House of Hummingbird
Photo: Busan Film Festival

South Korea has witnessed a renaissance in film since the early 2000s, and has never had such a strong impact internationally as it has today. Much of the truly great Asian cinema has come from South Korea as of late, with Parasite by Bong Joon-ho, currently the most successful Cannes-winning film at the French box office in 15 years.  

Ahead, a glimpse of some of the great modern South Korean film from the early 2000s onwards, from film festival favourites to modern day blockbusters. 

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  • 1) Parasite by Bong Joon-ho (2019)


      1. Parasite takes you on an exhilarating thrill ride on class struggle that will stick with you long after the movie is over.  From the director of Okja and The Host, the film moves between tones and genres that defy categorisation. Two families, one rich, one poor, become increasingly entwined in each others’ lives which become more complicated, eventually twisting the film into a tragedy and an ending that you will not see coming.


  • 2) Burning by Lee Chang-dong (2018)


      1. This elegantly cryptic mystery by celebrated Korean filmmaker Lee Chang-dong is based off a short story by Haruki Murakami. Subtle, mysterious and captivating, the film revolves around a love triangle that touches on themes of longing, economic anxieties and social alienation. It is likely to earn a place in Korean film history, alongside classics such as Oldboy. The film is also South Korea’s submission for 2019’s Best Foreign Film Oscar.


  • 3) House of Hummingbird by Kim Bo-ra (2019)


      1. Kim Bo-ra’s House of Hummingbird is a perceptive first feature that offers a warm, complex, and hopeful slice of teen life set against the backdrop of South Korea in 1994, during the tragic Seongsu bridge collapse.


  • 4) A Taxi Driver by Jang Hoon (2017)


      1. A Taxi Driver is an entertaining and heartwarming foray into a tragic and violent chapter in South Korean history. Set in 1980s South Korea during the Gwangju Uprising, the movie focuses on the anti-hero, widowed taxi driver Kim Man-seob, played by Song Kang-ho, who was named Best Actor for his role in the film at the Fantasia International Film Festival. 


  • 5) Train to Busan by Yeon Sang-ho (2016)


      1. Yeon Sang-ho makes his live action debut Train To Busan, the most successful Korean film outside of Korea to date. This satisfying zombie blockbuster is injected with an elaborate script, switching deftly from action to drama and with tones of humour, making it a much more meaningful film than a majority of action movies. 
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  • 6) The Handmaiden by Park Chan-wook (2016) 


      1. A ripe, erotic thriller by acclaimed director Park Chan-wook, The Handmaiden is set in Japanese-occupied Korea in the 1930s and follows the story of a woman hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress in a secret plot to defraud her. However, she reaches a moral dilemma when she starts developing feelings for her. Voluptuously beautiful with deep character studies, this is one of Park’s best films to date. 


  • 7) The Host by Bong Joon-ho (2006)


      1. One of the biggest films of all time in the South Korean box office, this monster movie has been dubbed the defining monster movie of the 21st century. Not just a horror thriller, The Host is a deeply imaginative genre hybrid of family comedy, melodrama and political satire, about the demons that lurk from without and within and finally a cautionary environmental tale about the costs of human folly. 


  • 8) Oldboy Park Chan-wook (2003)


      1. This radically twisted and disturbing film tells the tale of a man locked in his hotel room for 15 years without any apparent reason and bent for revenge. Oldboy by Park Chan-wook turned global interest towards South Korean cinema, winning tens of awards worldwide, with its unique aesthetic and elaborate technique still widely discussed today. 


  • 9) A Tale of Two Sisters by Kim Jee-woon (2003)


      1. Inspired by a classic folktale, this atmospheric psychological horror film follows two young sisters returning home after a period of hospitalisation following the death of their mother, which takes place almost entirely in a secluded estate. With Kim Jee-woon’s slow moving cinematography and affecting performances, this film perfectly conveys adolescent anxieties while leaving certain questions hauntingly unanswered.


  • 10) Take Care of My Cat by Jeong Jae-eun (2001)

  • Jeong Jae-eun’s debut feature is a poignant and warm-hearted portrait of post-adolescence in South Korea, which follows five female friends as they try to adapt to the adult world after graduating from high school. It’s buoyant, tender portrayal of female friendships offer a refreshing slice of Asian cinema. 


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