Top 25 Korean Films - No. 1

Memories of Murder (Dir. Bong Joon Ho, 2003)

No surprises here… My favorite Korean film of all time is, of course, Bong Joon Ho’s serial killer thriller Memories of Murder. Whether he borrows them or turns them on their heads, Bong understanding of genre codes is innate and this film is genre filmmaking at its best. You could leave it at that and this would already be one of the best films produced in the last 15 years but dig further and there is so much more to discover.

I’ve written a lot on Memories of Murder (I wrote my college thesis on it for one) but it never fails to show me something new every time I see it. Beyond a genre film, it’s an enormous socio-political text that heavily references the Gwangu massacre and repressed national trauma, particularly as it applies to emasculated Korean men. With a dark premise (a still unsolved serial killing spree) and so much difficult subtext, it’s a wonder that the film isn’t heavy going. But with Bong’s unique sense of humor not to mention his excellent pacing, the film never drags for a moment. I could just go on an on, but the film speaks for itself. If you haven’t already, please do yourself a huge favor.

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  1. Thanks for this list. I guess I have a lot of viewing to do as I've only seen two of these. I hope many of them are on Netflix!

  2. I have a lot of catching up to do, I've seen Thirst and The Host and I'm continually surprised by Korean Independent Film. Thank you, and I can't wait to see all of these. If you haven't seen them already, which is probably unlikely, I enjoyed two that I can think of at the Asian Film Festival of Dallas Boomarang Family irreverent dysfunctional-family, dramady that takes an unusual dark honest look at what family means and The Attorney because its a true story that taught me the meaning of Fascism and civil oppression in Korean history setting.

  3. your no 1 list is same with me, MEMORIES OF MURDER is my favourite korean movie ever. I just wanna ask i question n i hope you can answer me. Are you can speak korean?

  4. Oldboy is my #1 film of all time and it's also my first Korean film, a really grand entry to the world... but Memories of Murder comes close to second.
    3rd is Oasis (because the film was just so raw and sincere and so much more) and 4th is Castaway on the Moon.

  5. This Movie made me cry. Cry for the pain they went through in order to find the killer, cry because of the things that began to go wrong, cry because of that ending. This movie is one of my favorites.

  6. As I arrived at number three I said to myself, o.k 'Oldboy' is for sure going to be either number 2 or number 1. Then I hit number two and for sure I knew what would be number one. Thanks for blowing me a way and having one of my all time favourite movies at number one the master work that is 'Memories Of Murder'
    I love Korean cinema as I do Japanese and Chinese cinema. After my my first foray (about 15+ years ago ) into one great movie after another namely Shiri, Battle Royale, Princess Mononoke, Memories Of Murder, Shaolin Soccer, Grave Of The Fireflies, A Bittersweet Life, My Sassy girl etc I am hooked for life. Thanks for a wonderful list, I've made note of all those films I'm yet to see.

  7. Old boy should have been on this list

  8. Arguably, there are quite a few movies that could be missing from this list, but that is one of the strengths of Korean film making--which I would argue has become the world's leader.

    Since people still seem to be perusing this list, I would recommend checking out some of these 25 additional titles as well (in no particular order and some newer than 2014):

    The Beauty Inside; Christmas in August; Salut d'Amour; The Divine Move; The Attorney; I Saw the Devil; Plan Man; Train to Busan; Love Phobia; Penny Pinchers; Spellbound; J.S.A.; The Thieves; The Pirates; Mother; Oasis; The Man from Nowhere; Oldboy; Il Mare; Assassination; Hide and Seek; Confession of Murder; Pieta; Always; Hello Ghost; and, Public Enemy.

    1. Which of these are thrillers?

    2. Thrillers: I Saw the Devil (serial killer); Train to Busan (zombies); The Thieves (heist); Mother (murder mystery); The Man from Nowhere (black ops pro whoops butt); Oldboy (just watch it); Hide and Seek (psycho thriller); Confession of Murder (murder mystery); Pieta (another just watch it); Public Enemy (cop vs. murderer).

      Again, I don't think you can go wrong with any of these selections.

  9. Memories of Murder in undoubtedly the best Korean Cinema has offered to the world. I have seen this movie for so many times i don't even remember, and still its never tiring or boring. I liked how you mentioned Thirst and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance in your list. I have to agree with you about Mr. Vengeance because like you it was only after the second watch I actually liked this movie though the whole movie is so sad and it leaves a bitter aftertaste.