The Bow | Kim Ki-Duk | 2005 - Deepstash
The Bow | Kim Ki-Duk | 2005

The Bow | Kim Ki-Duk | 2005

Kim Ki-Duk’s ‘The Bow’ is an elusive and ambiguous character study of a 16-year-old girl who has spent a decade on the boat, and an old man with a multipurpose bow who plans to marry her when she turns 17.

The girl has been away from civilization for a decade, and that has serious psychological implications evident in the ambiguity of her character.

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MORE IDEAS FROM The 30 Best South Korean Movies of the 21st Century

The Dark Figure of Crime | Kim Tae-Kyun, Kim Tae-Gyun | 201

‘Dark Figure of Crime’ is a gritty, visceral crime-drama that works both as a fine character study, exploring the inimical side of human nature, and a drama about hope in a bleak and dejected world.

It is everything that Kim Hyeong-jun’s murder mystery ‘No Mercy’ wanted to achieve, but fell short of, due to his overindulgence in smartness. Hyong-min’s life is turned into a visceral chase when a cold-blood serial killer Tae-oh casually confesses to the unreported past crime.

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Painted Fire | Im Kwon-taek | 2002

The sprawling, layered narrative and picturesque visuals of ‘Painted Fire’ takes inspiration from the life and work of a 19th-century Korean painter ‘Jang Seung-eop’.

He captivates art connoisseurs with his surreal paintings while battling personal demons and incessant artistic crises at a time of great social and cultural change. Choi Min-Shik embodies artistic vulnerability & stubbornness in the character

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The Handmaiden | Park Chan-Wook | 2016

“The Handmaiden” swarms with multiple things at once: an alluring romantic period piece, a psychological sensual drama, an extended commentary on Japan’s occupation of Korea in the 1930s, a con story where the con man gets conned; more than anything,

“The Handmaiden” is an accomplished, visceral cinematic exercise that packs disquieting fable of love, deception, and liberation of women that piles on expensive imagery.

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Scattered Night | Sol Kim and Jihyoung Lee | 2019

KIM Sol and LEE Jihyoung directorial Korean film ‘Scattered Night’ grounds the plot in this unfortunate event, while giving an intimate and internal perspective from the children’s point of view, especially from the youngest daughter Sumin, with no melodrama and glossy arc to feel their state, or with no resolution at the hindsight.

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The King and the Clown | Lee Joon-Ik |2005

The King and the Clown is a historical tragic-comedy. It’s a subtle and nuanced exploration of sexuality, love, jealousy, and madness neatly decorated in the backdrop of 15th-century Korean socio-culture elements, during the reign of King Yeonsan.

The layered narrative, powerful monologues, and dramatic tropes form a tragic conundrum remarkably reminding of Shakespearean tragedy.

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Il Mare |     Lee Hyun-Seung | 2000

Lee Hyun-Seung delicately blends the old school romance with a powerful yet minimalistic visual style. He paints every frame with stunning, idyllic soft-focus shots, without indulging in heavy-handed dialogues, letting the visible curiosity and well-guarded personal space of characters bring the narrative alive.

Hollywood could not resist the charm and remade the film in 2006 titled ‘The Lake House’, starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock.

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Peppermint Candy | Lee Chang-dong | 2000

Lee Chang-dong’s ‘Peppermint Candy’ is an unflinching and unhurried examination of a man in the backdrop of the ever-changing and volatile sociopolitical environment in Korea.

The five phases in the protagonist’s life form the narrative in Peppermint Candy. It is structured in reverse order and opens with his suicide on the bridge, then goes back in time to his college days..

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The Host | Bong Joon-ho | 2006

Bong Joon-ho’s monster drama ‘The Host’ is less of a horror film about a slimy tentacle monster unleashing terror across the Han River shoreline, and more of a subtle, but scathing, criticism on mass hysteria, health-care bureaucracy, consumerism, and pollution.

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Mother | Bong Joon-ho | 2009

A mother is always considered as a symbol of unconditional love who could sacrifice everything for her child without giving a thought.

Bong Joon-ho’s ‘Mother’ tries to navigate through the emotional quandary of a mother and realize the actuality of unconditional love.

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Oasis | Lee Chang-dong | 2002

It is serendipity that two of my most loved, transgressive romantic films of the century released in the same year: Punch Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson) and Oasis.

The lead characters in their films are atypical men who do not succumb to their limitations to garner sympathy. Neither of the filmmakers ever try to appease their audiences, by making the character likable or heroic. They never judge their character for what they are, and that is where lies the strength of the film. “

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To begin with.

South Korean cinema is best known for their on-screen, no-holds-barred, grotesque violence that would find space in the list of the most unsettling movies.

The biggest name in Korean cinema continues to be Park Chan-wook, with his international success opening up Korean cinema for similar directors, who make genre films aimed at popular domestic and international festival crowds.

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The Way Home | Jeong-Hyang Lee | 2002

The plot of ‘The Way Home’ is familiar and bound to have sentimental elements.

A gentle, muted grandmother (Eul-Boon Kim), who is ignorant of modern technologies including electricity, drainage system, Kentucky Fried chicken, wins over her spoiled grandson (Seung-Ho Yoo) when they spend a summer together in her rural South Korean village.

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The Day He Arrives | Hang Sang-soo | 2011

It is no news that Hang Sang-soo blends personal experience in a fictional story to structure an intimate meta-narrative. “The Day He Arrives” could be his most heartfelt, existential slacker comedy.

Simply composed and beautifully shot in black-and-white, “The Day He Arrives” is almost a perfect summation of Hong’s artistic approach and ideas.

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Secret Sunshine | Lee Chang-dong | 2007

Secret Sunshine is an unflinching, lyrical drama that gets emotionally taxing as we get to know more about meek and genial Shin-ae (Jeon Do-Yeon).

Lee Chang-dong’s dense narrative is brimming with the emotional and psychological breakdowns that Shin-ae experiences while grieving over the loss of her son.

Jeon Do-Yeon gives a committed and superlative performance that won her Best Actress awards at 60th Cannes Film Festival.

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A Bittersweet Life | Kim Jee-Woon | 2005

“A Bittersweet Life” is often acknowledged for two things: its razor-sharp action scenes, stitched together, one after another; and the taut narrative that doesn’t let you catch your breath until the end credits. The affecting character drama of its protagonist is rarely brought up for discussion.

But I believe strongly, that what makes those action scenes worthy is the invigorating drama surrounding Lee Byung-hun’s Sun-woo.

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Burning | Lee Chang-dong | 2018

“Burning” is a stunning, opaque, ambiguous riddle-story, filled with uncertain turns of events. It’s a well-crafted film, with muted cinematography, and absolute control of its writing, as displayed in the powerful characterization and well-earned climax that you won’t see coming from five hundred miles.

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The Wailing | Na Hong-jin | 2016

Na Hong-jin seamlessly blends multiple genres with ease, constructing a psychological horror involving satanic cult and ancient folk tale.

“The Wailing” is like a giant monster who is is not visible, but its terrorizing, ominous presence of supernatural force is felt through the eerie silence like you are about to be gulped by the rain of horror.

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Pietà | Kim Ki-Duk | 2012

Can you escape the horrors of your past? Whether you are a really bad person or a victim of circumstances, is there still hope for you? Ki-Duk Kim is someone who gives small but significant messages through his films.

While “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…Spring” was his meditation on life along with all its significant entities, through “Pieta” (피에타 ) he tells the story of a vicious loan-shark, who is cold-hearted, merciless and ruthless towards all the people who owe him money.

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House of Hummingbird | Bora Kim | 2019

Inarguably, the best Korean movie of 2019. In her feature debut, Bora Kim paints an intimate and sensitive story of a lonely and whimsical eighth-grader Eunhee (Ji-hu Park ) during the mid-90s.

The intentional glacial pacing of the narration allows nuanced observation of the Korean culture and marginally reduced the role of women in society.

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Oldboy | Park Chan-wook | 2003

Oldboy brought attention to the Korean thrillers of the International audience and is considered as one of the best pioneering movies in the genre. The second chapter in Park Chan-wook’s ‘The Vengence Trilogy’ is a hyper-violent, bloodcurdling revenge symphony.

An exotic revenge drama harboring the Oedipus complex, incest, and flickering hope of empathy and humanity mixed with skin-crawling off-screen violence would leave you in disgust, fear, and horror. What starts as a surreal dream spiral down into a perdition nightmare having kafkaesque aesthetics.

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Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring | Kim Ki-Duk | 2004

It’s fairly difficult to write about a film that is intuitive, visceral, and expansive in its sprawling narrative.

How do you write about something which mimics life so intimately and explores it in the backdrop of changing seasons?

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Oki’s Movie | Hong Sang-soo | 2010

Hong Sang-soo put a frustratingly unstructured but exhilarating narrative spin to the love triangle. It is a self-referential metadrama, adorned with sly wit and awkward droll. Ambiguities, ironies, and the rift between men’s and women’s experiences open in the fractured narrative that reflects the uneasy and painful chaos of love.

It chronicles the upsetting but amorous entanglement of a neurotic, insecure young director Jingu, matured but questionable professor Song, and fellow student Oki.

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Treeless Mountain | So Yong Kim | 2008

“Treeless Mountain” is a piercing, minimalist movie that smartly avoids sentimentalism for finding the naturalism in its narrative and characters.

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Memories of Murder | Bong Joon-ho | 2003

Richly detailed and nerve-racking, “Memories of Murder” is a masterful work in character study and in creating the disquieting tension throughout the film.

The muted color cinematography and the vast emptiness of the fields in the rain create a sense of horror lurking in every frame.

The ritualistic serial killing of women in the small town of South Korea brings the two inept local police officers along with a calm and sensible Seoul officer to crack the case.

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I saw the Devil | Kim Jee-Woon | 2010

If Oldboy’s violence made your stomach curl, Kim Jee-Woon’s ‘I Saw The Devil’ would make you squirm in your seat. It borders the torture porn but never feels like one as the film utilizes bloody violence ballad as a vessel to serve the narrative and feed characters with a sense of purpose, rather than merely an exercise in the shocking audience.

Driven by powerful performances, grotesque on-screen violence porn, bolstered by fitting dark cinematography and a haunting score — Korean director Jee-Woon Kim’s 2010 horror/thriller is perhaps one of the scariest films of the 21st century.

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New World | Park Hoon-jung | 2013

Park Hoon-jung’s stylish gangster drama ‘New World’ is an observational character study of the Korean Crime syndicate’s inner functioning, which starts falling apart after the death of the Chairman in a staged road accident.

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Poetry | Lee Chang-dong | 2010

Lee Chang-dong is undoubtedly one of the best contemporary screenwriters and directors working today.

Even with the thinnest plot that can be reduced to one sentence, the complex and layered drama that he packs would require multiple viewing to comprehend completely.

This is Lee’s most accessible work, but it contains a multitude of emotional and psychological layers.

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Take Care of my Cat | Jae-Eun Jeong | 2001

Writer-director Jae-eun Jeong ‘Take care of my Cat’ is a multifaceted, layered drama. It takes a subtle look at class division & economic disparity that strain the childhood friendship of five friends from the industrial port city of Inchon.

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The World of Us | Yoon Ga-Eun | 2016

Yoon Ga-Eun examines the intrinsic and extrinsic pressures that children in modern Korea face, without any melodrama or manipulation of the events.

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Hope | Lee Joon-Ik | 2013

Based on the infamously tragic Nayoung Case, that shook the country in 2008, “Hope” is a devastating film about an idyllic family.

The film is far off from the true event. So-won’s journey in finding herself and getting back to stability would fill you with hope, even if the film never digs deeper into the psychological conundrum she went through.

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Thirst | Park Chan-Wook | 2009

Park Chan-Wook brings a new twist to a generic staple of our usual high cheekbones Vampires that appear in Pop Culture; vampires who siphon off blood, and have elongated teeth to hook on the carotid artery. His jazzed up & evolved vampire tale feels relatable, even if the possibility of their existence shares a similar fate to fairy tales.

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