December 17, 2017

Top Ten Korean Movies of 2017 (Sort of)

Followers of my blog — and I know you're out there... somewhere — may have noticed this year that not only did I review more documentaries than usual but I also watched a goodly number of North Korean movies (thanks to the discovery of the DPRK Video Archive on YouTube). And while only one North Korean film made my final list, two missed it by a hairsbreadth: Wolmi Island and O Youth! . Who knows what next year has in store?!

1. The Drop Box: Although their existence is apparently nothing new, I was unfamiliar with drop boxes f.k.a. foundling wheels which allow mothers to anonymously give up unwanted babies without questioning or judgment. This documentary on one in South Korea kind of blew my mind.

2. A Good Rain Knows: Director Hur Jin-ho's wondrous little romance wastes no time in getting to the heart of the matter: Former lovers Dong-ha (Jung Woo-sung) and May (Gao Yuanyuan) are meant for each other.

3. The Lovers & the Despot: A world-class director (Shin Sang-ok) and his muse/ex-wife (Choi Eun-hee) are kidnapped by the North Korean government and forced to make movies. Sounds implausible. And yet it's reality. (This is a documentary, after all.)

4. Man on High Heels: Unable to imagine continuing a career in the police department post-op, the department's fiercest officer (who happens to be trans) has visions of escaping to a new life. Naturally, complications arise.

5. Nameless Gangster: You have to admire acting legend Choi Min-sik's willingness to not only play, but revel in playing, such a thoroughly unlikable, amoral, sleazy character this late in his career without even the hint of a wink to the audience.

6. Okja: The ever-dependable, oh-so-imaginative auteur Bong Joon-ho is back in fine form with this heart-pounding parable about the inhumanity of the meat industry that will turn anyone with a heart into a vegan... at least for a week.

7. Order No. 027: O Youth! was a zany sitcom; Centre Forward, a rousing sports flick; Wolmi Island, an unexpectedly feminist war pic. But the best of the North Korean movies this year was this espionage thriller which had good fight scenes and a strong female lead.

8. Red Carpet: This incredibly wise romantic comedy — set in the world of low-budget porn — knows how hard it is to shrug off imposed shame and stay true to your heart.

9. The Silenced: This movie about an all-girls school run by Japanese scientists with military backing has all the makings of a classic B-movie. And it delivers on that front and then some.

10. The Wailing: When it comes to horror movies, some like witches, some like devils, and some like zombies. For those who reply "all of the above" when asked to pick a preference, this movie is for you.

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