Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Ultimate List of the Best and Worst Korean Movies

The movies that started it all....

1. Joint Security Area (2000)
2. Attack the Gas Station (1999)
3. My Sassy Girl (2001)
4. Memories of Murder (2003)
5. Bad Guy (2001)
6. A Bittersweet Life (2005)

The 6 movies listed above were some of the very first Korean movies I watched, back in 2005. I had never seen a Korean movie prior to 2005, so I have no strong nostalgic memories, as with American movies. However, despite the recent introduction, I feel that Korean movies are superior to most Hollywood movies. How so? Korean directors can make a movie about 4 guys attacking a gas station and somehow make it just as interesting and as memorable as Star Wars or Terminator. What is this “somehow”? Through strong character development. Clearly, there are no advanced special effects, so something else must be strengthened. American movie producers tend to have access to vast amounts of money, so they don't need to hire talented actors or get a good script. American movies just need a good special effects team, the results of which can be seen in movies like The Matrix and Transformers.
So, what types of American movies most resemble Korean movies? Anything with no or minimal computer graphics and strong character development. If you like The Shawshank Redemption or Fargo, then you'll probably like Korean movies. Both of those movies invoke memories of the characters and their struggles. Neither relied upon computer animations. They had real people.
Unfortunately, a truly terrible Korean movie was shown in American theaters ‑ D‑War. Do you know why it was shown in American theaters? Because it had good special effects. It's important to understand that I sometimes love movies with special effects, such as The Matrix and Transformers. This is because I understand the point of those movies is not to develop characters, but to wow audiences with explosions and compelling visuals. These types of movies typically are not that interesting when special effects are absent. A primary example is The Lord of the Rings, which was terribly boring, just like D‑War. Only when the computer took over was I able to maintain an interest. Another example of only watching the computer was Peter Jackson's King Kong. A counter example is The Incredible Hulk, which was interesting when the computer took over and when it signed off. And why? Because Edward Norton is a very talented actor.
In evolutionary terms, the origin of my interest in Korean movies can be traced back to the 6 listed at the top. Evolution helps us understand where things come from and its use is not exclusive to biology. I am using evolution to explain an interest. Biological evolution tends to keep things that work, such as gills and eyes. The evolution of my interest in Korean movies also retains things that work, such as an emotional response. The type of emotional response I get when watching a Korean movie is much stronger when watching an American movie. A strong emotional response is retained for a longer time and has more salience than a weak emotional response. I'm not arguing that Korean movies are more emotional than American movies ‑ I'm telling you what actually happens in my mind. Something else may happen in the mind of someone else, although they may not be willing to tell you about it, and you would never know.

I have watched 287 Korean movies since 2005 and arranged them into three tiers, with each tier organized chronologically. I purposefully organized them chronologically because each movie within its respective tier is as good as the others, in my opinion.

I've linked to the first two movies. You should be able to learn more about everything I have listed through these websites:

  2. Korean Film Org
  3. Han Cinema

Tier 1 - Transcendent (90)

These are all films that I feel are better than “very good”, which in my mind translates to “transcendent”. I didn’t pick these because I feel my opinion will be universally approved; it is personal. I feel these are transcendent, but you may not.

Deep Blue Night 3-1-1985
Chil-su and Man-su 11-16-1988
Gagman 6-24-1989
Sopyonje 4-10-1993
The Day a Pig Fell into the Well 5-4-1996
Green Fish 2-7-1997
No. 3 8-2-1997
The Snare 11-1-1997
Christmas in August 1-24-1998
The Power of Kangwon Province 4-4-1998
The Quiet Family 4-25-1998
Birdcage Inn 10-31-1998
Attack the Gas Station 10-12-1999
Peppermint Candy 1-1-2000
Barking Dogs Never Bite 2-19-2000
The Isle 4-22-2000
Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors 5-27-2000
Joint Security Area 9-9-2000
Plum Blossom 10-14-2000
Pisces 10-21-2000
Address Unknown 5-26-2001
My Sassy Girl 7-27-2001
Raybang 11-2-2001
Bad Guy 1-11-2002
Turning Gate 3-22-2002
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance 3-29-2002
Marriage is a Crazy Thing 4-26-2002
Painted Fire 5-10-2002
Oasis 8-15-2002
Jail Breakers 11-21-2002
Memories of Murder 4-25-2003
A Tale of Two Sisters 6-13-2003
A Good Lawyer’s Wife 8-14-2003
Plastic Tree 8-29-2003
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring 9-19-2003
Untold Scandal 10-2-2003
Once Upon a Time in High School 1-16-2004
Samaritan Girl 3-5-2004
Woman is the Future of Man 5-5-2004
Spider Forest 9-3-2004
3-Iron 10-15-2004
S Diary 10-22-2004
Possible Changes 3-18-2005
A Bittersweet Life 4-1-2005
A Tale Of Cinema 5-26-2005
Rules Of Dating 6-10-2005
Whispering Corridors 4: Voice 7-15-2005
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance 7-29-2005
You Are My Sunshine 9-23-2005
Princess Aurora 10-27-2005
The Customer is Always Right 2-23-2006
Forbidden Quest 2-23-2006
Family Matters 3-24-2006
A Bloody Aria 5-31-2006
A Dirty Carnival 6-15-2006
No Mercy For The Rude 8-24-2006
Woman on the Beach 8-31-2006
Tazza: The High Rollers 9-27-2006
Ad-Lib Night 11-30-2006
Big Bang 3-14-2007
A Shark 5-10-2007
Secret Sunshine 5-23-2007
Black House 6-21-2007
Changing Partners 8-15-2007
Off Road 8-30-2007
Beautiful 2-14-2008
The Chaser 2-14-2008
Sorry 8-16-2008
The Divine Weapon 9-4-2008
My Dear Enemy 9-25-2008
My Friend and His Wife 11-27-2008
Private Eye 4-2-2009
Breathless 4-16-2009
Thirst 4-30-2009
Like You Know It All 5-14-2009
Mother 5-28-2009
Thirsty, Thirsty 6-4-2009
Possessed 8-12-2009
Paju 10-28-2009
Today and the Other Days 10-29-2009
Visitors 11-12-2009
HaHaHa 5-5-2010
The Housemaid 5-13-2010
Poetry 5-13-2010
I Saw The Devil 8-12-2010
A Desire to Kill 8-26-2010
Bedevilled 9-2-1010
Oki’s Movie 9-16-2010
Mother is a Whore 3-31-2011
Nameless Gangster 2-2-2012

Tier 2 - Decent to Delightful (146)

These all range from good to very good, in my opinion.

Angels on the Streets 2-19-1941
The Insect Woman 1972
Yeong Ja’s Heydays 2-11-1975
The Ball Shot By a Midget 10-17-1981
Knee to Knee 1984
The Entertainer 1985
Mulberry 2-8-1986
Winter Wanderer 1986
Hello, God! 1987
Youth Sketch 1987
Our Sweet Days of Youth 1988
Come, Come, Come Upwards 1989
General’s Son 1990
The Road to the Race Track 12-21-1991
Passage to Buddha 5-18-1993
Two Cops 1993
The Taebaek Mountains 1994
Two Cops 2 4-27-1996
The Contact 9-13-1997
Downfall 9-13-1997
Whispering Corridors 5-30-1998
Shiri 2-13-1999
Nowhere to Hide 7-31-1999
Tell Me Something 11-13-1999
Whispering Corridors 2: Memento Mori 12-24-1999
The Foul King 2-4-2000
Secret Tears 6-3-2000
Real Fiction 6-24-2000
I Wish I Had a Wife 1-13-2001
Bungee Jumping 2-3-2001
Running 7 Dogs 2-3-2001
Love Her 3-17-2001
Friend 3-31-2001
Failan 4-28-2001
Indian Summer 5-5-2001
Humanist 5-12-2001
Summer Time 5-26-2001
Kick the Moon 6-23-2001
Say Yes 8-17-2001
My Wife is a Gangster 9-28-2001
Guns and Talks 10-12-2001
Take Care of My Cat 10-13-2001
Hi Dharma 11-7-2001
Last Witness 11-16-2001
Flower Island 11-24-2001
Public Enemy 1-25-2002
No Blood No Tears 3-1-2002
A Funny Movie 4-12-2002
Bet on My Disco 6-6-2002
Break Out 7-17-2002
Phone 7-26-2002
Wet Dreams 11-6-2002
The Coast Guard 11-22-2002
A Bizarre Love Triangle 12-6-2002
Sex is Zero 12-12-2002
Save the Green Planet! 4-4-2003
Whispering Corridors 3: Wishing Stairs 8-1-2003
Into the Mirror 8-14-2003
My Wife is a Gangster 2 9-5-2003
Acacia 10-17-2003
The Road Taken 10-24-2003
Do You Like Spring Bears? 10-24-2003
The Greatest Expectation 10-24-2003
If You Were Me 11-14-2003
Oldboy 11-21-2003
Happy Naked Christmas 12-17-2003
Silmido 12-31-2003
Taegukgi 2-4-2004
The Big Swindle 4-15-2004
The Doll Master 7-30-2004
Hypnotized 8-6-2004
R-Point 8-20-2004
Three...Extremes 8-20-2004
Ghost House 9-17-2004
Some 10-22-2004
Wet Dreams 2 1-14-2005
Another Public Enemy 1-27-2005
The President’s Last Bang 2-3-2005
She’s on Duty 3-17-2005
Crying Fist 4-1-2005
Blood Rain 5-4-2005
The Bow 5-12-2005
Green Chair 6-10-2005
The Red Shoes 6-30-2005
Heaven’s Soldiers 7-15-2005
Welcome to Dongmakgol 8-4-2005
The Wig 8-11-2005
Cello 8-18-2005
Duelist 9-8-2005
The King and the Clown 10-29-2005
Art of Fighting 1-5-2006
Running Wild 1-12-2006
If You Were Me 2 1-13-2006
Holiday 1-19-2006
Vampire Cop, Ricky 2-9-2006
Bewitching Attraction 3-16-2006
My Scary Girl 4-6-2006
Bloody Tie 4-26-2006
Don’t Look Back 7-13-2006
The Host 7-27-2006
D-day 8-3-2006
Dasepo Naughty Girls 8-10-2006
Time 8-24-2006
Like A Virgin 8-31-2006
Mission Sex Control 9-28-2006
Righteous Ties 10-19-2006
Cruel Winter Blues 11-9-2006
I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK 12-7-2006
My Wife is a Gangster 3 12-28-2006
This Old Garden 1-4-2007
The Show Must Go On 4-5-2007
Beyond the Years 4-12-2007
Paradise Murdered 4-12-2007
Breath 4-26-2007
Hwang Jin Yi 6-6-2007
May 18 7-25-2007
Epitaph 8-1-2007
Love Exposure 10-18-2007
Shadows in the Palace 10-18-2007
Desert Dream 11-8-2007
Forever the Moment 1-10-2008
Once Upon a Time 1-30-2008
The Game 1-31-2008
Girl Scout 6-5-2008
Life is Cool 6-12-2008
My Mighty Princess 6-26-2008
Rough Cut 9-11-2008
Truck 9-25-2008
Crush and Blush 10-16-2008
Iri 11-13-2008
Portrait of a Beauty 11-13-2008
Scandal Makers 12-4-2008
Frozen Flower 12-30-2008
Turtles Run 6-11-2009
Lifting King Kong 7-1-2009
Tidal Wave 7-22-2009
The Sword With No Name 9-24-2009
Attack the Gas Station! 2 1-21-2010
Nice Shorts 1-21-2010
Moss 7-14-2010
The Man From Nowhere 8-4-2010
The Unjust 10-28-2010
Hanji 3-17-2011
Moby Dick 6-9-2011
Poongsan 6-23-2011
Silenced 9-22-2011

Tier 3 - Abysmal (55)

These are films that I either did not like or disliked so much that I could not finish watching them. These are the stinkers of Korean cinema, in my opinion.

The Terrorist 1995
The Eternal Empire 1-28-1995
The Gingko Bed 2-17-1996
Piano Man 5-24-1996
The Soul Guardians 8-15-1998
Motel Cactus 10-25-1997
The Ring Virus 6-12-1999
Doctor K 10-1-1999
Black Honeymoon 3-11-2000
Nightmare 7-29-2000
Dead if Recorded 8-26-2000
Butterfly 10-13-2001
Volcano High 12-8-2001
Out of Justice 12-21-2001
2009 Lost Memories 2-1-2002
Four Toes 5-17-2002
Yesterday 6-13-2002
Family 8-23-2002
Can’t Live Without Robbery 9-27-2002
Unborn But Forgotten 11-15-2002
H 12-27-2002
Tube 6-5-2003
The Uninvited 8-8-2003
Natural City 9-26-2003
Once Upon a Time in a Battlefield 10-17-2003
Arahan 4-30-2004
Face 6-11-2004
Bunshinsaba (Ouija Board) 8-5-2004
None Of Your Cheek! 12-3-2004
Antarctic Journal 5-19-2005
City of Violence 5-25-2006
Arang 6-28-2006
Apartment 7-6-2006
Bloody Reunion 8-3-2006
Cinderella 8-17-2006
Dark Forest 8-17-2006
How the Lack of Love Affects Two Men 11-16-2006
Small Town Rivals 3-29-2007
The Cut 7-11-2007
Muoi 7-25-2007
D-War 8-1-2007
Return 8-8-2007
M 10-25-2007
The Guard Post 4-3-2008
The Good, The Bad, The Weird 7-17-2008
Death Bell 8-26-2008
Dream 10-9-2008
Written 12-26-2008
Five Senses of Eros 7-9-2009
Chaw 7-15-2009
Whispering Corridors 5: A Blood Pledge 8-12-2009
Yoga Class 8-20-2009
Secret Reunion 2-4-2010
Outlaw 3-18-2010
Traffickers  8-29-2012