December 9, 2019

Top Ten Korean Movies of 2019 (Sort of)

Thanks to the Korean Film Archive on YouTube, this past year was very much devoted to movies of yesteryear, especially those starring Choi Eun-hie or directed by Kim Ki-young. So while a few movies on this list are fairly recent, most date back at least 50 years. And as much as I consider myself a fan of Bong Joon-ho, Park Chan-wook, and Kim Ki-duk, I would now count A Flower in Hell and Transgressions as among my favorite Korean films of all time.

1. A Flower in Hell (1958): Choi Eun-hie's turn as an amoral woman in this war melodrama is so good and so atypical that it's almost hard to believe it's her.

2. Empty Dream (1965): This dreamscape set in a dentist's office rates as one of the most surreal flicks I've ever seen. And yes, I'm including Un Chien Andalou and Meshes of the Afternoon.

3. A Hometown in Heart (1949): If coming-of-age films like Okja and The 400 Blows are your thing then have I got a movie (with a young Choi Eun-hie) for you.

4. Columbus (2017): This visually impressive American indie has chunks of dialogue in Korean and a terrific lead performance by Korean-American matinee idol John Cho.

5. Dark Figure of Crime (2018): You can't have a top ten Korean movies list without at least one featuring a serial killer. Hence, this engaging flick by director Kim Tae-gyun.

6. Night Before Independence Day (1948): Basically a silent movie with a narrator, this arthouse relic about urban lowlifes is absolutely fascinating to watch.

7. Parasite (2019): One of the most buzzed-about films of 2019 is really just the latest masterpiece from Bong Joon-ho, a director who has plenty of wonders to his credit.

8. Transgression (1974): From the psychosexual Kim Ki-young comes this mind-bender about three men under consideration to helm the monastery after the old monk dies.

9. The Widow (1955): The first Korean movie directed by a woman should be required viewing given how it was short-shrifted when it was released.

10. Yangsan Province (1955): Kim Ki-young's first film is a gorgeous folk tale that gains power from performances and music very much rooted in the past.