds them together. All of a sudden the mission is cancelled by the political leaders and the sole existence of the camp is taken away. These leads the prisoners to take drastic steps and move out of Silmido but unfortunately destiny leads them to unfortunate end still they send out the clear and loud message to people of Korea in their last coup.
The movie starts off well but drags a little in between during the training camp then suddenly many interesting things happen that hold your attention till the end.
Top 10 Romantic Movies – Korean
A Moment to Remember (2004) – Title itself camouflaged as reminiscence of those little moments that are cherished forever.
It is a Story of a young Couple, their love for each other and their battle from the terminal illness called Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a love story – a tearjerker loaded with emotions, romance, trust, betrayal, dedication, determination, discipline and dreams. It is one of the best Romantic movies that I have come across Korean films and it is my top favorite considering all genres. The one who likes Romantic movies will fall in love with this movie and it gives a new meaning for love. The actress is dead Gorgeous and the actor is also likeable. Hope you guys will enjoy this movie…
My Sassy Girl (2001) – On his way home college student notices a young girl in the subway station who appears to be too near the edge of the tracks. Almost drunk to the point of unconsciousness, she barely notices the student moving her back to safety. On the train journey itself the young girl causes a scene due to her drunken behavior and, just before she passes out, she refers to the nearby student as ‘Honey’. Reluctantly taking responsibility for her as the other passengers believe he is her partner, the student looks after the girl, not realizing that this will be the start of a strange relationship… it comes with doses of suspense and comedy with an ending that you could not have wished for more.
In the Mood for Love (2000) – Two families both married rent an apartment in the same building next to each other on the same day. The wife of a businessman finds out that her husband is having an affair with the lady next door and the lady’s spouse realizes the same thing. Trying to figure out how it started, they develop affection and love towards each other and in order to avoid being like their respective spouses, they decide to choose the righteous path and go separate ways. It is a very seductive, subtle, musical and vividly colorful film about extra marital affairs. It is elegantly expressive, highly emotional & moving, charmingly sublime. The background score elevates the film’s experience and expectations to a notch higher, predominantly due to the powerful performances from the lead pairs. Their chemistry is so seductive and magnificence that you will fall in love instantly with the characters and the film. Director has been successful in capturing the moments of temptations, lust and gracefully presenting it on a larger screen.
A Bittersweet Life (2005) – A gangster is asked to keep an eye on his boss’s mistress about her daily activities and inform him immediately if he finds her betraying or disloyal to his love. He is also considered as the most loyal guard and associate of his boss and stands next to his boss drug addict son in terms of admiration to his loyalty. When the gangster spoils the mistress’s coup of running away with her boyfriend he tries to handle the situation on his own without informing his Boss. He then gets punished when Boss comes to know of his disloyalty for helping her instead of informing him about her betrayal. The performance by the lead protagonist is of top notch and you can feel his pain, grief and revenge in his eyes. This film is remade in Bollywood starring our own serial kisser Emran Hashmi named Awarapan.
Il Mare (2000) – A young woman vacates the house situated on the banks of the river to move into the city in 1999, leaving a letter in the mailbox, instructing the new owner to send any bills/mails to her new residence address. The young architect then takes over the house and when he finds this letter he tries to correct her about the time quoting its 1997 and not 1999 but to his surprise he realizes that they are living in two different times separated by two years. They start to mail each other through the common mailbox and grow affection towards each other. It’s a very beautiful love story at the back drop of time travel and it emotionally connects with the audience.
The Classic (2003) – It has amazing story and the writer himself is a director of this film I believe. The film revolves with two stories, one of the past and the other of the present. The girl starts reading the old love letters of her mother (dead by now) that she had hidden in the box which revealed the real story of her mother and her past life, about her first love, about her dad, the situations that she involved into and the outcome of her love life. But there is a present story that goes side by side along with the past stories of her mother and the end of the two stories come to a “Classic” Finale. The director doesn’t confuse the audience and the cinematography is just awesome. The chemistry between the pairs is what you need to look into.
Windstruck (2004) – A film about fearless and proactive cop performing daredevil acts, ensnaring drug traffickers, arresting thieves, gangsters, kicking the shit out of eve teasers and getting involved in ridiculous situation such as arresting people based on just doubts like she caught the opposite lead character of the film. Somehow both fell in love with each other and she acting as the head of the two 😛 anyhow this film gets into situation where the opposite lead dies trying to protect his love and the female cop unable to digest the fact, goes on doing such daredevil acts without fearing for her life. The climax may be bit bizarre but the film makes you smile at the end.
My Girl and I (2005) – It’s a simple and beautiful romantic tearjerker that is rich in beauty, innocence, pain and emotions. A not so famous teenager starts to date with very popular and most sought after girl in the college leaving many into jealousy. Their love for each other was like eternal until the teenager finds out the tragedy attached to the girl he love most and likes to die with her. Second half is a tearjerker with emotional melodrama all over the place that is sensitively poignant. The actors are very emotionally very expressive and sometimes gives you overdose of excitement as well as emotional joyrides.
A Millionaire’s First Love (2006) – A Millionaire’s son just turned 18 is about to lose his father’s inheritance if he doesn’t fulfill his late father’s terms and condition that says he needs to complete the school at Boram High School, the town dear to his late father. Unwillingly he joins the school and tries to adopt the environment of his surrounding encounters a teenage girl mistakenly as beggar during his first encounter. This girl somehow changes his superficial heart and holds his attention most of the time but the girl is facing some serious problem that is unknown to the Millionaire’s son. Even though it’s another emotional tearjerker with lots of cliché’s and age old romance saga but still very effective in entertaining and emotionally connecting with the audience or viewers. Performance is always good in these flicks and more over it looks like Koreans are born with nature’s gift on emotional quotient.
My Little Bride (2004) – It’s a Romantic Comedy and it’s about A young School girl Boeun who is coerced and emotionally blackmailed to get married to the Sangmine (her childhood friend) by her Grandfather against her will to fulfill the promise made to Sangmine’s late grandfather and escape from the disgrace (in Korean culture). After some buttering and emotional blackmail by both the families they both agree to marry and sent to honeymoon. Here comes the twist, the girl escapes and avoids to go along sangmine (whereas he happened to go alone without choice as he was deceived by her) and she falls in love with the handsome hunk of her college (which she was already crazy about). When sangmine returns he decides to become the teacher/lecturer of the boeun’s school and one day comes to know the fact abt her inclination towards the other course mate (her boyfriend). You have to watch the movie for more 😉 It is a simple film with some special moments and a small dose of laugh.
Other Movies that I would like to recommend are as follows:
Departures (2008) – It’s a film about the professional job which is looked down upon as abhorring that involves the person to perform the final rituals for the departed souls or in other words on the dead body of the people. I had different expectations from the film but it turned out be a totally different and unique film. It showcases a very important psychological effects on the people surrounding you and their uncomforting nature or immediate reactions towards you as soon as they are explained about the nature of the job. Initially i felt bored as it was very slow paced but later started kind of liking the film. It will have a deep emotional impact on you if one just imagines the final rites performed on your loved ones. The music in between is soothing, beautiful and pleasurable. Overall liked the movie n performances are great.
Poongsan (2011) – A man takes not more than 3 hours to cross into North Korea border and bring back the people reluctant to stay in South Korea is hired by South Korean official Government Agents to help cross a diplomat’s lover who is struck in North Korea. He successfully obliges the request but is denied the payment of what was promised. In revenge he abducts the girl and his lover diplomat until his dues are cleared but falls in love with girl during the period of abduction and till the time of his payments cleared. Things change and he gets harassed, tortured & used by agents of both side against the life of the girl he loves. Movie is good and he is the same lead actor who featured in “the Berlin file”.
Speed Scandal (2008) – A young RJ/DJ living like a spoilt brat suddenly finds him in an awkward situation when confronted with a young girl who has a son claims to be his daughter. Worried of being blackmailed or threatened with a super scandal he refuses to accept the truth and tries everything to throw out the girl and her son out of his house as soon as possible. After succeeding in his intentions, he realizes the mistake and confronts the truth and accepts the daughter wholeheartedly but tries to get involved with the private affairs of her daughter with another teenage boy. Different events takes place in his journey that are sweet, emotional and otherwise normal. It’s a sweet comical drama, well directed, well enacted and well executed.
Mr. Robin kkosigi (2006) – It is also known as Seducing Mr. Perfect. A young girl with weird fashion style bumps into the car of the man who turns out to be his next boss. She tries to revive her fashion style and in the meantime falls in love with the young handsome boss of her who happens to be mean to her in the beginning. The boss is also in love with this young girl but shy’s off from displaying his emotions and affections towards her. He is a shrewd business man but also honest and shy.
Castaway on the Moon (2009) – Well these were my views when I watched it first time, “The movie looked interesting in the beginning but turned out lame and stupid later on. He jumps into the river to commit suicide but he doesn’t drown (he doesn’t know swimming) & instead lands up on the shore of the deserted island that is very far from the bridge he jumps. The climax was even more clichéd than Bollywood romantic movies. The girl’s part was much more horrible.” Somehow end up watching it second time and I stand by the lame and cliched parts of my comment but end up liking the movie very much. It is bit silly but engrossing and I guess more you watch the movie more you love it. I failed to understand the lead characters sudden reluctance to his exposure to others in a deserted place but not to the mysterious person across the island. A silly plot is made interesting with higher repeat value from my own personal experience.
Korean Movies that I am planning to watch are as follows;
The secret reunion
There are so many movies that I am dying to watch but due to time restraint unable to do so. Will update as and when I am able to watch those films and also request you all to suggest some good movies that may belong to Korea, Japan, China or Thailand. Hope you liked my idea to reformat the post and present it better for the referral point of view.
Fearless Soul / FS – My twitter handle @fearlesssoul
Tags: A Bittersweet life Articles Chaser Exclusive Infernal Affairs jung woo-sung Memories of Murder Old Boy son ye-jin The Man from Nowhere Top Ten Korean Movies