9 best films under 90 minutes
Tale of Cinema (2005)
A low-key mediation on obsession and a love of the big screen, Tale of Cinema contains all of the domestic realism you could expect from a Hong Sang-soo film, including drunken nights with too much soju and regretful hook-ups.
We meet Sangwon, a rudderless college student on a break after his exams who bumps into former school friend, Yongsil, working at an optician's store. They agree to meet up later and a booze-filled night leads to the bedroom where a failed attempt at sex results to a suicide pact instead. The film's second act instead focuses on Tong-su, who leaves the cinema after watching the film's first act on screen and now he bumps into Yong-sil, the actress from the short film.
Director Hong is the master of observing everyday life and making films that blur into documentary-style authenticity. Yet despite this, Tale of Cinema manages to be both rooted in real-life, but also somewhat surreal. It is a simply story, that still manages to twist in an elaborate fashion. You are never quite sure what you are watching, but it somehow all works so well. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
Thousand Years Old Fox (1969)
The kumiho, or gumiho, is a nine-tailed fox from Korean folktales (with Chinese origins). This fox lives a thousand years and can freely transform into various forms, most often a beautiful woman who goes on a murderous rampage.
Thousand Years Old Fox is a melodramatic supernatural horror where Yeo-hwa, a young woman with her baby, is banished from the Queen's kingdom and set upon by bandits. After her baby is murdered, Yeo-hwa desperately attempts to escape, but falls into a lake and seemingly dies. Instead, the spirit of a fox demon possesses her body and sets about exacting vengeance on the bandits. Then a wide assortment of other victims for good measure.
The film plays an important part in the history and formation of Korean horror, and is the first instalment of the thematically linked 'Evil Fox Trilogy', including 1994 horror The Fox with Nine Tails and 2006 musical comedy The Fox Family. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
3-Iron is the best sub-90 minute option across Kim Ki-duk's impressive 24-film directorial filmography. There are other options, such as Breath (2004), Amen (2011), Moebius (2013). However, 3-Iron is where Director Kim excels with this moving romance, a slow-burn journey into an usual but engaging modern love story.
Handsome loner Tae-suk (Jae Hee) rides around on his motorbike looking for empty houses to occupy for a few days. He repays the gift of the unwilling and unknowing absent hosts by contributing oddjobs around the houses. However, one night he is startled to be woken in bed by Sun-hwa (Lee Seung-yeon), an abused wife fresh from her husband's latest attack. Without a word spoken between the two, they fall in love and soon seek new houses to occupy.
This intoxicating romance, where our two leads almost assume the roles of ghosts, uses its long periods of silence to say more than a babble of words ever could.
Night Journey (1977)
The most watched sub-90 minute movie on the Korean Film Archive YouTube channel with 9.7m views, Night Journey is a very trim 76 minutes with some of the most dazzling cinematography in the history of Korean cinema and led by an equally eye-catching central performance from Yoon Jeong-hee.
Miss Lee works at a bank with Mr Park, a colleague with little interest in her. At the end of the day she returns home and later that night Mr Park walks in. The cohabiters keep this secret from their fellow bank workers to avoid gossip. Their relationship is uneven but overall Miss Lee is unfulfilled and uneasy. Her true love died the Vietnam War and his loss remains an open wound. Eventually, her partner's conformist behaviour grow too much and she snaps.
A film about the stagnation of its era, it was shot in 1973 and duly suffered the wrath of the censors and was stuck in storage for four year before its 1977 release. It shows Korean culture at the time as one of suffocation, where men get drunk and women grow bored. Unshackled, you can watch this cultural time capsule on YouTube.
Treeless Mountain (2008)
A film with one of the most engaging and simple poster ideas possible, as two doe-eyed young girls stare at you in prolonged anticipation, it is an excellent primer for the two breathtakingly brilliant performances from the young performers the story centres around.
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. As their mother departs, the absence takes its toll on the girls, especially as Big Aunt is more interested in alcohol than her newly found responsibility for the girls. The daily confusion and yearning for their mother grows as the girls attempt to find their own way in life.
Treeless Mountain is 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.
One of the rediscovered hidden gems from the 1940s that is now available online, Tuition is a rare example of a Korean film made during the Japanese colonial period.
It shows the lives of ordinary people facing the difficulties of tough economic times. It follows youngster Yeong-dal, who has been left behind to live with his grandmother after his parents set-off to seek work and money further afield. As he battles daily struggles, he embarks on his own desperate money-building journey by setting off to his aunt's house in a distant village to garner the money to cover his school fees.
The film manages to portray the endless brutality of the poverty cycle, when even breaks in your favour are quickly extinguished, such as Yeong-dal coming into two dollars for his school fees but having to quickly relinquish it to his grandmother's landlord. It is a candid view of the late colonial period in Korea, but also a more timeless view of economic hardship through the eyes of a child and all of the shame and embarrassment that those battling it can feel.
A Day Off (1968)
Another Korean cinema classic left to gather dust before its rediscovery by the Korean Film Archive, it has gone on to assume a status as one of the country's best from the 1960s. At just 73 minutes it is a quick glance of Korean society at the time and the poverty which ran through its core.
We meet an impoverished young man, Huh Wook, as he sets off to meet his pregnant girlfriend Ji-yeon, who desperately wants an abortion and needs the funds to facilitate it. Huh Wook hopes to get the money from his friends, but is forced to steal from one of them after their refusal. Despite finding the funds, Huh Wook has his head turned at a bar and deserts Ji-yeon when she needs him most.
A Day Off is both melancholy and beautiful, while also slipping into the outright surreal in some dream-like sequences. There is a vein of sadness which runs through the entire film. It is atmospheric and moody, capturing the view of the wider nation at the time. Due to such themes the film was originally banned due to its gloomy outlook, but it is today considered one of director Lee Man-hee's finest films.
The Way Home (2002)
Heartwarming and deeply satisfying to behold, The Way Home was a domestic and international smash and remains one of Korea's most highly rated films. It is a wonderful reminder of the unconditional love that grandparents bestow on their grandchildren.
It centres on a city-born grandson who goes to live with his rural grandmother. On the bus out of the city the grandson, San-woo, is annoyed by the unsophisticated rural passengers onboard. Accompanied by his mother, he must spend time with his mute grandmother while his mother looks for work after a failed business venture in Seoul. San-woo is unimpressed by this simply rural life without his city comforts, but his anger at the situation is softened by the unrelenting love and care his grandmother provides despite his petulance.
The film won Best Film and Best Screenplay at Korea's Grand Bell Awards, while critics across the globe lined-up to praise this simply but powerful piece of filmmaking. There is a brilliant performance from Kim Eul-boon as the caring grandmother, who had never acted or even seen a film before.
Women of Yi-Dynasty (1969)
Another Korean Film Achieve offering that you can freely watch on YouTube, Women of Yi-Dynasty is a lucid view of the tough times that women endured in the 18th and 19th century, making this a often difficult but vitally important piece of cinema.
The film is an omnibus offering, where four short stories examine the lives of women in this time. The first story, Yeopiljongbu, is a tragic opening for the film as we meet a woman forced to marry a young boy because her father wants to have ties with the minister's family. In the second story, Chulgawoein, a woman is wrongly accused and killed because her mother-in-law thinks she has taken away her son. Then there is Chilgeojiak up third, where a woman married to an impotent man commits a suicide after she sleeping with a servant. And finally, Gungjungbisaek, the fourth and final story where a concubine gives a birth to a baby not related to the king and faces death threats.
As the synopsis suggest, this is grim viewing, but vital for those that can stand it.