Best Korean Movies of 2019 ? Sylvianism
2019 should be the year of real-life based fiction in Korean cinema. But this is also the year that the rest of the world has taken notice of the Korean movie world due to Bong Joon-Ho?s Parasite. I have been harping about the brilliance of Korean movies since ever. The attention they have been receiving because of Parasite is well deserved. But the Korean film industry makes incredible movies every year. As usual, I am here to list 10 Korean movies to watch from 2019.
I also consistently update the essential Korean movies list on my IMDB profile, if you like to explore the movies.
Sylvianism?s Essential Korean Movie List ? IMDb
This is the best set of Korean movies according to me and I have watched all these movies personally. Loved it and I am?
1. Movie of the Year: Parasite (Gisaengchung)
Director: Bong Joon ? HoStarring: Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam and Chang Hyae-jin
I hope by now, you would have read hundreds of articles about why this movie is one of the best ever. Parasite is the best example of sociological storytelling and a surrealist commentary on the current consumerist society that we live in. For me, the protagonists of the movie are the houses that the two families live and not the human characters in the film. The houses depict the social inequality between the families, and at the same time, the end shows a stark reality of how there is no alternative to the uncontrollable capitalism of the world. This movie will make you think and at the same time laugh at our own plight. I am glad that this became the poster boy for Korean movies, unlike Slumdog Millionaire that became the poster child for Indian films (for the record it was made by a British director).
2. Mal-Mo-E: The Secret Mission (Malmo-i)
Director: Eom Yu-naStarring: Yoo Hae-jin and Yoon Kye-sang
Mal-Mo-E: The Secret Mission Trailer
Every human being who love their language should watch this movie. Korea was annexed by the Japanese from 1910?1945 (until the end of the World War II) and they called it the Dai-Nippon Teikoku, literally means Chosen (which was not so). The Korean Peninsula was made as a colony of Japan, and their atrocities in Korea are well documented. One of the major assault that they took on the Korean culture is to change the language. The schools were changed to Japanese medium, public speaking in Korean was prohibited, people were forced to change their names, and Korean libraries were desecrated with books being burnt.
At this time, a secret group of Korean teachers and linguists came together to develop the first Korean language dictionary. Aptly, called the Joseoneo Hakhoe (Korean Language Society), they gathered and curated words from various Korean dialects in secrecy to create the first dictionary called Mal-Mo-E. The movie is a fictional depiction of the story with a lot of drama added to it especially the conman character played by adorable Yoo-Hae Jin. Although the film takes a lot of creative abilities, the historical events are perfectly interspersed in the narrative. The movie has been made by debutant Eom-Yu Na (screenwriter of A Taxi Driver) with a lot of heart that helps you to connect emotionally with the characters. You might actually think the climax is too dramatic, but that?s how the dictionary was found in real life also (not spoiling it).
3. Extreme Job (Geukan Jigeop)
Director: Lee Byeong-HeonStarring: Ryu Seung-Ryong, Lee Hanee, Jin Seon-kyu, Lee Dong-Hwi and Gong Myung
Extreme Job Trailer
Although Extreme Job has one of the hilarious premises, it?s the third act that will break your funny bone, and I bet you will not expect what?s going to hit you. A group of failed narcotics detectives get one final chance to nab a big drug ring. In order to spy on the ring, they buy out a chicken restaurant from where the group orders almost every other day. The fried chicken restaurant becomes extremely popular due to one of the detective?s family recipe. The rest of the story is how they end up nabbing the drug ring. I am not going to give any clue about the last act, just enjoy it. Kevin Hart has planned to remake this movie in Hollywood.
4. Innocent Witness (Jeungin)
Director: Lee HanStarring: Jung Woo-sung & Kim Hyang-gi
An old man is dead, and the only witness to the incident is an autistic girl from the house opposite to the old man?s house. The girl claims it to be murder while the accused is the maid, who claims it as an accident. The maid is represented by an ex-human rights lawyer who is working with a big corporate law firm for a quick buck. He tries to connect with a girl but torn by the idea of putting her on the stand. The rest of the movie is about how the lawyer helps to bring out the truth, and at the same time, connects with the autistic young girl to see the world through her eyes. Although the movie is quite straight forward and predictable, the acting of Kim-Hyang Gi as the autistic girl is a treat to watch, and she is ably supported by Jung-Woo Sung. Directed by Lee Han (Punch, 2011), this movie is a must-watch just for the acting of the leads.
5. Another Child (Mi-Seong-nyeon)
Director: Kim-Yoon SeokStarring: Yum Jung-ah, Kim So-jin, Kim Hye-jun, Park Se-jin & Kim Yoon-seok
Another Child Trailer
When Kim-Yoon Seok, known for his memorable roles in thriller movies (Chaser, The Yellow Sea and Hwayi: The Monster Boy) was debuting as a director, he was expected to make a thriller. But, breaking all the expectations, Kim went on to make a poignant family drama about fidelity, betrayal and sisterhood. Joo Ri (played by Kim Hye-jun) finds out that her father is having an affair with her friend, Yoon-ah?s (played by Park Se-jin) mother. Unlike many other movies, the conflict in Another Child moves on to the women, especially the younger ones and how they work their conflicts. The maturity and vulnerability portrayed by the two young actors make this movie a must-watch.
6. The Gangster, The Cop and The Devil (Ak-in-jeon)
Director: Lee Won-TaeStarring: Ma Dong-Seok, Kim Mu-Yeol and Kim Sung-kyu
The Gangster, The Cop and The Devil Trailer
I should give credit to the Korean filmmakers for coming up with exciting but at the same time plausible premises. A man?s car is hit by a stranger, and when he gets down to take photographs for the insurance, the stranger kills him brutally. Jung Tae-Suk (played by Kim Mu-Yeol) is an honest police officer who believes that this is an act of a serial killer, but his superior doesn?t agree.
But when Jang Dong-soo (played by Ma Dong-Seok), a gangster, is attacked by the serial killer and survives, the tables turn. While the gangster wants to find the killer and kill him, the officer wants to arrest him. The gangster and the cop make a deal to find the devil. The juxtaposition and the power play between characters make this movie quite fascinating. The action and chase sequences are well choreographed with a dose of comedy thrown all over the film. An enjoyable joy ride, this movie has all the ingredients of an Indian remake. Apparently, Sylvester Stallone is planning to remake it in the Hollywood (hoping that he would play the Gangster role).
7. Juror 8 (Baesimwondeul)
Director: Hong Seung-wanStarring: Moon So-ri & Park Hyung-Sik
Juror 8 Trailer
On the outset, Juror 8 will remind you of 12 Angry Men, but Juror 8 takes it little further with some interesting characters. South Korea started providing Jury trials from 2008, and this movie is based on the first jury trial. Unlike, 12 Angry Men, the man who starts the argument is naive and indecisive rather than smart like Henry Fonda?s. The case is about a disabled son accused of murdering his mother. Juror 8 (wonderfully played by K-Pop idol, Park Hyung-Sik), seeds the doubts that grow in other?s minds and the bunch of commoners play the detectives to unravel the case.
Loosely based on the real-life jury trial, Director Hong Seung-wan has succeeded in creating an engaging, emotional courtroom drama with a dose of comedy.
8. My First Client (Eorin Uiroein)
Director: Jang Kyu-SungStarring: Lee Dong-Hwi, Choi Myung-Bin, Lee Joo-Won & Yoo Sun
My First Client Trailer
As I said earlier in the article, 2019 was the year of real-life stories and cases. My First Client is based on the Chilgok county case in 2013, in which the 12-year-old elder sister was accused of killing her 8-year-old younger sister. Later, it was found that the step-mother killed the younger one and forced the elder one to confess.
My First Client is based on this case where a young child is accused of killing her younger brother. Jung-Yub (played by talented Lee Dong-Hwi) takes up the case because he feels responsible for not saving them as a Child Protection Officer. The best part of the movie is the chemistry between the young brother and sister duo ? Da-Bin (Choi Myung-Bin) and Min-Jun (Lee Joo-Won). The way they portray their roles breaks you when they go through the abuse by their step-mother (chillingly played by Yoo Sun).
The movie brought into light the rampant child abuse in Korean society, and it?s a must-watch for the brilliant portrayal of the leads. I should warn you that the movie is thematically unfathomable. I also loved the portrayal of Da-Bin?s friend, who brings some smiles in the film.
9. House of Hummingbird (Beol-sae)
Director: Kim BoraStarring: Park Ji-hoo and Kim Sae-byuk
House of Hummingbird Trailer
Although the movie made its festival release in 2018, the international release happened in 2019, and it had a public release in August 2019. The movie won a host of accolades in various film festivals including Berlin, Busan, Tribeca etc. So it deserves a place on the list.
House of Hummingbird is a coming of age story of Eun-hee (played by Ji-hu Park) set in 1994 Seoul. The 1990s Seoul was going through a rampant unbridled real estate expansion, and the movie traces that along with the life of Eun-hee. Eun-hee is lonely, reserved because of the dysfunctional family finds solace in art and her friendship with Ji-suk (Seo-Yoon Park). Living in a patriarchal family set-up, Eun Hee toils hard in her family bakery shop while her brother gets time to play and study. Her best friend Ji-Suk lets her down at one of her vulnerable moments in life, her boyfriend cheats her and her same-sex relationship doesn?t work too. Her life changes when a new tutor, Young-Ji (Sae-byuk Kim) enters her life and takes notice of her talents and treats her as an equal. The 1990s setup actually helps in setting up the tragic end to the story.
Director Kim Bora has crafted this slice of life feature based on her own adolescent experience. The movie perfectly portrays the uncertainty and insecurity of a teenage girl?s life.
10. Ashfall (Baekdusan)
Director: Lee Hae-jun & Kim Byung-SeoStarring: Lee Byung-hun, Ha Jung-woo, Ma Dong-Seok, Bae Suzy & Jeon Hye-jin
(Ashfall is the reason for the delay for this list because I wanted to watch the movie before writing it. The film didn?t disappoint me)
Ashfall was the blockbuster of the year, and it even beat Frozen 2 (Hollywood movies usually get better reception in Korea than local films) during the Christmas weekend last year. It accounted for 56% of the revenue of the Christmas weekend box office in South Korea, which is quite remarkable.
Ashfall is a disaster movie co-directed by Lee Hae-jun and Kim Byeong-Seo with a stellar star cast of Lee Byung-hun, Ha Jung-woo and Ma Dong-Seok (second movie on the list). The film traces the eruption of Paekutsan, the highest mountain peak and also an active volcano near the China-North Korea border. After an earthquake, the volcano erupts, and Geologist Gang Bong-Rae (Ma Dong-Seok) warns that there will be even more massive eruptions that will engulf the entire Korean Peninsula. To save the Korean Peninsula, the government employs a bomb disposal operative, Jo In-chang (Ha Jung-woo), on a covert mission to steal a nuclear warhead from North Korea to create a counter explosion that might neutralise the eruption. But he has first to rescue Lee Joon-Pyeong (Lee Byung-hun), a double agent in a North Korean jail and one who knows the whereabouts of the nuclear warhead. The rest of the movie is about how they go about the mission.
The movie has all the typical disaster movie tropes, yet the film is enjoyable to watch because of the lead pair. Also, what differentiates the movie from others is the way the action set pieces are choreographed and the sheer magnificence. I think the movie also touched the nerve of the people because it openly criticises the US Army Intervention in the Korean Peninsula and how the President in the film stands up to them. A fun blockbuster, Ashfall is set to break many records, and I think it will have a good run in the OTT platforms like Train to Busan.
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