Sadly, 2015 wasn’t a great year for quality Korean films. The big directors — Bong Joon-ho, Park Chan-wook, Na Hong-jin, Kim Jee-woon — all stayed on the sidelines this year in preparation for 2016.
But despite the bar being set lower this year, there were still some great films to check out. let’s take a look at the 10 Korean films that we’ve seen that left us with the biggest impression.
10. The Silenced
Taking place in 1938 in Korea occupied Japan, a young girl Joo-ran (Park Bo-young) is admitted to a boarding school. The school is run by a strict principal (Eom Ji-won) in a remote area.
However, Joo-ran soon discovers the boarding school has a mystery of its own. Girls start disappearing. Creepy occurrences randomly happen inside the school.
Joo-ran finds out that the previous girl who she’s replacing had the same name as her. As she starts taking medicine to get over an illness, she starts to slowly uncover the school’s creepy secret.
9. The Office
As many of you can attest, the workplace can be filled with petty politics, backstabbing, and stress. The gore-thriller, The Office, shows this dark side of working for the “man/woman”.
When salaryman Kim Byung-guk (Bae Seong-Woo) comes back home, his family does not notice anything unusual at first. As he pulls out a hammer, they notice it’s a bit odd, but not really a big deal.
Until he slaughters his entire family, including his disabled son.
Detective Choi Jung-hoon (Park Sung-woong) and his team check into Cheil, a food company, to question Byung-guk’s co-workers at Sales Team 2.
At first, his co-workers agree to tell the police as little as possible. Yet, Detective Choi soon catches on that he was not well-liked within his division. As the film delves deeper into what happened, the viewer witness the nastiness of office politics, gossip, overwork, and bullying behind the scenes, the very things that drove Choi into madness.
8. Coin Locker Girl
The film opens with a mother holding a bloody knife to her daughter’s throat, Il-young.
Going back in time to 1996, a beggar finds a newborn girl in a subway coin locker in Incheon. The beggar names the girl Il-young, after the locker number “10” that she was found in.
Her new adoptive mom is not just any mom with a kind heart and room for one more. She’s actually a female mob boss. Sensing potential in her new daughter, “mom” teaches the innocent Il-young the tools of being a crime lord. She learns how to beg convincingly, loan shark, forging ID cards, and making debtors pay up, which includes murder if need be.
7. 4th Place
A former Asian Games record breaker and Olympic tryout, Kim Gwang-su, endures beatings, abuse, and constant ridicule from his swimming coach.
Sixteen years later, Kim is washed up, with his glory swimming days well-behind him. One day, a mother visit his aquarium and asks Kim to become his son’s coach.
The son, Jin-ho, had a pattern of always placing 4th in his swimming matches. While Jin-ho improves rapidly at first, he soon becomes trapped into an inescapable pattern of abuse, torments, beats, and “this is for your own good” reminders. Kim soon realizes that the abusive pattern set by his coach onto him is now carried over from him to Jin-ho. Yet, Kim does not know any other way to coach and faces an uphill battle to stop his destructive coaching habits.
6. Gangnam Blues
During the 1970s, two orphans, Jong-dae (Lee Min-ho) and Yong-gi (Kim Rae-won) sell trash found on the street to get by. They soon find themselves freezing, as they cannot afford heating.
When a gang offers the two kids a job, they immediately jump on it. Yet, during one of their jobs, they become separated when trying to break up a political demonstration.
Three years later, they meet up as rivals from different gangs. Their gangs are fighting over the farmland south of the Han River known today as the ritzy Gangnam area. Their friendship will soon be severely tested against their gang loyalties.
One of the lead stars, Lee Min-ho, is mega-popular within Asia. While it is easy to dismiss him as “just another pretty boy”, he does a convincing job as a gangster on the rise.
5. Inside Men
Dealing with the dark, corrupt media manipulation, Inside Men reveals a story of various politicians fighting for power and ego.
When Ang Sang-goo (Lee Byung-hun) uses his media connections to help a conservative newspaper editor and congressman in a presidential campaign, he secretly makes a deal. By helping the two, he would pocket the money of the newspaper’s largest sponsor.
Yet, someone is onto Ang. Woo Jang-hoo, an ambitious prosecutor, sees something fishy with Ang. Knowing that exposing this scandal could make him rise to the top fast, he investigates Sang-goo’s relationship with the editor and congressman.
However, Ang won’t go down so easily. He is already plotting revenge against the budding prosecutor.
4. Reach for the SKY
Ever thought there’s one moment in life that can change your entire life?
To many young Koreans, the suneung — Korean SATs taken in high school — is that moment. Do well on the suneung and they can attend one of the three golden universities in Korea, SKY (Seoul National University, Korea University, and Yonsei University) while setting themselves up with a good career for life.
Co-directed by Choi Woo-young and Belgium’s Steven Dhoedt, “Reach for the SKY” tackles a subject that is hits home to Koreans. The film follows three teenagers and a teacher throughout the suneung experience during the last year of high school. As co-director Choi says about Korean education, “I wanted to show this reality in which less than one percent of teenagers can be winners and the rest call themselves miserable losers.”
Taking a break from the more serious films on this list is Veteran, a comedy-thriller film.
The film starts off with cheerful Seoul police detective Seo Do-cheol (Hwang Jung-min) on a mission to bust a gang of car smugglers. But while investigating this high-profile case, Seo finds out that someone is pulling the strings.
He soon finds out that an arrogant young millionaire Jo Tae-oh is using his connections, wealth, and power. However, no matter how rigorously Seo’s team pursues him, Jo is one step ahead of the police and evades Seo’s team. Unlike many other crime thrillers or police films, Veteran is laced with comedy and gags. Self-mockery is shown, jokes are plenty, and banter add liveliness and breaks up the seriousness of a police movie.
2. Right Now, Wrong Then
A romantic story directed by Hong Sang-soo Right Now, Wrong Then is a twist on the Groundhog Day-deja vu scenario. It plays to the question of “what if I did this instead.” In fact, the movie is split into two halves, each half representing a different decision.
In the first half of the film, arthouse film director Chun-Soo (Jung Jae-Young) arrives in Suwon to give a special lecture. Since he arrives one day earlier, he decides to visit the Hwaseong Palace. He meets a painter, Hee-Jung (Kim Min-Hee), who recognizes him, but has never seen any of his films. They spend the rest of the day together, seeing her paintings, eating sushi, and attending Hee-Jung’s friend’s party at night.
Yet, before sunrise the next day, Chun-Soo reveals something unexpected to Hee-Jung.
Set in 1933 during Japan’s colonial rule of Korea, an order is given to assassinate two high-profile targets. One of the targets is Kawaguchi Mamoru, the Japanese garrison governor in Gyeongseong, and Kang In-gook, a pro-Japanese Korean business tycoon.
To carry out this mission, a small group of pro-Korean independence leaders in hiding carry out this daunting task. In turn, these commanders choose three assassins to do the job. Explosives specialist Hwang Deok-sam (Choi Deok-moon); Chu Sang-ok (Cho Jin-woong), a graduate from the Independence Military School; and Ahn Ok-yun (Jun Ji-hyun), a deadly sniper are assigned to the mission.
However, among the group is a traitor that is secretly working for the Japanese.
Assassination represents one of the big blockbusters in 2015 and rightfully so. With well-known stars, such as Jun Ji-hyun, Cheon Song-yi, and Lee Jung-jae, a high production value, and a compelling narrative, the film presents the 1930s beautifully.
Two knocks on the film are its length and over dramatic style in some scenes. The film could have been a good 10 to 15 minutes less and be more streamlined. The extra melodrama that usually appear in Korean movies also rears its head in Assassination as well, for better or worse.
Source: Asian Filmist