Korean Film

Our rating system is simple: thirty points for the fuzzies, and seventy given to other critical aspects of the drama such as writing (that is, in terms of structure: we are not fluent in Korean), directing, editing, cinematography, soundtrack, acting etc. with weights being according to our own personal preferences of what matters to us most when watching a film.

And just so you know who's who and what each who has been watching: dewaanifordrama and bustered. So without further ado, here is the list of films we've collectively watched. (If you want lengthier reviews, you can check out the reviews page.)

A Bittersweet Life (2005)
(Kim Jee-woon)
Personal Rating: 86
Kim Jee-woon's quiet and thoughtful action film effectively tells the very simple story of Sun-woo's revenge against his boss and others who turned against him when he chose not to kill his boss's girlfriend. (It's Shin Min-ah, who could?) Lee Byung-heon is marvelous, and the film has a correlating beginning and ending scene that make the film a little more meaningful.  Not to mention the powerful, and bloody, final sequence.  (Guns, guns, and more guns!)

Ajhussi (The Man from Nowhere) (2010)
(Lee Jeong-beom)
Personal Rating: 90
This film is easily one of my favourite Korean films. It's dark, moody, bloody, violent, and has so much heart that it'll suck you right in. I was impressed with pretty boy Won Bin in his emotionally torn, violent yet vulnerable performance. He was impressive (and as usual ridiculously good-looking). Kim Sae Ron not only steals ajhussi's heart, but ours with her moving, heartfelt, and mature performance.
A Werewolf Boy (2012)
(Jo Sung-hee)
Personal Rating: 79
So pretty much Song Joong Ki doesn't have to talk for him to act and is rather convincing as a werewolf, or whatever he was. I loved Park Bo Young's fiestiness as Suni and the lovely and heart-wringing chemistry between her and Song Joong Ki's Cheol Su.  The second lead, Ji Tae (Yoon Yeon Seok) is a nasty beastly animal, and acts as a nice foil to highlight the themes of what humanity means. I can completely understand why this movie was such a big hit with it's bittersweet melancholiness. It was moody and dark, romantic and tragic, and then there's mesmerizing Song Joong Ki in all his winsome vulnerability. I'm not particularly happy with the ending as I felt it could have ended a few scenes earlier than it did. I think that the writer/director painted themselves into their fairytale corner, and weren't quite sure how to get out. All in all, a rather lovely piece of film, beautiful cinematography, a fairytale feel, and some beautiful work from Song Joong Ki (and Park Bo Young). Oh, and bring the tissues to this one.

Always/Only You (2011) 
(Song Il-gon)
Personal Rating: 73
This film surprised me with how much I really enjoyed it. I really loved So Ji Sub's gruff and kind bad-boy-boxer-turned-watchman. I also enjoyed the way the story unfolded gently, and how the director wasn't afraid to cut the narrative with a sort of time jumpy feel. There was this very moving scene where Han Hyo Joo is telling him something, and he is absolutely devastated and distressed, but he can't show her. Instead we have the flash-forwards (?) to when he is able to box that distress out. It just was this lovely scene. I loved the lighting, and the general tone of the film, and this is definitely a film I'll rewatch. I don't think it's a classic by any means, but it is a lovely romance. Also, a side note, Korean film loves melodrama in a way western film I am not sure will ever embrace, but I like it.

Bandaid (Love 911) (2012)
(Jeong Ki-hun)
Personal Rating: 72
Sometimes it helps going into a film without super high expectations, it certainly helped me appreciate this film a lot more. Despite some gaping plot holes and untied loose ends, I can't complain too much. I have also realized that I really enjoy Korean comedic humour, and that when Korean film says melodrama - it means it's going to pile it on. Luckily the drama worked well to heighten tension, and I guess you definitely want some highstakes drama for a story about emergency responders. Overall I liked the pacing, I liked the story. I loved Go Soo (seriously - he's adorably sexy) and I enjoyed Han Hyo Joo's performance. I also really liked the supporting cast. All in all, nothing that will become a cult classic, but enjoyable entertainment with a sweet romance. 

The Berlin File (2013)
(Ryu Seung-wan)
Personal Rating: 78
Basically, The Berlin File is a Bourne styled action film with Ha Jung-woo as the lead--which isn't a bad thing at all.  The Berlin area makes for some nice locales, and besides some stinted dialogue the international cast is fun.  The cast is all good, but surprisingly, it's Jeon Ji-hyun that gives the standout performance.

Cart (2014)
Boo Ji-young
Rating: 40
Directed by a woman about working class women banding together to strike against their unfair retail employer, I wish I had better things to say. The film tackles an admirable subject with mostly good acting and a lovely cast of normal looking Korean ajummas, but sadly, the film's message and effectiveness is tarred by overwhelming sentimentality. 

Cyrano Dating Agency (2010) 
(Kim Hyun-seok)
Personal Rating: 67 65
Super adorable with a really attractive and likable cast. It's a fun idea, but it wasn't as tightly written as it could have been and lost steam as it reached the end. Cute--and not too harmful--as far as romantic comedies go. 
Enjoyable, and sweet, but it failed to really hook me into the story. I felt the plot was a bit choppy in places, but for the most part had some really great emotional beats. I think my favourite thing about the movie was Uhm Tae Woong. I definitely think the first half of the film was better than the second.
Festival (1996) 
(Im Kwon-taek)
Personal Rating: 78
A mother dies and her children come together to mourn her death. It's an interesting film due to interweaving of the main narrative, fantastical storybook sections, and documentary explaining the funeral process.  The film made me think about how impersonal and quick the traditionally American funeral process is in comparison.  As he often does, Im Kwon-taek blends tradition and modern sensibilities well. 
Finding Mr. Destiny (2010) 
(Jang Yoo-jeong)
Personal Rating: 63
Gong Yoo was great, but not spectacular. I couldn't quite get into the chemistry, or lack thereof between him and Lim Soo Young. It was cute and quirky, and I really like the idea of maybe your first love isn't the first love. I dunno. It was cute, but nothing ground-breaking. I think that if the story had flowed a little more convincingly with their love line I might have been happier...but then again who knows. Gong Yoo though, that man is attractive.

The Host (괴물)(2006)
Bong Joon-ho
Rating: 90
One of the best monster movies, period.  Balancing absurd comedy, monster movie conventions, tragedy, social critique, and horror tropes, The Host is basically a really heartwarming film about a family.  The big budget effects are incredible, and the big name cast all perfect.  Another horror film from Bong Joon-ho, The Host is his most fun.
The Housemaid (1960)
(Kim Ki-young)
Personal Rating: 93
Long before I had ever gotten into anything Korean I had heard of this and put it on my to-watch list, and it most certainly deserves its reputation. Almost pulsating, this luridly moral tale of a husband and father drawn into a passionate relationship with the housekeeper is one of the most intense films I've ever seen.  The Housemaid is a draining watch, but it has a tremendous energy that keeps you riveted.  A fun bit of trivia is that a young Ahn Sung-ki plays the son of the composer. 
Guns & Talks (2001) 
(Jang Jin)
Personal Rating: 78
A black comedy about assassins who aren't particularly enamoured with being assassins. I laughed so much during this movie, and was also moved by many of the scenes. There is also this fabulous, fabulous, fabulous Hamlet scene that just made my theatrical heart happy. It also has an adorable young Won Bin who gives this adorable soliloquy that is just so hilarious and cute. For a black comedy, it's rather endearing and sweet. Perhaps this all seems like an oxymoron, but it's true. 

Gwanghae/Masquerade (2012)
(Choo Chung-Min)
Personal Rating: 73
It's not surprising that this film was popular and a blockbuster. Lee Byung Hun puts on a rather credible and fairly nuanced performance as the entertainer turned king. The film though was rather more a comedy that I was expecting and that tended to throw me off. It also felt rather modern to me. The film was filled with some rather lovely scenes, and had a lovely score, and was a most enjoyable watch, and I would definitely recommend watching it.

How to Use Guys with Secret Tips (2013) 
(Lee Won-suk)
Personal Rating: 63
A pleasantly funny film with lots of laugh out loud comedy. It doesn't have a particularly deep storyline: underdog girl, brash and unpleasant guy, super funny supporting characters. It's quirky, funny, and worth a watch. And of course Lee Si Young is great.
Il Mare (2000) 
(Lee Hyun-seung)
Personal Rating: 68 65
At some point in time, I discovered that Il Mare was the film that The Lake House (a rather under-whelming film) was based off of, but heard that it was much better than the American remake. It was. There were some absolutely lovely moments, some absolutely gorgeous shots (there was this one rain falling on the window as lights went on one by one inside the house that was unique and lovely). Something I have noticed about Asian films, is that they are a lot less heavy-handed than many modern Hollywood films. The story was allowed to unfold quietly, without having to fill in every, little detail. Lee Jung Jae was his normal, handsome, lovely self and Jeon Ji Hyun was quite nice in the role. I think though that for me, the ending was not very well-done, and it hurt the film; it was too vague/could have been handled more artistically. There were also several rather choppy scene changes. It's definitely proof that no matter how good the rest of the film is, when the ending is disappointing, it puts a damper on things.
Much better than the Hollywood remake, but still a disappointment due to bad editing and a lackluster ending.  However, Lee Jung-jae, beautiful photography, and wonderful sets make it worth a watch or two.

Late Autumn (2010) 
(Kim Tae-young)
Personal Rating: 68
A moody piece stripped down to the barest of storytelling but in an evocative way that works. The editing was rather choppy in places, and though the script needed a little work, I was impressed by Tang Wei and Hyun Bin's ability to convey deep emotion almost completely in English. The soundtrack was definitely on the light side, but added subtle nuance to heighten scenes (most of the sound was just general background noise/often muted). I think Anna's (Tang Wei) storyline was much more developed that Hoon's (Hyun Bin) and that ultimately hurt the story, particularly the ending which I found rather abrupt and jarring. Still a beautiful piece, but I will have to think a little more about whether I really like it or not. 

The Lovers & The Despot (2016)
Ross Adam, Robert Cannan
Rating: 75
A documentary from two British filmmakers about the love story of Korean filmmaker Shin Sang-ok and his wife actress Choi Eun-hee who were brought together again after they were kidnapped by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il in 1978.  A fascinating story with fantastic footage, it is a solid documentary that ultimately refuses any political leanings in order focus on what is a sort of bizarre and moving love story. 

Mandara (만다라)(1981)
Im Kwon-taek
Rating: 85
Chronicling the journey of two Buddhist monks contemplating the manner of religion and enlightenment, this earlier Im Kwon-taek piece is visually elegant and thoughtful and understanding of its often difficult characters.  Among Im's best. 
Memories of Murder (2003) 
(Bong Joon-ho)
Personal Rating: 91
After much deliberation and contemplating, this may be my favorite Korean film.  It's dark, funny, disturbing, and endlessly teasing.  Beautiful cinematography punctuated by good editing, and good directing to boot with a cast of good players. 

My Girlfriend Is an Agent (2009)
(Shine Tae-ra)
Personal Rating: 77
Rollicking comedy is the name of the game with this one. It's like a comedy mash-up of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Mission Impossible III, and Get Smart, but with all the the Korean comedy chops to add a little unique flavour. I've decided that Kang Ji Hwan does comedy much better than serious, and Kim Ha Neul is a delight. Definitely worth a rewatch or few. 

My Mother and a Guest (1961) 
(Shin Sang-ok)
Personal Rating: 70
Extremely old-fashioned but fascinating to watch.  It's a simple and mostly likable story, though the heroine is a bit frustrating at times. 

My P.S. Partner (2012)
(Byun Sung-Hyun)
Personal Rating: 67
Ji Sung was adorably lovely as always and Kim A Joong was credible as the woman in a rather unsatisfactory relationship. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and it was fairly decent rom-com. I think they over-played the sexiness while promoting which hid the really lovely and sweet notes of the film. 
My Sassy Girl (2001) 
(Kwak Jae-young)
Personal Rating: 63
I enjoyed this movie. It was funny and really quite quintessentially Korean. Jeon Ji Hyun was totally crazy, and it's hard to understand why Cha Tae Hyun's character put up with her crazy abusiveness. Apparently the film is based off a collection of true stories, that ended up being made into a book, which the film then made a screenplay for. I think I would watch this film again.

Never Ending Story (2012) 
(Jung Young-joo)
Personal Rating: 62
Hmmm...I really wanted to watch it because of the premise (two people find out they have about three months to live and end up dating as they look at funeral clothing/urns/coffins, etc together), but mostly because it starts Uhm Tae Woong and Jung Ryeo Won. Sadly it was not as good as I was hoping it would be. It was still enjoyable and fun and quirky, but it failed to get me to like it enough. The editing at times was a little choppy and the storyline seemed a little off-balance sometimes. I liked this one part a lot right before the ending (which I felt was a bit abrupt) at a train junction. All in all, a fun, light-hearted watch, but not one that I am in love with.

New World (2013)
(Park Hoon-jung)
Personal Rating: 89
Besides the add-on ending, which ruined some of the ambiguity present in the story, New World is a nicely crafted, thoughtful gangster film that steadily builds to its powerful ending.  Headlined by a trio of pitch perfect performances, it also has several good (and tasteful) scenes of violence: the obvious choice is the splendid elevator knife fight, but the others are just as effective.  Definitely among my favorite gangster films. 

No Breathing (2013)
(Jo Yong-sun)
Personal Rating: 62
This one needed a major script re-write and a much better editor. All the elements were there for a good story but in the end the script, editing, and just general flow of the movie left something to be desired. It wasn't absolutely terrible, but it wasn't really stand-out either. Seo In Guk was of course charming and sweet and was actually a decent swimmer. Lee Jong Seok was okay, but it wasn't his best work in my opinion by a long shot. Average and mostly enjoyable and could have been so much more. But really, I just watched it for Seo In Guk. 
Ode To My Father (국제시장)(2014)
Yoon Je-kyun
Rating: 65
Subtlety is not apart of this film's vocabulary, but it is a moving portrayal of turbulent modern Korean history, and features a solid performance as usual from Hwang Jung-min.  I have a hard time with its emotional antics, but the sequences involving the reunification of families left no dry eyes in the theatre I watched it in. 

Oldboy (2003)
(Park Chan-wook)
Personal Rating: 83
Honestly, I'd rather read Sophocles, but it's hard to admit that Oldboy isn't darkly hysterical, thoughtfully thrilling, and ultimately, very disturbing.  It's creatively directed, tastefully shot and edited, and contains a fantastic performance from Choi Min-sik; however, I found the villain's reasoning unconvincing, and therefore the extremity of the fallout unnecessary and false.  Therefore, my aftertaste of the film is bitter, but memories of a myriad of stupendous details (including squid) will probably bring me back.

Penny Pinchers (2011) 
(Kim Jung-hwan)
Personal Rating: 72 67
I loved it! Dark humour at it's best. Song Joong Ki was delightful, and silly, and funny, and adorkable. It was a good role for Han Ye Seul, and I really liked their dynamic. It was also light on the romance, which really allowed for them to develop a friendship/partnership without getting mushy. There were plenty of times I laughed out loud, and I just thoroughly enjoyed it. The editing got messy towards the end, and it seemed a bit rushed. It was not a perfect film, but I definitely would watch it again.
Song Joong-ki is adorable, and this is by far my favourite Han Ye-seul performance to date. It has a nice indie vibe, a few very funny scenes, and the romance is pretty light. Too bad the ending is a let down. 

Postman to Heaven (2009)
(Lee Hyeong-min)
Personal Rating: 70
A sort of whimsical romance with a touch of Meet Joe Black. Jim Jaejoong was delightful as mysterious and suave Jae Joon. Han Hyo Joo was a little whiny as Ha Na, but she wasn't too bad. The film was rather quiet and subdued, and flowed rather nicely, except for the rather choppy editing and rushed ending. There was some beautiful cinematography and a quiet composure and intimacy that I liked. It was definitely a pleasant watch, and I would most definitely watch it again. 

Project Makeover (2007)
(Kim Chang-rae)
Personal Rating: 56
I only watched it because Lee Beom Soo was in it...I should have done more research on it, he only made a cameo. Korean netizens voted it the worst movie of 2007. It was just average and mediocre with some really lovely parts. It did introduce me to a DEUX song I now like, and it had a nice message, but yeah, I'm probably not going to watch this one again. It was sweet though. 
Seducing Mr. Perfect (2006)
(Kim Sang-woo) 
Personal Rating: 46
I honestly can't remember much of the film (it's been a while since I watched it). I really only watched it because it had Daniel Henney and I was bored. I am sure there were cute parts, but nothing really sticks with me at all. I sort of remember the end, and I think it was nice enough.

Snowpiercer (2013)
Bong Joon-ho
Rating: 80
Incredible energy accompanies this fast-moving, thoughtful, rough going international action film from the usually excellent Bong Joon-ho. The Korean/Hollywood crossover is fascinating, and though the story only satisfies some sci-fi fans with its rather weak concept, the acting is all-around solid, as is the cinematography and editing, boasting one of the most ambitious films in recent memory.
Spellbound (Eerie Romance) (2011)
(Hwang In-ho)
Personal Rating: 85
What a lovely, cute, sweet, quirky and romantic comedy. I loved Lee Min Ki and Son Ye Jin together. I actually really enjoyed the other-worldly element, and I liked that the film chose to go with a rather muted/eerie colour palette because it acted as such a nice foil to the romance. After the movie ended, I felt like watching it again...now to find someone to watch it with ;)

That Man's Book Page 198/Heartbreak Library (2008)
(Kim Jeong-kwon)
Personal Rating: 53
I watched this with friends as we were browsing Netflix to see what to watch. Our motivation was more or less Lee Dong Wook who was lovely and sweet (and a little puppyish) in this slow-paced romance. The plotline and dialogue was probably too pared down and could have explicated a little more. In art house film it's one thing to be simplistic in storytelling, but in something like this, it just leaves the viewer confused. Eugene was really lovely and charming. Cute and sweet but entirely forgettable.

The Taebak Mountains (1994) 
(Im Kwon-taek)
Personal Rating: 84
This ambitious, lumbering mass of a film is ultimately effective even though it takes on more material and characters than it can smoothly handle.  It depicts a town and its people as it is changed between the hands of Communists and Nationalists leading up to the Korean War, and how, in this exchange between extreme ideals, the average, nonpolitical citizens are butchered by those who refuse to believe in a middle ground.  Ahn Sung-ki is surrounded by excellent players, and his character gets to be the sole voice of reason in the film.
The Thieves (2012) 
(Choi Dong-hoon)
Personal Rating: 69 70
Well casted, a lot of fun, with some cringe-inducing cheese.  The set up is excellent, but the second and third acts are sloppy, and honestly, there was too much romance.  I wanted more action.  Let's just say that the parts are greater than the sum. 
Definitely an all-star cast with some fun dynamics. I enjoyed the first part of the film, as it was much better than the last. Plenty of cheese and melodrama, and not enough action, but lots of entertainment and humour. I expected a little more of the highest grossing film in South Korea to date, but it's definitely worth a watch to see what all the hype was about.

The Wailing (곡성)(2016)
Na Hong-jin 
Rating: 82
Combining shamanism with Christianity along with just about every horror trope, Na Hong-jin's 2 1/2 hour long horror is a fantastic, horrifying ride that subverts most of its conventions and creates a mystery not easily digested.  Though somewhat indulgent, and on further review weak in many areas, it is also daring and an incredible ride definitely worth taking, particularly for horror and mystery fans. 

The Whistleblower (제보자)(2014)
Lim Soon-rye
Rating: 65
Maybe I'm too cynical for message pictures with hopeful endings, but this film usually stays away from sentiment and includes a lot of on-spot critique of press issues and Netizen culture in modern South Korea that keep it afloat with a very able cast. 
200 Pounds Beauty (2006) 
(Kim Yong-hwa)
 Personal Rating: 70
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the film. Kim A-Joong brought a lovely warmth to the troubles of someone driven to plastic surgery in the perfection-driven South Korea. She really is what the film is all about and everything else more or less pales in comparison. Oh - and Joo Jin Mo is absolutely gorgeous.

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