Korean cinema continues to grow in popularity largely thanks to the worldwide recognition and success of recent films and series such as Parasite (2019) and Squid Games (2021). One can only hope the success of those films can spring interest across Korean filmmaking as a whole. Nevertheless, below will highlight what I feel are eight masterful Korean films for those looking to dive into the realm. Let’s take a look!
1. Parasite (2019)
Logline – Greed and class discrimination threaten the newly formed symbiotic relationship between the wealthy Park family and the impoverished Kim clan.
Nowadays, if you were to bring up Korean filmmaking to anyone, no matter their background, they more than likely would know what Parasite is. The 2019 best picture swept the Oscars, and rightfully so. Its black comedy thriller elements make it a staple of why you can cross-blend genres.
2. Minari (2020)
Logline – A Korean family starts a farm in 1980s Arkansas.
Minari is one of the most touching films of 2020 and showcases the hardships of a family living in 1980s Arkansas. It doesn’t go the cliche route one would expect but instead focuses on the struggle a father and mother do to run a farm and support their family.
3. The Wailing (2016)
Logline – Soon after a stranger arrives in a bit of village, a mysterious sickness starts spreading. A policeman, drawn into the incident, is forced to solve the mystery to save his daughter.
The Wailing will intimidate most solely due to its run-time, but that shouldn’t deter you from experiencing one of the most atmospheric and thrilling films in Korean filmmaking.
4. Burning (2018)
Logline – Jong-su bumps into a girl who used to live in the same neighborhood, who asks him to look after her cat while she’s on a trip to Africa. When back, she introduces Ben, a mysterious guy she met there, who confesses his secret hobby.
Every slow-burning character film moving forward can learn a thing or two from 2018’s Burning. The film may take time for most, but it pays off by the end.
5. A Taxi Driver (2017)
Logline – A widowed father and taxi driver who drives a German reporter from Seoul to Gwangju to cover the 1980 uprising soon finds himself regretting his decision after being caught in the violence around him.
Based on its cover alone, one wouldn’t expect A Taxi Driver to be a historical action drama but rather fall into the typical lame comedic movie about a taxi driver. Instead, the film focuses on the Gwangju Uprising, promoting a sobering and thrilling experience for anyone who watches.
6. The Housemaid (1960)
Logline – A composer and his wife are thrown into turmoil when a housemaid becomes more than they bargained for.
The black-and-white 1960s film The Housemaid is arguably the most essential film in Korean filmmaking history. It explores the psyche of the human mind, promoting a sinister yet pleasurable experience.
7. Peppermint Candy (1999)
Logline – Following a man’s suicide, time traverses back to reveal six chapters of his life on why he committed suicide.
Those looking for a film told in an unorthodox manner need to view Peppermint Candy. It’s a troubling drama, looking into heavy themes of suicide and depression, and is not for a sensitive individual. Today, it’s viewed as one of the best from modern Korean cinema.
8. Aimless Bullet (1961)
Logline – A pressured accountant, his war veteran brother, and their dysfunctional family struggle with integrating into post-War Korean society.
What once was a popular sub-genre of film in tragedies can be brought back to life thanks to the innovative sensation of films like Aimless Bullet. Initially banned for its downbeat representation of life in post-armistice South Korea, Aimless Bullet is a must-watch.