Top 10 Korean Movies - New Wave

Top 10 Korean Movies (New Wave)

#10. A Moment to Remember (IMDB Rating 8.2)

a moment to remember
A Moment to Remember
An endearing tale of young romance and enduring love beset by a tragedy. One of the first Korean movies with the thematic content revolving around Alzheimer's disease.  Though the movie has it's commercial melodrama elements, it takes a matured and balanced approach in portraying the impact it has on the young married couple, and is handled with great sensitivity. 

A great movie for the fans of romantic cinema that even the fans of others genres will find an appreciation for. 

christmas in august
Christmas In August
The movie 'Christmas in August' was one of my first brushes with what Korean cinema had to offer, and I was greatly impressed. Like 'A Moment to Remember', the movie also deals with a terminal disease, but refrains from indulging in any commercial melodramatic moments. Instead, the movie revels in it's subtlety and is able to portray the deepest of emotions in a very intimate and matured fashion. The lead pair of Han Suk-Kyu and Shim Eun-Ha make the movie special with their tender romance and are an amazing pair onscreen.

Regarded as a true classic of Korean Cinema that has garnered respect from actors and film-makers over the years. (Read Review)

#8. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring (IMDB Rating 8.1)

spring, summer, fall, winter and spring
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring is one of the finest works of art in modern cinema. The gem by Kim Ki-Duk was a massive hit across film festivals due to its fresh take on spirituality and powerful allegorical symbolism handled with exquisite simplicity. The film portrays the cycle of life as it follows the lives of an aging Buddhist monk and his young disciple, living alone in a floating hermitage in the center of a lake surrounded by mountains. The pristine physical setting is unique and gives a zen like aura to the movie. 

As the young disciple grows, we see his life governed by various emotions such as innocence, lust, envy, pride, self-reflection, penance analogized to the changing seasons. The movie is a memorable and rewarding experience for people who have true appreciation for art in cinema.

#7. JSA: Joint Security Area (IMDB Rating 7.8)

JSA (Joint Security Area) was one of the most expensive Korean movies at the time of it's release. It was money spent well though as it broke all admission records and became the highest grossing Korean movie of it's time. The blockbuster by the successful Korean director Chan-Wook Park was popular with critics as well and went on to win a number of high-profile Korean movie awards.

The story follows an investigation into a shooting incident at the DMZ (Di-militarized zone at the border of South and North Korea) that has resulted in the death of 2 North Korean soldiers. While North accuses South of unprovoked hostility, the South claims one of it's soldiers to have been kidnapped by the North and the incident being the result of the rescue mission. As we delve deeper into the investigation, we realize that neither of those claims are true and what emerges is a tale of tragic friendship, cursed by years of deep political distrust and the struggle between understanding the essence of patriotism and basic humanity.

The movie is shot gorgeously and it's high production values are evident. But what makes the movie a truly great watch is the brilliant direction and an intelligent, compelling and immersive plot that makes it a truly entertaining watch.

3-Iron (Bin-jip) is a poignant love story presented with a quirky, surreal yet believable theme. The movie is refreshingly unique in it's presentation as the lead stars never speak. But this never prevents the viewer from doubting their emotions as they gradually and 'wordlessly' fall in love.

The movie has a interesting premise. Tae-suk (Jae Hee) leads a nomadic existence as he moves from house to house (by breaking in when the occupants are away for a vacation). But his intention is not to steal. On the contrary, during his stay, apart from cooking meals and watching TV, he fixes their leaking faucets, does their laundry and repair's their broken items. During one such intrusion in a house he assumes to be vacant, he comes across a abused wife Sun-hwa (Lee Seung-yeon). They become aware of each others presence but pretend not to acknowledge it. As they follow each other around, they realize a emotional connection and gradually fall for each other through.
The movie never tries to make you intellectually involved, but hypnotizes you with it's simplicity and tranquil beauty. One of the finest movies from  Kim Ki-Duk's oeuvre.

my sassy girl
My Sassy Girl
My Sassy Girl is arguably the best Korean romantic comedy of modern times. The movie is inspired from a series of online blog posts by a young man describing his relationship with his 'sassy' girlfriend. The biggest reason to watch the movie is the Korean model/actress Jyun Ji-Hyun. From her opening scene as a drunk commuter, to her turn as a bullying feisty girl who loves to slap people (especially the male lead Cha Tae-Hyun), to being an adorable girlfriend and then as a girl vulnerable in love, she displays an impressive range as an actress, stealing every scene she's a part of. Also impressive is the bullied boyfriend (Cha Tae-Hyun) who plays his role to 'Nerdy' perfection.

The movie effortlessly moves from being a romantic teen comedy with laugh-out load moments, to a romantic melodrama (sans the melancholic overkill that other Korean love stories often succumb to). The movie is an absolute delight to watch and is a wonderful genre-bending cinematic experience.

#4. Friend (IMDB Rating 7.3)

Friend (Chin-gu)
Friend (친구 Chin-gu) is a semi-autobiographical tale of friendship, jealousy and ambition by the director Kwak Kyung-taek. The movie notably won the award for the Best Actor (Oh-seong Yu) and Best Supporting actor (Dong-gun Jang) at the Asia-Pacific film festival for their excellent performances in the movie. It was also the highest grossing Korean movie at the time of it's release.

The movie follows the lives of four friends with different personalities and backgrounds, growing up in the largest port city of South Korea, Busan, in the mid 70s. The movie starts off as a coming-of-age drama that gradually transforms into a gangster tale as the grown up friends find themselves in different local gangs and see their friendship being put to strenuous tests. The transition is handled skillfully by the director, aided by a superb performance by the young actors. The 70s setting is captured beautifully and is complemented by some soulful and immersive music. The movie is worth seeing for it's great cinematography, fine performances and a compelling story that revolves around the universal themes of loss of innocence, trust, friendship and betrayal.

memories of murder
Memories of Murder
Korean Cinema has produced some of the finest thrillers outside of Hollywood and Memories of Murder, undoubtedly, is one of their best. MoM is  based on the true story of the country’s first-known serial murder-rapes spree in the Korean countryside, between 1986 and 1991. The movie, directed by the auteur Bong Joon-Ho was a massive critical and commercial hit. The movie was notable for it's realistic setting of the late 80's Korean countryside that evoked a sense of nostalgia amongst the Korean viewers. This was also one of the first serial-killer themed Korean movie. The movie centers on the tense and interesting partnership between the rural cop Park Do-Mang (brilliantly played by Song Kang-Ho) and Detective Suh Tae-Yoon (Kim Sang-Kyung), sent from Seoul to investigate these cases. The character takes, gathering of clues and following leads, the sense of terror, interspersed with some comic moments that never feels out of place, makes this an intriguing ride from start to finish. (Read Review)

#2. Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War (IMDB Rating 8.2)

taegukgi-brotherhood of war
Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War is a big-budget movie about the Korean War. This big budget epic became the highest grossing film in South Korea upon it's release beating the record set by Silmido. The movie also won the Best Film award and the Best Director award (Kang Je-gyu) at the Asia Pacific Film Festival. The movie bears a resemblance to popular war themed productions like Saving Private Ryan and the HBO mini series 'Band of Brothers'.

The movie follows the lives of two brothers, elder brother played by Jang Dong-gun (Friend) and the younger played by Won Bin ( The Man from Nowhere), as they are united and divided by the war. Their evolving relationship provides the dramatic backbone to the movie (though overdone at times IMO). But, the movie is truly impressive in it's honest treatment of the brutality of the war and the loss of innocence. For a non-Hollywood movie, the movie will leave you impressed with it's sheer scale, and the war scenes are handled brilliantly. Though some people might fight the shaking' cam approach distracting, I have always felt that it adds to the realism.

This is a blockbuster movie that will impress you as a grand spectacle and manages to capture the battlefield chaos with perfection.

Oldboy is arguably the most popular Korean movie for the audiences in the rest of the world. Since it's release, over the years,  this installment of Chan-Wook Park's brilliant revenge trilogy has garnered it's own cult following. Oldboy is one of the most entertaining (and controversial) of Korean movies and showcases the brilliance of Min-Sik Choi as one of the finest Korean actors till date. The movie also did extremely well in the festival circuit winning countless awards, including the coveted Grand Jury prize at the Cannes, and announced the arrival of Chan-Wook Park as one of the great international directors to watch for. 

Oldboy is an provocative, brutal, mesmerizing and brilliant masterpiece from the great Korean auteur Chan-Wook Park that truly deserves its cult classic status. (Read Review)

Along with the great movies in the featured Top 10 Korean Movies list above, there have been a number of other movies that have left me truly impressed such as Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Chaser, The Man from Nowhere, The Bittersweet Life, A Tale of Two Sisters, just to name a view. (Ravi Ganne)