Foreign Films: South Korea

I suppose you could say that when I couldn’t get a Japanese film on DVD or I was running out of titles to pick up, I picked up some Korean ones. Actually, there are some really great Korean films. Korea have quite a few very good horror films influenced perhaps by the J-Horror of Japan.

I would say Kim Jee-woon’s A Tale of Two Sisters from 2003 was one of the first films I got. That’s possibly the best horror film from South Korea that I am aware of. Like a lot of Japanese horror, it has real depth to its back story. This is not just some mindless gore or fright fest as a lot of American horror can be. Around the same I also came across Acacia. A film by Park Ki-hyung. This is an excellent, again family-based, horror film with great soundtrack and very creepy atmosphere throughout. Just like A Tale of Two Sisters, there is an important back story, not all of which is revealed until later in the film. It’s a crucial part of what makes it work. I think the cinematography in both films is also really good.

Now, back in 2007 when I was spending money like water on DVDs, I was also drawn to other genres. Not just horror but ones with a horror element to them. Natural City from 2003 is a good solid cyborg film. A little bit overcooked but memorable. Also, from this time, Lady Vengeance. That’s actually part of one of the most famous trilogies in Korean film history: The Vengeance Trilogy. This Park Chan-wook film is very good but really nothing compared to its predecessor Old Boy. By the way, that film has an American remake you can happily ignore. Old Boy is one of those films like The Host (2006) that reached a much wider international audience. Old Boy is messed up big time. It’s not for the squeamish but well-worth the watch. There isn’t another film quite like it.

Just this year, I watched two more Korean films and they were both so good that I knew I had to include this country in my rundown of foreign films by country. Na Hong-jin’s The Wailing and Kim Jee-woon’s I Saw the Devil. The former is my favourite. It’s a fantastic film. A mix of horror and crime. It really takes you on a thrilling ride. Comedy and tragedy are also perfectly balanced. I Saw the Devil is quite different, having no supernatural elements just two men motivated to do horrific things. Both films incidentally have the theme of vengeance in them but proceed in an unexpected way. That’s part of the strength of these films. They keep you engaged totally for their duration.

So, there is my little critique of the best films I have seen from France, Spain, Japan and South Korea. Obviously, it doesn’t mean that I haven’t seen outstanding films from other non-English speaking countries. There are many examples but those four countries definitely contain the bulk of them. I will surely be back with more thoughts and experiences of foreign films at a later date.

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