- I haven’t watched all the movies in the list. Some of them are on the list solely based on reviews and you might end up not liking them. Although, the torrents are out, the subtitles aren’t. I wish there were official releases online by Korean studios with English subtitles.
- All these movies were released in 2015 in South Korea. I have left movies from December as I don’t have any source to check them out. So it will be added to next year’s list.
- The movies are not ranked. The movies are most probably in the order of release.
1. Chronicles of Blood Merchant (Heosamgwan)
Backed by the performance from two of the biggest stars from Korean cinema, Ha Jung-Woo and Ha Ji-Won (I will not deny or agree that this movie is on the list because of her), Chronicles of Blood Merchant is genre bending emotional comedy-drama about an undying love of a guy. The movie is based on a Chinese novel of the same name written by Yu Hua.
Heo Sam-Gwan played by Ha-Jung Woo (he is the director too) sets out to win the heart of the most beautiful girl in the village, Heo Ok-Ran (Ha Ji-Won). He sells his own blood to make money and win her. Years later, the family is torn as the eldest son doesn’t resemble the father but a rich man in the village. The movie tends to be more melodramatic at the end but the mise-en-scene and the wonderful acting makes this movie a must watch this year.
2. Love Forecast (Oneului Yeonae – literally Today’s Love)
After watching this movie, I was gushing on Facebook about how I rooted for the lead pair to come together. I was waiting for a movie that can match the charm of Harry met Sally and this is the movie that fulfilled my desire. Kim Hyun-woo (Moon Chae-won) is an elegant weather reporter who is a totally different person off-screen where she drinks, bad mouths and fights with random people. The only person who knows and understands her is her childhood friend, Kang Joon-soo (Lee Seung-gi). He is a soft-natured elementary school teacher who secretly loves her but tries to date other women and in the process fails miserably.
Kim has a secret affair with a married senior colleague but she knows that she can’t marry him anyway. Love Forecast is a rom-com with an emotional ending but sweeps your heart through some excellent performances from the lead actors. Weather is used to show the different aspects of their life and plays a supporting role throughout the movie. Directed by Park Jin-Hyo, I bet you will root for the leads and that marks the success of this feel good movie.
3. Gangnam Blues (Gangnam 1970)
Gangnam Blues is supposedly the most popular movie of this year from South Korea and rightly so. We all know Gangnam Style from PSY. Gangnam is actually a district, part of Seoul that was developed during the late 70s and early 80s. Now the most expensive and affluent district in Seoul, it has a troubled past with respect to its development. Originally, Gangnam was full of farming land and people were forced to leave due to development around them.
Gangnam Blues is the tale of how real estate sharks took over the lands of farmer told through the life of two friends (Jong-dae and Yong-ki played by Lee Min-ho and Kim Rae-won) who are torn between two different gangs backed by politicians. The movie sparkles in the way director Yoo ha (Dirty Carnival) creates the backdrop and his subtle symbolisms make it even more brilliant. Some of them might find the movie stylish but the authenticity of the period has not been compromised. Gangnam Blues is one of the best neo-noir movies that you will watch just because of the amazing artistry of Yoo Ha.
4. Revivre (Hwajang)
Directed by Im Kwon-taek, Revivre premiered in the out of competition section of 71st Venice International Film Festival but released only in 2015. The film is based on a short story by Kim Hoon that won the Yi Sang Literary Award (one of the prestigious awards in Korea) titled Cremation.
The complexity of the movie can be understood by the way Im titled it – Hwajang has two meanings – cremation and make-up. The movie questions the idea of love and commitment in marriage. Oh is a top executive of a marketing firm who shuttles between work and hospital to help his dying wife. On the other hand, he is attracted to a young executive from his company. The movie shows his mental dilemma between his two sides that will question morality structures. Possibly, this is one of the best performances of veteran actor Ahn Sung-Ki.
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5. Twenty (Seumul)
Most directors don’t get coming of age stories right although lot of them want to make one. Lee Byeong-heon backed up by his success of his indie venture Cheer Up, Mr.Lee., has presented a wonderful coming of age tale that’s funny, quirky and realistically portray the lives of South Korean youth. The three protagonists have different aims in life and are controlled by situations around them. Kim Woo Bin (the current heart throb of Korea), Lee Jun-Ho and Kang Ha-Neul make the movie perfect with their portrayals. Twenty is a must watch just for the truthful depiction of young men and women in Korea. Don’t miss the hilarious fight sequence 😉
6. The Shameless (Muroehan)
The Shameless made its debut in the Un Certain Regard category at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. Directed by Oh Seung-Uk (after 15 years since his Kilimanjaro) is a romantic noir thriller with Kim Nam-Gil and Jeon Do-Yeon (Secret Sunshine, The Housemaid) in the lead. The Shameless is a movie of a detective who takes a straight forward murder case with a suspect but it gets complicated when he gets involved with a bar maid. Although movie poses as a thriller, it’s more about human emotions, their fears, loneliness and insecurities. It has, the usual elements Korean film noir but Yeon’s performance makes the difference. Watch out for her.
7. Northern Limit Line (Yeonpyeonghaejeon)
We have seen many movies about the DMZ and the land borders between the two Koreas but there are omly less number of movies (Yellow Sea was one) depicting the Northern Limit Line – the sea demarcation between North and South Korea.
The movie deals with the not so much talked about 2002 battle of Yeonpeong. It was not in the news because North Korea attacked the South Korean patrol ship 357 while South Korea was playing their third place 2002 FIFA World Cup match against Turkey. Although the movie has a lot of jingoism that you see in typical war movies, Northern Limit Line directed by Kim Hak-Soon (his first feature film as director) has its heart in the right place when it mixes the archival footage of soldiers along with the depiction. The production values are not compromised although the movie was crowdfunded and it has become the most watched Korean movie in 2015.
8. Minority Opinion or The Unfair (Sosuuigyeon)
Based on a novel of the same name written by Son A-Ram, Minority Opinion is the real life story of 40 tenants who were protesting against the government when they were relocated for urban development. It was widely known as the “Yongsan Tragedy” of 2009 when 5 protesters were killed along with a police officer during the riot that ensued due to the protest.
The movie traces the jury trial of Park Jae-Ho (Lee Geung-Young) who is accused of killing the police officer during the riot. He claims that he killed him for self-defence while saving his 16 yr old son. Young public defender Yoon Jin-won (played by Yoon Kye-Sang) teams up with a reporter Gong Soo-kyung (Kim Ok-Bin) to defend the accused while the whole establishment is against them. The movie depicts how in the name development the lives of common people are ruined. Gripping, heart-breaking and poignant, this courtroom drama should be on your list.
9. Assassination (Amsal)
Not to be confused with The Assassin from China, although this movie depicts a historical assassination attempt and is as lavish as its counterpart from China. Assassination is the eye-catchy blockbuster material that you will see from Korea this year. Lavish sets, brilliant cinematography and high production values make this movie a winner.
It has a pretty similar storyline to such movies where a motley crew – Ahn Ok-yun (played by Gianna Jun), a sharp shooter, Song-ok (Cho Jin-woong) and Duk-sam (Choi Duk-moon) is recruited to kill an evil Japanese commander Mamoru Kawaguchi (Shim Cheol-jong). Romance, sacrifice, and revenge makes Assassination watchable although the movie doesn’t touch the important political issues of Japanese invasion. Directed by Choi Dong-hoon (The Thieves), the movie is a must watch for the performance of Gianna Jun and the production.
10. Throne (Sado)
Throne was awarded the Best Film in the Annual Korean Critics Awards and also the official selection for the Best Foreign Film Oscar from South Korea. That itself qualifies the movie for this list but Throne is certainly one of the best movies of this year. It is based on the real-life story of Prince Sado (played by Yoo Ah-Hin) who was condemned to death by his own father King Yeongjo (played Song Kang-Ho – no introduction needed). Prince Sado was put inside a rice chest and died after suffering for 8 days inside without water, food, and air.
It has been said that the story has been visited in different versions but what makes Throne perfect is the characters are not black and white – the ambivalent depiction and the unraveling of the relationship between Father and Son during Sado’s last eight days make the movie perfect. Of course, Song Kang-Ho and Yoo Ah-Hin are brilliant with their performances. They depict the ideological divide so very well and the movie actually makes you sympathetic towards the lives of Kings and Princes much like the lives of politicians these days. If you want to watch one movie from Korea this year, Throne should be your choice for the performances, screenplay, and direction of Lee Joon-Ik.
11. Right now wrong then (Jigeumeun-matgo-geuttaeneun-tteullida)
This movie won the Golden Leopard at the 68 Locarno Film Festival for Best Film and also Jung Jae-Young won the Best Actor for his stellar performance (he won most of the major awards in Korea too). Directed by Hong Sang-Soo, known for his complex stories like In Another Country, Right Now Wrong Then is the depiction of two different scenarios of a chance meeting between an auteur and a soft-spoken painter on the same day.
To understand it better, its like Groundhog Day but the way the lead pair see the two meetings is totally different. Backed up by the wonderful performances of Jung Jae-Young and Kim Min-Hee (No Tears for Dead and Helpless), Hong paints a self-satirical piece on relationships. The movie ends in a heartbreaking anticlimax like most of Hong’s movies. Stark naturalism, complex storyline and Hong’s dark humor at the most unexpected places make this movie an endearing watch.
12. Socialphobia (Sosyeolpobia)
Socialphobia is a dark, modern thriller that Korean movies are known for. It shows the worse side of Internet knows as Social Networking Witch Hunts (yup, it’s slowly creeping into India) that are quite disturbing in Korea. When a young military officer commits suicide, the social networking sites in Korea get into the act by voicing opinions and there are comments against the military from a certain user Rae-Na. In order to punish, a group of 8 young students tracks her down to find her dead in her apartment. After that, they become the target of netizen ire and they set out to find the original killer.
The movie shows how dangerous SNS witch hunts can become and how easy is to pass judgments over social media. Directed by Hong Seok-Jae, it shows the future of Internet crimes in many countries and that makes this movie important.
13. Clown of a salesman (Yakjangsoo, literal – Drug Peddler)
Every year, there will be a movie from Korea that will make you cry. This year it’s going to be Clown of a salesman. Il Beom (played by Kim In-Kwon) has a lot of loans to pay back and also needs to take care of his daughter’s medical bills. He joins a PR company where he has to entertain older woman and entice them to buy products. He gets into illegal dealings to save his daughter and the movie ends on a depressing note.
Clown of a salesman is a socio-cultural commentary on the current South Korean capitalist society. Il Beom wants, to be honest and righteous but situations force him to do what he does. His realisation that he can’t get out of what he started his heart breaking. The movie is directed by debutant Jo Chi-Eon.
14. The Priests
Korean movies have something for everyone (there are a lot of sleazy X-rated movies this year that you can definitely check out) but this movie is for the horror fans. If I say The Priests is terrifying, it would be an understatement. The movie follows a similar plot to a lot of exorcism movies where a little girl enters into a comatose after an accident. Two priests, Father Kim (played by Kim Yoon – Sook know for The Yellow Sea and Chaser) and young Deacon Choi (played by Kang Dang-Won is known for Secret Reunion) believe that the girl is possessed by an evil spirit and they start an exorcism process. Most of the movie is the exorcism and the events that unfold due to that.
Directed by Jang Jae-Hyun based on his award-winning short film, 12th Assistant Deacon, The Priests is fast paced, scary and has all the elements of a classic horror thriller. To entice you, it beat “Spectre” in South Korean box office to open at number 1 which is no mean feat.
15. The Inside Men (Naebujadeul)
Koreans love their web toons and every year there are some wonderful adaptations. The Inside Men is one such brilliant movie directed by Woo Min-Ho (known for Man of Vendetta) based on Yoon Tae-Ho’s webtoon series “The Insiders”. The movie stars three prominent actors of Korean cinema – Lee Byung-Hun (known for Bittersweet Life, JSA and I saw the Devil), Jo Seung-Woo (known for Marathon) and the veteran Baek Yoon-sik
The movie deals with the media – politician nexus (yup, I can hear what you are thinking). One of the influential newspaper editors helps a politician to become a presidential candidate. They cheat the henchman who helped during the process and he joins with a young prosecutor to bring the politician and the media honcho down. The movie deals with power politics and the influence of media on the formation of governments. An edge of the seat thriller with some brilliant acting from the leads.
As I said earlier, you might not good prints and subtitles for certain movies. But bookmark these movies for later. As in many other industries, there are a lot of crap doled out every year in Korean movie industry too. These are the better ones this year and I think I covered every genre to make a perfect list.