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A selection of Korean movies

Monday, 21 January, 2013

I don’t follow Korean celebrities. What I know of the culture is a mishmash of the guys just off the plane I grew up around and living in the world and picking up stuff. Around 2003 I was cruising this Internet of ours and stumbled upon references to a movie called “the Korean American Pie“. I mean, how can you resist that?

Sex is Zero appeared audacious to this round-eye. It has no apparent dedication to genre. It’s many implausibilities explained by a single line; take it or leave it, this is the movie.  After this experience I sought out other Korean films and relished Joint Security Area and My Sassy Girl first, like everyone else. I was hooked. I have been told this fascination is merely an adjunct of my “yellow fever”, but I shall continue to protest.  

Korean cinema is operating in a distinct environment.  Unabashed use of special effects and CGI. Torrents of unapologetic sentimentality. Shameless defiance of the conventions of genre present in every other school of cinema I know. Importantly, Western remakes of Korean films do not work because the people allowed to adapt and make major films are simply caught up with their own conventions. The especially unfortunate and characteristically oblivious American remake of My Sassy Girl is one of the few films I could not bear to finish. I would have settled for a DVD option of having the main characters suddenly die in a horrible accident. My notes on what a Western remake of thar film, which would be set in Cardiff, London, Toronto, or simply an unnamed major North American city which happens to have a major university, trains and branch offices of the entertainment industry, are something I never bothered to post.

The Americans who can be bothered trend toward films about the criminal underworld, Oldboy being a prominent example. However my interest is in the romantic comedy, and similarly themed films, which Korea has made her own.

The following is a list of films which are discoverable online and have been of interest to me. These films are rarely available dubbed. If you have trouble with subtitles, please do not tell me.

My Sassy Girl, properly translated Bizarre Girl, from 2001. Perhaps the only attempt in the history of cinema to make an epic romantic comedy and among the finest films of the 2000s. Near the end of the movie, the protagonist just misses the train. If you are not in tears at that moment, I don’t want to know you. I have used this film as something of a litmus test for potential partners. If you think it’s cute, or too long, I am have no further interest in you intimately.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuyX_3V-98o

The Classic, the next film by the same director. A historic epic exploring themes of love and the history of the Republic of Korea since 1960. This film should prove educational to those in the West, as well as providing a compelling romance in a distinctively Korean fashion.

(link to part one of twelve) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4Ff2oibXjU

Cyborg She, this film is Japanese scripted by the previously mentioned director. I do not know why this film was not made or set in Korea. In lieu of a big story, this decidedly unusual tale uses elements of science fiction and CGI to rend your heart to pieces. It is a tale of love between a young naive man and a very special time-traveling robot. [sic]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2eujzGQk_I

You are encouraged to find I’m a Cyborg but It’s OK. Unapproved links to which have been recently pulled. This is also a genre bending, comedy, family, medical drama, romance largely set within a mental hospital.

Most recently I’ve been getting my Korea on through Hulu. I believe the selection of titles is getting smaller, and hope that new ones shall be added soon. Most are more modest productions than the above, but because character and devices are king, I am confidet to recommend the following. These are films available as of 21 January 2013 in International, Korea.

Love, In between Strictly speaking a remake of Black Ice from Finland, although the evolution of the protagonists have been altered for local sensibilities, and the ending is somewhat different. This is an unconventional love triangle involving a woman who secretly befriends her husband’s mistress. By Korean standards this film is particularly explicit. Personal note: Shim Yi-yeong, who portrays the mistress, “Suzy” in subtitles, as presented here is the most compellingly beautiful woman I’ve seen, in an entertainment context, in a long time. If you want to know anything about my personal taste, there you go.

Penny Pinchers A lighter movie about the relationship between a bizarrely frugal woman and the compulsive spender next door.

Kidnapping Granny K This made for TV films explores issues of respect, community and personal diligence in the framework of hopeless criminal aspirants who plot to kidnap the legendary operator of a famous restaurant.

Solace An exploration of isolation in the midst of a large city. This film is much darker in overall tone. The story of the relationship between a man aspiring to tend to his somewhat chaotic mother and brother and a woman focused, perhaps overly so, upon her business.

Triangle A criminal caper with romantic comedy overtones which plays as the start of a new franchise. Identity switcheroos and twists abound. It’s quite fun.

The Relation of Love, Mind and Heart is another TV movie, and perhaps the most explicitly Korean movie listed here. This madcap romantic comedy concerns a successful architect who endures a blow to the head which scrambles his aesthetic sensibilities. A romance develops with an allegedly ugly and obnoxious woman portrayed by an uncommonly beautiful actress in modest SFX make up. As his mind heals the adventure begins.

I encourage you to share your finds and experiences with me in the comments below.

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