100 Greatest Korean Films Ever
158 international film critics from 28 countries and every continent in the world except Antarctica told us their greatest Korean films ever. Their votes formed this top 100. Welcome to your ultimate Korean cinema watch list.
100. Like You Know It All (2009)
Considering the remarkable frequency of his work on this list, we fittingly start on a Hong Sangsoo film. Perhaps one of his lesser known works, its story also fits with his success on such a ranking as arthouse director Goo Kyeong-nam (Kim Tae-woo) cannot land a hit feature but the critics seem to love him (read on to see that proven of Director Hong in real-life!).
Characteristically self-referential, Goo heads over to Jecheon to judge the local film festival, but he falls into the trap of so many Hong characters by drinking too much and offending too readily.
99. Night Journey (1977)
Coming in at a trim 76 minutes, Night Journey boasts some dazzling cinematography and is led by an equally eye-catching central performance from Yoon Jeong-hee. Miss Lee works at a bank and finds herself in an uneven marriage where she is unfulfilled and uneasy. Her true love died the Vietnam War and his loss remains an open wound. Eventually, her partner’s conformist behaviour grows too much and she snaps.
The first film of several on this list which fell afoul of the censors at the time. Shot in 1973, it was condemned to storage until its release in 1977. It shows Korean culture at the time as one of suffocation, where men get drunk and women grow bored.
98. Whale Hunting (1984)
Named after the old Korean phrase “hunting the whale”, which was to long for possessions beyond your basic needs, during the country’s strict dictatorship, it follows the shy and distinctly average Byeong-tae. He has a crush on college student Mi-ran but after failing to win her over he runs away from home. He then meets Min-woo, a homeless beggar who is confident and larger than life.
A road movie that is satiric while providing genuine social commentary of Korea at the time. The top grossing film in the country for 1984, its superb cinematography frames everything from the city, to snow-covered mountains, beaches and countryside.
97. The Seashore Village (1965)
Risqué for the highly censored era of its release, The Seashore Village unpacks female sexuality and the power of women in the second list entry for Kim Soo-yong. A remote fishing island has a largely female population, the male population decimated by fishing trips in the unforgiving ocean. Such a fate befalls new wife Hae-sun and she becomes a targeted widow presence on the village.
Despite the looming modernisation for Korea, we see a simple life village life here. However, the film is a highly progressive work for its time. Kim also captures the beauty of the rural landscape in, quite remarkability, the sixth of eight films he made in 1965.
96. Suddenly in the Dark (1981)
The malicious housemaid format, made most famous by The Housemaid (which, as you may expect, finds itself in the upper echelons of this list), is twisted here to brilliantly portray the paranoia and jealousy of a wife descending into madness. Yu-jin is a wealthy lepidopterist who appoints Mi-ok as his new housemaid. Her arrival sends his wife Seon-hee into a spiral of suspicion towards Mi-ok.
Considering how much cinematic output from Korea was curtailed during this period, it makes this film all the more remarkable as an early 80s film that is both genuinely scary and superbly made. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
95. Hotel by the River (2018)
Shot in black-and-white, the next Director Hong entry is moving and frequently charming. Often quiet and gentle, it riffs on that big ticket issue – facing death and squaring the balances before the final curtain. Here we see poet Young-Hwan, who believes he is dying, invite his two squabbling sons to an isolated hotel by the Han River for a last goodbye. Also at the hotel is A-reum, a young woman visited by a concerned friend, Yeon-Jo.
While this is characteristically Hong-like in many ways, we see him stretch into new themes and emotional nudges here. There is a true vein of tragedy which runs through the familiar self-referential comedic muses of Hong.
94. Daytime Drinking (2008)
This is the low-budget debut most aspiring filmmakers dream of making. A superb script and understated performances combine to deliver a charming and humorous take on what a broken heart and too much soju can create. Hyeok-jin has just split from his girlfriend so plans a trip by the sea with his friends. However, his friends let him down and he is the only one to make the trip, leaving him at the mercy of a band strange locals.
The film is deeply watchable whether you are pouring the soju or recovering from its effects. Funny, charming and a telling slice of Korean culture, a true gem everyone should discover. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
93. My Mother & Her Guest (1961)
Before he was kidnapped by North Korea to produce films there, Shin Sang-ok produced some of South Korea’s most important cinema. This is often considered his magnum opus though, poignant but with flickers of humour. It focuses on young girl Oak-hee and her extended family. It takes on the taboo issue of an attraction between Oak-hee’s widow mother, played by Shin’s own wife, and their artist lodger.
It stars Kim Jin-kyu, he of The Housemaid and Aimless Bullet fame, and is a film which contains huge atmospheric power as it unpacks that battle between traditional values and personal desires.
92. Mist (1967)
The third Kim Soo-yong film on this list after The Seashore Village (97) and Night Journey (99), Mist is sometimes considered his masterpiece (it is his highest entry here too). It is undoubtedly a startlingly beautiful and often moody outing, helped by an intriguing score throughout. This all combines to produce one of the most truly aesthetically refined films of the era.
After marrying the widowed daughter of a pharmaceutical company CEO, Yun Gi-jun has become executive director of the company. With a shareholders’ meeting upcoming, he visits his hometown of Mujin.
91. Chunhyang (2000)
The first entry on the list from legendary director Im Kwon-taek and the first centered on traditional Korean musical storytelling ‘pansori’, Chunhyang made it all the way to the Cannes Film Festival. Set in the 18th Century, a governor’s son named Mongryong marries the beautiful Chunhyang, the daughter of a courtesan. Failing to get approval from his powerful father soon complicates this young love though.
Director Im changed the face of Korean cinema by focusing on films with distinctly Korean themes and stories. Here he masterfully combines pansori with ‘Chunhyangga’, a traditional Korean folktale.
90. Village in the Mist (1983)
Director Im lands another list position here, producing a moody and superbly shot outing. Su-ok is a young teacher and moves to an isolated mountain village where the inhabitants are all related. The only separating factor is a strange (and oddly handsome!) vagabond called Ggaecheol who seems to have an important connection to the same-named villagers.
A rift on the city versus rural divide in Korea, its stunning cinematography is blended with a truly unique soundtrack, often leading with electronica music, but most memorably utilising The Flying Pickets’ ‘Only You’ for one scene.
89. A Dirty Carnival (2006)
“Gangster’s just a label. I’m not as bad as you think,” says the frequently bruised-faced career gangster Byung-du in a film that is more reflective than the average gangster yarn. Byung-doo is 29 and an established member of a crime organisation, but financial strains for his family and concerns over his mother’s health has him worried for his future. In desperation, he offers to kill a corrupt public prosecutor.
Featuring a series of brutal baseball-swinging, knife-thrusting brawls, A Dirty Carnival will thrill all the long-term gangster flick fan as a familiar crime tale is given the Korean noughties treatment. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
88. The Age of Success (1988)
An angry warning shot about the trappings of capitalism and the relentless pursuit of profit over people, The Age of Success offers a glance at a rapidity modifying Korea in the late 1980s. “Love only matters when you can sell it” is the inauspicious snippet which ties together the tale of the Pan-chok, the ambitious, self-centred and cut-throat salesman at Yumi, a Seoul food manufacturer.
The first of three Jang Sun-woo films on this list, we see Pan-chok chase the consumerist dream (“Sleep more than four hours and you're doomed!” reads one of his posters) in this funny, colour-filled and energetic outing.
87. Io Island (1977)
The first appearance on the list for legendary director Kim Ki-young and gets the better of Kim’s Woman Chasing the Butterfly of Death which fails to be included on the list. In Io Island, also known as Iodo, an investor who is planning on building a tourist resort undertakes an investigation into the legends of Io Island and the mystery around a death.
Like much of Kim’s work, Io Island seems startlingly ahead of its time, a truism that applies to his films from any decade. This is a mysterious, disorientating and sometimes truly disturbing piece of cinema.
86. Pursuit of Death (1980)
More Director Im as we once again return to the darker days of the dictatorship with this feud film centred on two mortal enemies, Song and Chakko. They have been involved in this rivalry for years. We are given a series of flashbacks to see this battle, but eventually we witness the pair in the twilight of their lives as they start to understand each other in fresh ways.
Pursuit of Death illustrates the trauma of a nation that has found itself divided by an ideology-marked border. A film boasting a great plot, some wonderful cinematography and a series of fine performances.
85. Nobody's Daughter Haewon (2013)
Director Hong again, this time focused on a college student called Haewon who had a secret affair with Seongjun, her professor. With her mother immigrating to Canada, Haewon is feeling low and reaches out to Seongjun again after a long hiatus. However, they run into their classmates at a restaurant (enter the classic Director Hong soju scene) and an awkward exchange of new information flows.
Dramatic clashes combined with comedic moments, gawkiness, human connections and romantic follies from the Hong palette here. It is one of Hong’s most fascinating restaurant single-take shots ever too.
84. Woman of Fire (1971)
Well before The Housemaid (2010) and Canola (2016), and before she became the first Korean actress to be nominated for an Oscar, Youn Yuh-jung was excelling in the second film in Director Kim’s Housemaid trilogy. Once again a femme fatale joins a household, again being taken in by a composer and his wife, this time located on a chicken farm, resulting in a spread of derangement and murder.
A truly manic piece of filmmaking, often going in more daring directions than The Housemaid (1960). The idea of the Housemaid trilogy, which arose every decade, was to offer a view of Korean society in the 60s, 70s and then 80s, and we get an irate slice of the 70s here.
83. A Moment to Remember (2004)
John H. Lee (Lee Jae-han)
Based on the 2001 Japanese television drama Pure Soul, this is a tear-jerking romance and melodrama that is also a superb technical feat of direction and fine onscreen performances. Fashion designer Su-jin and construction site foreman Chul-soo have a chance encounter leading to a relationship and eventually marriage. When Su-jin receives an early-onset Alzheimer's disease diagnosis, the pair must face this fate together.
It is a film which shows the complexities of love and the challenges that many relationships face. What seems like another rom-com to throw on the pile eventually turns into some more meaningful and ultimately heart-breaking.
82. Bad Movie (1997)
In the wake of the Asian Financial Crisis, the back-end of 1990s Korean cinema often threw a lens on the economic strife in the country, particularly its impact on its youth, including this chaotic, bacchanalian quasi-documentary on delinquent Seoul teens and their spiralling disillusioned recklessness. Titled Timeless Bottomless Bad Movie in parts of the West, the lines blur between the real and the staged as we jump between various episodes and events.
Labelled “the most controversial and ruptured film text in the history of Korea” by academic Kyung Hyun Kim, this is challenging cinema, but purposefully so. Teenage rebellion without limits. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
81. Il Mare (2000)
Romance films habitually depend on the onscreen chemistry of our lovers to make us care and invest in their quixotic fortunes, but in Il Mare, our two potential love interests not only fail to share the screen, they are not even located in the same year. Instead, Eun-joo and Sung-hyun can communicate through a beach house mailbox while living in separate timelines two years apart.
Novel and boasting exquisite long-shot cinematography, Il Mare has secured itself a cult following and decades later it still provides an innovative, time-scrambled take on the romance trope. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
80. 301, 302 (1995)
Phobia, compulsion and the baggage of our pasts that creates these monsters are superbly unpacked in Park Chul-soo's most accomplished outing in a highly active directing career. Using the claustrophobia of the apartment setting and its narrow peephole-sized view of the outside world, Park takes Freudian themes and combines them with neurotic manias to great effect.
Two obsessive-compulsives, brash home cook Song-hee and shy anorexic writer Yoon-hee see their words collide and even bond over their dark pasts. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
79. Chihwaseon (2002)
Often named Painted Fire in Western settings, here we see Choi Min-sik appearing starkly different to his iconic role in Oldboy the following year. Choi plays Jang Seung-eop, a nineteenth-century Korean painter who is accredited with changing the direction of Korean art. We witness his rise as a painter and his often hostile behaviour, all taking place during vital events in the history of Korea.
Winning Im Kwon-taek the Best Director award at 2002 Cannes, this is a solemn take on the tortured artist format. It is a true technical masterpiece, with effecting sound editing and stunning cinematography.
78. Hill of Freedom (2014)
For Hong Sang-soo’s 16th film (and the fourth on this list), he hodgepodges timelines and scrambles events in a funny and engaging view of a will-they-won’t-they romance. Kwon has a stack of letters from Mori, a Japanese language teacher and her former lover, but she drops the various communications, causing the letters, and the film itself, to slip into a sporadic order as Mori waits around hoping to reconnect with Kwon.
With a brisk runtime just over an hour, it is a film with scant fat, despite its focus on the notion of waiting and time. Droll and uniquely gratifying, it is one of Director Hong’s most accessible films. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
77. Sunny (2011)
One of the highest grossing films in Korea, Sunny is a film filled with heart. It is funny, yet tender and effecting. Na-mi is a wealthy housewife, but despite her comfortable life she finds herself feeling unfulfilled. She is then set on a mission to reunite her group of high school friends in middle-age. The film then flicks between the present day task and back to the 1980s when they were younger.
Funny, heartfelt and often bittersweet, we are assisted here by such a likable group of characters to make us invested in their fortunes. A rush of nostalgia that draws audiences into its embrace. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
76. Moonlit Winter (2019)
Melancholy and wistful, a pitch-perfect script gives emotional clout to a pensive tale of a love left to yearn due to societal pressure. Yoon-hee lives with her high school student daughter Sae-bom. She receives a letter from Jun, but Sae-bom also reads it and discovers her mother’s secret past. The pair then head to Otaru, a sleepy village in Japan, where possible reconnection from the past is on the cards.
Often low-key, coasting along on its own vibes, it is a film comfortable enough in its own skin to do so. Yet, this is a work about the power of love to persist, across borders, into time. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
75. One Fine Spring Day (2001)
The first of three Hur Jin-ho films on the list, this is subtle and subdued, with the highs and lows of love expertly portrayed here. Showing love as an explosion that can just as rapidly die out. During a recording trip to snares the mummers of nature, sound engineer Sang-woo meets radio host Eun-soo. The pair form a close bond, but while their relationship flourishes at first, road blocks between the two starts to derail their love.
Unhurried and often demonstrating the power of silence to make us understand the connection between characters, this is a romance which provides a candid view of the trappings of love. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
74. Paju (2009)
Director Park Chan-ok manages to progress her story here, jumbling the time passages we see in the process, while chiefly focusing on the cerebral aspects of our characters’ fortunes. She inverts notions of skipping any psychological aspects, instead placing such angst front and centre as we explore a young girl’s complex relationship with her sister’s husband.
Beyond this, we also peer into the lives of the inhabitants of the title city Paju – located on the North/South Korean border – and facing forced gentrification and aggressive development. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
73. Hometown in My Heart (1949)
A successful play before it was incarnated cinematically, this is a film of true lyrical beauty. Yong Yong-kyu only produced a handful of films but stakes a claim for producing one of the finest classics of Korean cinema here. It follows Do-seong, a child monk, who lives in a peaceful mountain temple. After becoming attached to a young widow she looks to adopt him.
A film about material love, it picks up a common thread in Korean cinema around the importance of a mother. An innocent portrayal of such, made all the more remarkable that it was produced just five months before the outbreak of the Korean War.
72. A Taxi Driver (2017)
While the cinematic version of the revolutionary experience is often focused on the charismatic rebel leader, A Taxi Driver instead pays homage to the humble citizens who make such uprisings possible. The perfectly cast Song Kang-ho is Man-seob, a cabbie who becomes the reluctant hero of the 1980s Gwangju Uprising.
Heartfelt and impassioned, the film takes the real-life German journalist Jürgen Hinzpeter’s interactions with driver Kim Sa-bok, who enabled visuals of the Gwangju Uprising to reach a global audience. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
71. The King of Pigs (2011)
The only animated film on the list (Wonderful Days, also known as Sky Blue, and Seoul Station both gained a single vote, but not enough for inclusion), this is a bleak, angry and utterly uncompromising film. The troubled Kyeong-Min seeks out his former school friend Jong-Seok. After 15 years, they discuss their turbulent middle school days and what really happened to their old friend Kim Chul.
Sometimes films are necessarily bleak in order to imprint their message on your mind. This is a lesson on bullying and hierarchical high school environments you are unlikely to ever forget. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
70. The Woman Who Ran (2019)
One of Director Hong's most recent films and the 24th he has made overall, The Woman Who Ran is another work of subtle social interaction, which is characteristically low-key and conversationalist. Gamhee is spending time without her husband for the first time in five years owing to him being away on a business trip and she decides to visit some friends on the outskirts of Seoul.
Despite the breezy and natural conversations between characters, these all speak to a larger issue bubbling under the surface and we gradually start to piece together the hopes and anxieties of Gamhee. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
69. The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well (1996)
For many directors, the early work can be rough round the edges and technically frayed, but this first offering might be Director Hong’s most formalistic. This debut feature is a pithy story of fidelity and fulfilment told across four vexed and disillusioned characters – volatile writer Hyosup, housewife Bokyung, germophobic businessman Dongwoo and young cinema ticket taker Minjae.
This is the starting point of an important artistic arch for Hong and as far as debuts go, it is a highly accomplished piece of filmmaking for the future iconic director. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
68. Attack the Gas Station (1999)
Released around the time of the IMF crisis, we unpack the theme of Korea’s disenfranchised youth here, with two hours of fights, feuds and doltish encounters from a single gas station location. A bored foursome – No Mark, Bulldozer, Rockstar and Paint decide to storm a gas station. They take the owner and his staff hostage, and serve customers, pocketing the cash for themselves instead.
Hammy and daft but so much fun it does not matter, this is the quintessential 90s film. It features a cast destined for big things, including Yoo Ji-tae who would feature in Oldboy four years later. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
67. The Coachman (1961)
A landmark film for Korean cinema, The Coachman was the country’s first film to win a major award at an international film festival – Berlin’s Silver Bear. A single father makes a living with a horse-drawn cart alongside his two sons and two daughters. The family is trying to work its way out of poverty in a transitioning Korea, but ingrained views of the poor persist.
The film manages to be warm while having dark flickers as we share the heartache of a family struggling to succeed with the connections to propel them to wealth. There is nuance, but real weight to the issues.
66. The Surrogate Woman (1987)
Time for more Director Im, this features a star-turn from Kang Soo-yeon as the surrogate mother at the centre of this tale which proved an international smash for Im and cast. A nobleman, Shin, wants a male heir to continue the family name. His wife has been unable to provide one and gives him permission to seek a surrogate. This proves to be Ok-Nyo, a young peasant, but matters soon become complicated.
Set in the late Yi Dynasty in the back end of the 19th century, it demonstrates the obsession to continue male lineage and takes aim at the ancestor worship which was so prevalent in the traditional Korean family.
65. Microhabitat (2017)
Endearing yet powerfully bittersweet, Microhabitat is a film that is almost instantaneously captivating and charming. 30-something Miso, played superbly by Esom, is informed that her rent is rising. She sits down to count the pennies and decides that she is not willing to forego the cigarettes and whisky, but paying no rent seems appealing and she goes sofa-surfing with old friends instead.
The debut feature for Jeon Go-woon who has mustered a masterful piece of filmmaking – genuinely funny, yet stoic and powerful, while blending styles and tones with ease. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
64. The Insect Woman (1972)
Bold and sordid, the third list entry for Kim Ki-young sees the master director find another gear on some of the issues unpacked in his Housemaid trilogy. Ja is suffering mental health issues and checks himself into a psychiatric hospital. We then see the inclusion of a schoolgirl made to work as a concubine as The Insect Woman unpacks various notions of morality.
Wild and strange, it has sparked further interest in recent times for its thematic and even title similarities to Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, this film is evidence of the even broader influence Kim has had on Korean cinema.
63. I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK (2006)
Tasked with following up the international success of the Vengeance Trilogy, Park Chan-wook provided this dippy rom-com of peculiar proportions, with no better setting for his manic story-telling than the blue-tiled walls of a mental institution. Young-goon believes she is a cyborg and is institutionalised where she meets Il-soon, a young man with schizophrenic kleptomania who becomes fascinated with her.
The film is as characteristically stylish as ever though, combining auteur-level framing with surrealist visualisation to create something habitually Park-like in the process. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
62. The Isle (2000)
A film that makes it impossible to look at fishing hooks in the same way again, The Isle is often gruesome but sometimes startlingly beautiful too. Hee-jin is a mute fishing resort operator, which is a rather grandiose way to describe renting out tiny floating huts. When Hyun-shik, a criminal on the run, comes to stay, a near-silent bond is formed between these two lost souls.
Perhaps the film’s most pleasing element are the wide shots of the floating huts, often draped in early morning mist. Elsewhere, this is a confronting work that shocked and appalled at the Venice Film Festival.
61. Treeless Mountain (2008)
Two breathtakingly brilliant performances are found in Treeless Mountain by young performers Hee Yeon Kim and Song Hee Kim. Jin is a young girl living with her mother and younger sister, Bin. Despite her academic smarts, Jin is consumed by family duties and her anxiety grows. One day the family moves in with “Big Aunt”, their paternal aunt, while their mother disappears to search for the girls’ birth father.
A stripped back offering, with very little dialogue and a slowburn, subtle development of concepts. It was released to wide acclaim and snaffled a batch of awards at international film festival awards. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
60. Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (2000)
Number 60 on the list signals a flurry of entries from Hong Sangsoo, staring here with this romantic drama featuring scriptwriter Soo-jung, producer Young-soo and wealthy gallery owner Jae-hoon. The trio become involved in a complicated web, where the friendship between Young-soo and Jae-hoon is stretched as they both pursue the innocent Soo-jung.
Simply titled as Oh! Soo-jung in Korea, it provides a deeply realistic view of romantic encounters. It also serves as a reminder of the lost talent of Lee Eun-ju, playing Soo-jung here, who tragically died by suicide at just 24 years of age.
59. Hahaha (2010)
Winner of the Prix Un Certain Regard at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, this is another comical and interwoven Hong puzzle for us to solve. Filmmaker Moon-kyung and his friend Joong-sik sit down for a boozy memories swapping session about a trip they both separately took to seaside town Tongyeong. It transpires they had actually met and befriended the same people while there.
Scenes from the present are in black-and-white, the flashbacks in colour and it is left to the audience to use location markers to piece together the narrative strands of this disconnected but linked tale. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
58. My Sassy Girl (2001)
An instant blockbuster hit across East Asia, that sassy girl spawned remakes in Japan, US, China, India, Nepal and the Philippines. Engineering college student, Gyeon-woo is struggling in love when he meets a drunk girl teetering close to a train platform edge before he pulls her away. From there, he starts to spend time with this feisty girl and a sporadic relationship of sorts begins.
This much-venerated rom-com bubbles with its own charisma. A melodramatic, engaging and funny classic that has permanently secured its place in the pages of Korean cinema history. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
57. The Day He Arrives (2011)
Another black-and-white, meta, self-referential Hong entry on the list. Film department professor Sang-Joon heads to Bukchon so he can meet film critic friend Young-ho. When Young-ho does not answer his calls, he wanders around, bumping into an actress he knows and swigging down booze by himself before joining a group of film students who recognise the former director-turned-professor.
It may have a brief running time, but The Day He Arrives is dense in its exploration of coincidences and connections. How meaningful human interactions are never more than a glass of soju away. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
56. The General's Moustache (1968)
A murder mystery which soon subverts the genre by expanding into a more profound exploration. Opening on a bellowing scream, photographer Kim Chul-woon is found dead by her landlady. The pairing of two detectives, one a wily veteran and the other a super sharp youngster, leads them on a series of interviews as they edge nearer to solving how Chul-woon met her fate.
Adapted from the novel by Lee O-young, this a pondered and philosophical crime mystery. An explanatory view of post-war Korea, but also taking aim at many societal conventions at the time.
55. On the Beach at Night Alone (2017)
This is a very personal film for Hong, more so than much of his other work. An actress, played by long-term onscreen collaborator Kim Min-hee, is wandering around a seaside town, considering her relationship with a married man. She spends time with her friend Jee-young discussing the relationship and tries to find her independence on her wave-bashed walks.
There is the usual collection of small talk that means more than the surface reflections indicate, but this is an immediate reaction to real-life developments for Hong and Kim that were so consuming tabloid pages at the time.
54. A Petal (1996)
As with A Taxi Driver (No. 71), this portrays the Gwangju Uprising in 1980 where thousands were killed as students demonstrated against the martial law government. An unnamed girl tracks a loutish and violent man. Despite his horrific abuse of her, she continues to follow him home. We learn how this once happy girl has managed to reach this point through flashbacks and animations.
A Petal is a film about the long-term ruination of the psyche of not just a young girl, but an entire nation in the wake of the Gwangju Uprising. A powerful and effecting film on one of Korea’s landmark events.
53. Night and Day (2008)
It is said that Director Hong is a filmmaker trapped in a loop and we find ourselves in one with the fifth Hong film in the last eight list positions. Seong-nam, a painter in his 40s is wanted by the police for smoking marijuana. Instead, he escapes to Paris, leaving his wife in Korea, and there he meets an ex-girlfriend and then a community of Korean artists.
Night and Day provides a feeling of exile, combined with the ability to find common connections on the other side of the world. Hong finds a way to perfectly balance the warm with the cold, the tender with the pain.
52. Han Gong-ju (2013)
Han Gong-ju is based on the Miryang middle school girls rape incident in 2014 where at least 41 male high school students gang raped several middle school and high school girls over the course of 11 months. Our central character here is Gong Ju, played brilliantly by Chun Woo hee, who provides a restrained though deeply emotionally involved portrayal of a victim of an horrific sex crime trying to piece her life back together.
Harrowing and empathy-inducing, it powerfully illustrates concepts of victim mistreatment and blame culture. Han Gong-ju does what great films do – holds a mirror to the injustices of the real world. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
51. Chilsu and Mansu (1988)
The debut feature for Park Kwang-su, a man often credited with deeply influencing the emergence of the New Korean Wave. The film is set as Korea is experiencing increased democratisation and billboard painter Chilsu feels his fortunes are improving as he falls in love with Jina. He also has an evolving friendship with the switched-on Mansu. However, the pair’s working class connections continue to hold them back.
As with much of Park’s work, the anger that Chilsu and Mansu eventually feel represents the fury of the working classes who remained marginalised from the Korean economic improvements, signalling the need to fight for change.