December 11, 2016

Top Ten Korean Movies of 2016 (Sort of)

Zombies on the loose. Backstabbing lesbian lovers. Amoral cops. A young man with a disease that causes him to wake up each morning in a different body. 2016 was a lousy years in some respects (job, politics, family) but at least it gave me what I needed in terms of Korean movies. Below are my ten favorite movies — all viewed within the last twelve months — in alphabetical order. It was easy to pick 'em; impossible to rank 'em.

1. Alive: In Park Jung-bum's grimly naturalistic epic, poverty is one helluva oppressor and tenderness the sweetest, most unexpected thing life has to offer.

2. A Barefoot Dream: Kim Tae-gyun's ripped-from-the-sports-pages tearjerker is about an East Timor soccer team coached by a middling, former pro soccer player (Park Hee-soon) from South Korea.

3. The Beauty Inside: This wondrous sci-fi pic from Baek Jong-yeol asks how would our relationship to our soulmate change (or even survivor) if the exterior appearance kept changing every day?

4. Cyrano Agency: Imagine a future in which a matchmaking agency "scripts" your first encounter, subsequent dates, and wedding proposal. Now make it a rom-com.

5. The Handmaiden: Park Chan-wook's always made fascinating female characters but never more so than here in this lesbian erotic thriller based on Sarah Waters' novel Fingersmith.

6. A Hard Day: How often do narrative and character shortcomings make you reflect? This sleazy cop procedural, starring Lee Sun-kyun, pleases by disappointing in interesting ways.

7. Kundo: The Age of the Rampant: The better of two martial arts flicks I really enjoyed this year, the other being The Kick, has the advantage of Ma Dong-seok in a major role.

8. Miss Granny: The central performance from Shim Eun-kyung, as an old woman miraculously gifted her young body again, is deliriously good. Plus, she can sign.

9. The Scarlet Letter: Is this the most harrowing love triangle in Korean film? It's certainly in the running. I first saw it over ten years ago and it's lost none of its power.

10. Train to Busan: Although it falls tenth on this alphabetical list, this zombie flick — with a great ensemble cast — was the most thrilling movie of the year. In short, number 10 is number 1.

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