December 26, 2009

The Best Korean Movies of 2009 (Sort of)

Another year, another 69 Korean movies and like last year, all the flicks on this list meet two criteria: One: I really liked them. Two: I first saw them in 2009. Why aren't they all current releases? Well, I don't live in Korea, folks!

1. The King and the Clown (2005): This epic, historical romance about two circus performers and the sadistic emperor who triangulates their unspoken love is riveting from start to finish. No competition for the top slot.

2. Thirst (2009): Does the world really need another vampire movie? Apparently yes! Park Chan-wook's tale of a bloodthirsty priest (Song Kang-ho) is tragic, philosophical, and hilariously gorey.

3. Mother (2009): Bong Joon-ho is giving Park a run for the money when it comes to who rates as my favorite Korean director. One more movie like this headspinner about a grisly murder investigation and he may usurp.

4. Like a Virgin (2006): A transgendered teen joins the high school wrestling team to earn money for a sex change operation. Ridiculous? Yes. Funny? Very. Poignant? Surprisingly so.

5. The Chaser (2008): I love a good adrenaline rush as much as the next couch potato and Na Hong-in's action pic kept me on the edge of my well-cushioned seat. It's hard to believe it's Na's feature debut.

6. White Badge (1992): Set during the Vietnam war, Jeon Ji-yeong's memory piece is a grim reminder that the battlefield will mess with your head...permanently. Ahn Sung-kee's performance is stellar.

7. The Way Home (2002): There were two coming-of-age tales that really won me over this year. (The other was When I Turned Nine). This one makes the list though because I felt like I learned something about life from it.

8. Sweet Dream (1936): Filmed over 70 years ago, this black-and-white melodrama has aged exceptionally well. The protagonist is an amoral bitch who could teach Ayn Rand a lesson or two about the virtues of selfishness.

9. A.F.R.I.K.A. (2002): I'm not sure why gay men love watching sexy women run around in cute outfits while touting guns, even if the plot is stupid. But we do. Unreservedly. Case in point.

10. My Mother and Her Guest (1961): I've seen five Shin Sang-ok films to date. This one is the best, an understated drama about an uptight widow (Shin's wife Choi Eun-hie) who loses her last chance at love. Creaky but unforgettable.

Suggestions for movies for 2010? Please leave them in the comments section below!


  1. Gagman (1989, w/ Ahn Sung-kee)

    Heart [My Heart?] (2000, Bae Chang-ho.. though maybe read a plot summary first, because you've called a few movies I like "boring" before :))

    The Housemaid (1960, Kim Ki-young... Or if you've seen it, I guess try to track down the remakes he did.. gotta get ready for the upcoming remake!)

    4th Period Mystery (2009, just because it's the most recent "recent" movie I've seen.. a harmless teen murder mystery that breezes right by)

  2. Hi! I'm a big fan of Korean films myself.
    What happened to "Taegukgi"? I would have to say it's one of the best Korean films I' ve seen so far.

  3. Thanks for the suggesstions, Chris. As to "Taegukgi," I can't say that I was too crazy about it:

  4. You seem to have covered all the big films since Korean cinema found its feet again in 1999. The one big omission I can think of at the moment is Peppermint Candy, my favorite Lee Chang-dong (I can't wait for his new film to become available)! Rough Cut was a recent film I enjoyed and this year's Secret Reunion was quite good too.

    Keep up the good work!