Monday, December 24, 2018

Top 15 Korean Films of 2018


By Pierce Conran

Thanks to Lee Chang-dong and a few late year surprises, 2018 saw the Korean film industry churn out enough quality product to merit a strong Top 15 once again, but the truth is that, for the commercial industry at least, the past 12 months have raised a lot of questions regarding the sustainability of the current marketplace.

This year welcomed a record number of big-budget (over 10 billion won, roughly $9 million) projects (without exact figures I would guess just over a dozen), but most of these struggled badly on the charts and studios will have to be more cautious about greenlighting pricey tentpoles in future. Though to be fair, recent legal changes relating to staff wages have caused an overall surge in budgets.

The good news is that a larger than usual amount of mid- or low-budget projects turned into sleeper hits. Big films splashed on stars and effects and gambled with high-concept stories, but it was the smaller works with tighter scripts that really caught the imagination of the public. After years of being largely maligned in the local film scene, horror (Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum), romance (On Your Wedding Day) and family drama (Be With You) proved to be alive and well in 2018. Adding to the mid-level hits were several well calibrated remakes such as Intimate Strangers and Door Lock.

Yet perhaps the most exciting thing about this year's list is that three newcomers made the cut and they were all women. In fact four women directors made the list this year overall, which doubles our previous record. Of course these debuts were all indie films but it goes to show that when you start giving everyone a voice, you end up with more original films. I look forward to the year (hopefully very soon) when half or more of our annual roundup comes from women directors.

Meanwhile, Lee Chang-dong made history with his Cannes competition entry Burning, which became the first ever Korean film to land on the shortlist for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award (we'll know on January 22 if it makes the final five contenders).

As in previous years, feature-length films made in Korea and screened for the first time in 2018 (whether for a theatrical release or at a film festival) were considered. The following list was whittled down from about 90 films seen throughout the year, which was a little less than usual, but I'm confident I managed to see most of the important films.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know below.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from MKC!


1. Burning
(버닝)


It took eight years for Lee Chang-dong to return but boy was it worth the wait. Taking Haruki Murakami’s short story ‘Barn Burning’ and exploding it into a two and a half hour slowburn fever dream of simmering paranoia, dark desire and wicked secrets, Lee has returned with the masterful Burning. Yoo Ah-in and Steven Yeun do career-best work in a film that almost demands repeat viewings to tread deeper into its unfathomable secrets, while newcomer Jun Jong-seo is sensational in an indescribable debut performance. 

MKC Review


2. House of Hummingbird
(벌새)


This epic, understated coming-of-age saga of a young teenage girl in Seoul circa 1994 announces an extraordinary new talent in the form of director Kim Bora. One of the most impressive Korean indie debuts in years, House of Hummingbird anchors its tale of confusing adolescent urges in the context of a complex time in Korean history - newly democratized, but scarred by its past and unsure of how to come to terms with its newfound liberties.


3. Swing Kids
(스윙키즈)


Korean cinema’s ultimate crowdpleaser, Kang Hyoung-cheol has crafted some of the country’s most exuberant films, notably 2011’s Sunny. This winter he returned with his most ambitious work and while only time will tell if the masses feel the same way (it’s off to a slow start at the box office, not unusual for a music-driven film but potentially a death knell in a market that demands quick results), Swing Kids was without a doubt the best theatrical experience I had all year. Infectiously rhythmic, this Korean War POW camp tap dance extravaganza will have you yearning for old-school Hollywood showmanship and begging for more when the curtain falls.


4. Hotel by the River
(강변 호텔)



The extraordinarily prolific Hong Sangsoo continued his assault on the international festival circuit with two films this year. Both were shot in black and white and feature Kim Min-hee in a lead role but the most impressive of the pair was the elegiac Hotel by the River, for which Ki Joo-bong deservedly picked up the Best Actor prize at the Locarno International Film Festival for his vivid and achingly yearning performance as an aging poet trying to reconnect with his sons, his life and his past.



5. Door Lock
(도어락)


Following his wonderfully offbeat horror-romcom My Ordinary Love Story, which was unjustly overlooked in 2014, Lee Kwon has finally gotten some of the recognition he deserves for his third film, the taught, claustrophobic and socially-driven mystery-thriller Door Lock. This remake of Jaume Balagueró’s Sleep Tight completely reworks the story (even switching the main character) and provides another compelling showcase for Gong Hyo-jin. Unusually focused for a commercial Korean thriller, the film employs precise mise-en-scene that heightens a tale teeming with compelling and contemporary social edge.


6. Our Body
(아워바디)


Another very impressive debut this year was Han Ga-ram’s Korean Academy of Film Arts (KAFA) graduation project Our Body. We’ve seen many low-budget tales of youth suffocated by Korean society but Han’s work gives its protagonist purpose through the simple but effective motif of a hobby, in this case running. Moon Choi (aka Choi Hee-seo) is remarkable as the reticent lead who crafts a sense of self through her growing interest in exercise and her friendship with a fellow runner.


7. Believer
(독전)


Johnnie To’s Drug War gets a stylish Korean revamp in Lee Hae-young’s lean action-thriller Believer. Bursting at the seems with glorious scenery chewing turns by the likes of Kim Joo-hyuk (in his final role prior to his untimely passing last year), Jin Seo-yeon, Park Hae-joon and Cha Seung-won, Believer is a slick actors’ showcase that embraces eccentricity. 

MKC Review


8. The Spy Gone North
(공작)


Yoon Jong-bin pulled off quite a gamble with his ambitious fifth film. Despite its big budget and stars, this North Korea-themed espionage yarn was light on action and very heavy on dense geopolitical double-talk. Yet this rich and evocative tale was deservedly invited to Cannes (though I still don’t think Midnight was the right place for it). Providing a complex assessment of the relationship between the Koreas, The Spy Gone North strikes emotional resonance in the most surprising of places.



9. Herstory
(허스토리)


The harrowing plight of Korean comfort woman, who were subjected to sexual slavery at the hands of the Japanese Empire’s military during and prior to World War II, has been captured several times on screen in a parade of mawkish and manipulative works such as I Can Speak and Spirits' Homecoming. Veteran director Min Kyu-dong reversed that trend this year with the (relatively) restrained and powerful Herstory. Kim Hee-ae and Kim Hae-sook lead a phenomenal cast in this story of strength in the face of adversity.



10. Little Forest
(리틀 포레스트)


Yim Soon-rye returned with her eighth film this year, an adaption of the Japanese comic (already produced as a two-part Japanese film) Little Forest. Kim Tae-ri leads this youth drama that speaks to a generation of people suffocated by society and in need of a break. Beautifully filmed throughout, this delectable tale is the perfect antidote to urban fatigue.



11. Grass
(풀잎들)


This first of Hong Sangsoo’s 2018 titles (it debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival), Grass pits Kim Min-hee at the center of breezy collection of conversations in an out-of-the-way cafe in the director’s beloved Bukcheon neighborhood. This short and immensely watchable affair is studded with an array of delightful performances from Hong regular stable of performers.


12. A Good Business
(굿비스니스)


The surprise of this year’s Jeonju International Film Festival was Lee Hark-joon’s unusual Jeonju Cinema Project, the North Korean defector documentary A Good Business. Focusing on a minister who runs a business getting defectors out of North Korea, the film presents a very frank view of its central character, who is presented as doing charitable work for potentially for very selfish reasons.



13. Ode to the Goose
(군산: 거위를 노래하다)


Zhang Lu’s most playful and accessible film to date, Ode to the Goose is a witty tale consumed by questions of national identity. Intriguing tidbits of history loom around every corner, while a terrific cast (including a brilliant turn by Moon So-ri) keep the story rooted in the present.


14. The Great Battle
(안시성)


It could easily have been a big-budget dud, but period siege action-drama The Great Battle proved to be one of the year’s greatest surprises. Energetic and epic, Kim Kwang-sik’s film for the most part sidesteps nationalist fervor and the dour political wrangling that mars most of Korea’s period films. Think Korean The Two Towers without orcs or elves.


15. The Return
(회귀)


Providing an intimate look at the journey that Korean adoptees go through when they return to their motherland to find their parents, Malene Choi’s work provides rare insight into a difficult and complex set of themes centered around identity and belonging. As the film echoes the director's own experiences, The Return feels both raw and innocent during a search that is at turns frustrating, uplifting and sometimes rather strange.


Honorable Mentions


Adulthood (어른도감)
Army (군대)
Be With You (지금 만나러 갑니다)
Clean Up (호흡)
Dark Figure of Crime (암수살인)
Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (곤지암)
Graduation (졸업)
Intimate Strangers (완벽한 타인)
On Your Wedding Day (너의 결혼식)
Winter's Night (겨울밤에)



Top 10 Lists

Year  2019 - 2018 - 2017 - 2016 - 2015 - 2014 - 2013 - 2012 - 2011 - 2010
2010s (Top 50) - All Time (Top 25)

Genre   Gangster - Revenge

36 comments:

  1. In my country(Hungary) we had a chance to see Burning only .I can't compare it to the other movies on this list, but I think it really deserves an Oscar.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes to BURNING. It's the best movie of this year!

    ReplyDelete
  3. What’s the nane of the pic with the girls at the top?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Where can I watch House of Hummingbird

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It will have its first international screening at the Berlin International Film Festival next month. Hopefully it will make the rounds after that, but as an indie film it is unlikely to become available everywhere.

      Delete
  5. Thanks for the "to watch list"
    Just like last year and the years before, I gotta wait until they become available in dvd/br format or streaming.
    As for the Oscars... well, who cares :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. I'd love to watch all of these, but it's not like they're going to be aired on cinemas abroad (barely in Korea, as I understand it ...). The "illegal" options aren't too many either. I wouldn't mind paying for quality Korean movies, but is there anywhere I can do that? When I've tried Netflix and other services like it, there's basically nothing (which I don't really understand, I can't imagine Korean low-budget movies being very expensive to acquire). I'd be very happy for your suggestions!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A number of these are recent release are still early on their festival runs, but it's true that the indie particularly may hard to track down. Although with streaming options beginning to cast a wider (beyond Netflix) I hope some of these smaller titles may find a home in the near future.

      Delete
    2. This works with a VPN - https://www.ondemandkorea.com/

      Delete
  7. This is a topic that's close to my heart...
    Take care! Where are your contact details though?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Do not forget to ask your kids about what's on TV or in cable schedule for the day. You would be updated with the latest shows that they may or may not watch while you are away.free movies online stream on watch4hd.com

    ReplyDelete
  9. Finally been able to watch Burning.
    As you have mentioned in your review; it's an absolutely wonderful film. A thought-provoking film as all this directors films are. Could he have made the end as non violent and mysterious as the rest of film... Maybe
    The scenes are beautiful and here you'll see the true talent of these actors without the usual Korean stereotypes
    It's a piece of art

    ReplyDelete
  10. Nice post, thanks for suggestion.

    ReplyDelete
  11. You guardians do an astounding web diary, and have some unfathomable substance. Continue doing extraordinary. online marketing company services

    ReplyDelete
  12. Korean cinema is flourishing across all genres. Whether you want to feel romantic, giggly, frightened or otherwise, these movies have all you need. The cinema of South Korea refers to the film industry of South Korea from 1945 to present.

    ReplyDelete
  13. "Thanks for the valuable information and insights you have so provided here...

    " 슬롯사이트

    ReplyDelete
  14. Looking for a pavement service near you? You have reached the right spot! We are buffalopavingpros.com, a local company ready to provide you with the best services at the most affordable price.

    ReplyDelete
  15. When you need to have land excavated in Erie, PA, rely on our excavation company at erieexcavation.com. Our excavation contractors have extensive experience, which is why we are the preferred excavation company.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Useful info. Lucky me I found your web site
    by chance, and I am surprised why this twist of fate
    didn't came about in advance! I bookmarked it.
    바카라사이트

    wep

    ReplyDelete
  17. hey there, i do suppose your weblog should in all likelihood be having internet browser compatibility problems. On every occasion i check your weblog in safari, it appears best but whilst beginning in net explorer, it has some overlapping problems. I sincerely desired to give you a short heads up! Besides that, excellent blog! I am glad to read your blog. your blog is really awesome and cool. your blog is really great and cool. thanks for sharing the nice and cool post . I have been searching to find a comfort or effective procedure to complete this process and I think this is the most suitable way to do it effectively. 먹튀검증

    ReplyDelete
  18. once i at the beginning commented i seem to have clicked on the -notify me while new feedback are delivered- checkbox and now every time a comment is added i get four emails with the exact equal remark. Is there a way you are able to remove me from that service? Thank you! After i take a look at your weblog web site in opera, it seems quality however whilst establishing in internet explorer, it has some overlapping. What’s as much as all, due to the fact i'm truely eager of studying this internet web site’s post to be updated daily. It includes best facts. 먹튀폴리스

    ReplyDelete
  19. That is the excellent mindset, nonetheless is just not help to make every sence whatsoever preaching about that mather. Virtually any method many thanks in addition to i had endeavor to promote your own article in to delicius nevertheless it is apparently a dilemma using your information sites can you please recheck the idea. thanks once more . Awesome! Its genuinely amazing paragraph, I have wondeгfuⅼ put ᥙp, very informatіve. I ponder why the other experts оf this sector do not notiϲe this. got much clear idea concerning from this article. 먹튀검증

    ReplyDelete
  20. next time i read a weblog, optimistically it doesn’t fail me as a good deal as this precise one. I imply, i are aware of it became my preference to examine, but i virtually believed you'll likely have something exciting to talk approximately. All i hear is a bunch of moaning approximately some thing you may repair in case you had been now not too busy searching out attention. Having read this i concept it turned into definitely informative. I appreciate you spending a few time and effort to place this content collectively. I once more locate myself in my opinion spending a variety of time both analyzing and posting feedback. But so what, it become still really worth it! Your style is simply unique compared to other folks i’ve study stuff from. Thank you for posting while you’ve got the opportunity, bet i’ll just e book mark this blog. 안전놀이터

    ReplyDelete
  21. excellent blog. I loved reading your articles. This is clearly a fantastic read for me. I have bookmarked it and i am looking ahead to studying new articles. Maintain up the good paintings! Effortlessly, the thing is truely the high-quality subject matter on this registry related issue. I suit in along with your conclusions and will eagerly look forward to your next updates. Absolutely, this newsletter is absolutely one of the very fine within the history of articles. I'm a antique ’article’ collector and i occasionally read a few new articles if i find them interesting. And i found this one pretty charming and it need to move into my collection. Superb work! I trully appretiate your work and recommendations given through you is useful to me. I will proportion this data with my family & pals. That is a extremely good internet site, hold the positive critiques coming. write my dissertation this is a notable inspiring . I am pretty an awful lot thrilled with your properly paintings. You placed truly very beneficial information. I am trying to analyzing your next publish. !!!! This newsletter is clearly contains lot extra facts about this topic. We've got read your all of the statistics a few factors are also good uncooked and a few typically are first-rate. Amazing publish i would love to thank you for the efforts 토토경비대

    ReplyDelete
  22. Nice blog here! Also your website loads up very fast! What host are you using? Can I get your affiliate link to your host? I wish my site loaded up as fast as yours lol I frequently read through your articles thoroughly. I’m also interested in wealth generators phone number, you could discuss this occasionally. Have a good day! I’m still learning from you, as I’m trying to reach my goals. I definitely liked reading all that is posted on your blog.Keep the aarticles coming. I liked it! Enjoyed reading through this, very good stuff, thanks. this is fantastic blog! A lot to learn! Keep posting and sharing! But hey, in case your searching out first-rate site. further, various associated websites are registered inside the menu. The more you return, the greater information you can provide. It's miles actually a nice and useful piece of information. I'm happy which you simply shared this useful information with us. Please hold us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing. 카이소

    ReplyDelete
  23. i should display some thanks to you just for bailing me out of this kind of trouble. Because of learning thru the serps and discovering recommendation which are not productive, i used to be thinking my entire life changed into well over. Residing with out the presence of answers to the issues you’ve solved thru your complete website is a critical case, as well as the kind that could have in a wrong manner broken my career if i had no longer encountered your internet web site. The information and kindness in coping with all of the matters changed into very beneficial. I don’t realize what i'd have finished if i had now not found any such solution like this. I'm capable of at this moment savour my future. Thank you for your time so much for this dependable and powerful guide. I received’t hesitate to suggest your internet blog to any person who ought to have suggestions on this vicinity. 카지노

    ReplyDelete
  24. I’m very happy to find this great site. I need to to thank
    you for your time just for this fantastic read!! I definitely appreciated every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to look at new information in your site.오피월드


    2YOUNGYANG

    ReplyDelete
  25. 2018 saw significant innovation in South Korean cinema. Korea made its first superhero blockbuster and financial crisis drama; it might also have a chance at winning this cycle’s Foreign Language Film Oscar (more on that later). about us

    ReplyDelete

  26. I know this web site offers quality depending articles or reviews and other information,
    is there any other site which offers such data in quality?

    my web-site: 청마담

    ReplyDelete
  27. Thanks for such a valuable post. I am waiting for your next post, I have enjoyed a lot reading this post keep it up.
    카지노사이트

    ReplyDelete
  28. Thank you for providing a good quality article.
    바카라사이트

    ReplyDelete
  29. Thank you for sharing this information. I read your blog and I can't stop my self to read your full blog. Again Thanks and Best of luck to your next Blog in future.
    토토사이트

    ReplyDelete
  30. Great blog article. Really looking forward to read more.
    온라인카지노

    ReplyDelete