Korean cinema is pretty special. The only real proof you need is that a lot of Hollywood movies will seem very “familiar” once your Korean movie watch list starts to grow. These South Korean success stories aren’t just a long list of classics either — the movie industry is alive and well — with films ranging from gruesome horrors to cute love stories.
Just to clarify one thing before I get on with it: the reason I haven’t included Oldboy is because you can find it on nearly every list related to Korean movies, and I wanted to give it a rest this time. If you haven’t seen it, of course I still recommend watching it as soon as possible. You won’t be disappointed.
The Man from Nowhere
The Man from Nowhere is story of a man who’s given up on the world. He hides away and runs a tiny pawnshop with no hopes or dreams. His only friend is a young girl that lends him her MP3 player from time to time. The catch: his past makes him something more than just your average dude, and when his only friend is taken away from him, he sets out on an unrelenting path to get her back.
There have been a lot of movies that play into this kind of idea, prime examples being Man on Fire and Taken. They are what they are and even if you don’t like these particular two examples, it’s still worth giving Man from Nowhere a chance. Korean fight scenes are unparalleled, normally involving a lot more hand-to-hand and in this case, knife fighting. The main character Cha Tae-Sik (Bin Won) has a charisma that, combined with his ferocity, leaves you in awe, willing him on to find his only friend.
The Brotherhood of War
Brotherhood is a film that can also be described as fierce but in a very different way. It documents the story of two brothers fighting during the Korean War. As many of the best war movies do, it doesn’t just show you the carnage of war, but the intricacies of people fighting a war.
This movie in particular demonstrates how much people can change throughout the course of a war. What makes this one particularly poignant is that the two main characters are linked by a bond many would see as unbreakable – brotherhood. Watching the two develop makes you questions so many things about human nature and how fragile it can really be, a lot like Platoon did for the Vietnamese war.
Attack the Gas Station!
With two heavy hitters like The Man From Nowhere and The Brotherhood of War heading up the list, I thought you might appreciate some right relief at this stage.
Attack the Gas Station! can be described as somewhat of a classic these days. It’s about a gang of youths that decide to rob a gas station… for the second time. With such a foolproof plan, it’s easy to see from the outset that this movie is going to be full of absurdity and over the top outcomes.
If you’re anything like me, you’re likely to be in a state of amused confusion during a lot of the movie. One reason is that there are a lot of comments on Korean culture throughout the movie that are probably much funnier for a Korean viewer. Still, you’ll probably have a few moments of “Ha! Haha…. Wait… Was that funny?!”
Love and Cash (Penny Pinchers)
Here’s another film that’s funny, but this one has a lot more of a feel-good vibe. It’s about a girl with a host of ingenious ways to scrimp and save every penny, all in pursuit of saving enough to fulfill her life’s desire. Just to throw spanner in the works, she meets a young man who isn’t quite so conscious of his money, frittering it away on things he can barely remember the next day. She takes it upon herself to teach him how to make the most of his money when he comes to a particularly difficult point in his life.
What makes this movie so great is that it’s an excellent commentary on the way a lot of people spend their money, who often realize none of the things they spend it on add any value to their life at all. You’re not going to be submitted to an hour and a half of horrible life lessons and lectures — it’s all done in a very subtle way, and makes for quite a funny movie with a blossoming romance lurking in the background.
Miracle of Giving Fool
This film that could leave you on one side or the other: any film that involves someone who is mentally disabled or extremely unintelligent tends to do that. Regardless, it’s a charming story of Ji-Ho, a young woman who returns from overseas when she can no longer continue her career as a pianist. In her hometown, she meets an old friend who, despite his age, still has the mind of a child. He is determined to look after his sister and still remembers his first love, Ji-Ho.
If you feel like there isn’t enough genuine love and compassion in the world, this would be a good movie to break out. When everyone is so concerned with their own lives and getting what they want, often to the detriment of others, we all need a reminder that people are fundamentally good. This movie will do just that, and if you let go of your opinions for an hour or two, I’m confident you’ll feel good for watching the Miracle of Giving Fool.