9 wonderfully weird films from South Korea
Let’s jump in at the deep end, shall we? The first of two truly bizarre films from director Nam Gi-Woong in this list, Never Belongs to Me includes a sex maniac murderous feral half man/half tiger who also spends a great deal of his time spouting armchair philosophy. If that is not enough weirdness for you, there is also a reanimated cyborg streetwalker and a guy who shoots bullets from his robotic penis.
Nam takes us on a journey to pure surrealism, into an imaginary world with ready violence that creates a realm packed with more danger than reality thankfully offers. Hard to track down, but a shining gem of weirdness for those who manage it.
A Kafkaesque view of wanton pharmaceutical ethics and the modern celebrity obsession, Oh-kwang is battling to be accepted for the man-size fish he has become after a clinical trial mishap. For such an outlandish set-up, the film is actually quite restrained once it gets going, but it still provides plenty of off-beat themes and challenging social commentary.
Visually impressive, you really to get used to the fish version of Oh-kwang as he walks around, it also shifts the focus of our moral outrage in unexpected and interested ways. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
The second film on this list from Nam Gi-Woong, this 60-minute bundle of weirdness managed to travel far, appearing at film festivals around the world and getting various international DVD releases too. As the title suggests, it follows a teen prostitute through the back streets of Seoul as she gets killed by a gang, but is stitched back together by a mad scientist so she can get her revenge.
A horror satire which includes musical numbers to boot, its exposure has afford the film a sizable cult following. A film completely detached from the real world in the most beautiful of ways.
There needs to be an important opening caveat here – Castaway on the Moon is a legitimate masterpiece. One of the best films of modern Korean cinema. It is hilarious, touching and stunningly shot. The reason it is included here is that despite its brilliance, it is also deliciously weird as the set-up consists of a man becomes a castaway on a deserted island on the Han River.
He is spotted by a young woman with a long-lens camera who is living as a hermit in her parents’ home. A film about human connections and their importance. Maximum marks for weirdness and cinematic impact. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
In revisiting the story of the kumiho, or gumiho, a shapeshifting fox that can live for 1,000 years, we are given the song, dance and comedy version of a Korean folktale. We meet a family that must consume a human liver each during a once-in-a-millennium lunar eclipse to become full-time humans, producing a oddball musical comedy with plenty of bizarre songs and set-ups.
To say the film is hammy would be an understatement, but it is hard not to enjoy the film, all the same. A charm runs through it that makes it so affable you willingly let slip the cheesy nature of the delivery. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
Another film which falls into the ‘weird-but-still-a-masterpiece’ category, Save the Green Planet! was released in the ultimate golden year of modern Korean cinema, 2003 (Oldboy, Memories of Murder, Tale of Two Sisters). Beautifully crafted, this is the bizarro tale of a young man attempting to stop an alien invasion by kidnapping a CEO he suspects of being an alien plant.
A set-up so obscure it seems difficult to take seriously, but then it becomes a rift on mental health, torture ethics and the toll of suffering. From the lunacy rises something of genuine profoundness. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
Included here as it is just too weird to ignore, it is important to state this is no classic cinematic outing. The right mood is needed to watch A Tale of Legendary Libido and for its preposterous, immature stylings to have their desired effects. This sex comedy involves a local village outcast taking a potion which transforms him into a lover of incomparable virility.
There are elements of clumsy charm. The loser turned winner tale can spark some feel-good factors. Plus some musical numbers are serviceable, including an obscure synchronised swimming set-up and a closing song. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
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