New Korean Cinema

Although the New Korean Cinema era started some years earlier, its impact, at least in Malaysia, was only felt upon the release of MY SASSY GIRL (2001) and from there on, the wild fire started spreading faster than cancer cells. This revival of Korean cinema is largely a result of two key events in Korean history. Firstly, it is the return to democracy (although still very fragile) in around 1987 after almost three decades under the authoritarian rule of Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan and the 1997 financial crisis which forced conglomerates like Samsung and Daewoo to divest their movie business. The situation in South Korea sort of stabilised around the year 2000 where a more solid democracy emerged from the chaos and the movie business fell into the hands of more enterprising companies and venture capitals which started to produce movies that are more in tune to the market and allow ample opportunity for new directors to come up with movies that are more matured, interesting and entertaining, often getting inspiration from the events that happened in Korea’s turbulent past. With the relaxation of new censorship laws, the maturity in the movie-making infrastructure (thanks mainly to the conglomerates), the changes to the Motion Picture Law and measures put in to support the local film industry such as the Screen Quota system and the expansion of modern theatres (more than doubled between 1997 and 2002), the New Cinema wave emerged and triumphed.

By New Cinema, what it really meant was the production of movies that made it big at the box office (for example in 2001, the top five grossing movies in Korea are all Korean movies), exportable and also critically acclaimed. If in 1993 local movies only accounted for about 16% of total box office collections, by 2001, they account for almost 50%.

The movie that started this new wave has been widely credited to be SHIRI (1999). This movie draws from the Korean Cold war between North and South Korea and is an action thriller based on the idea of espionage. This movie captured the hearts of audiences, not only with its theme but also the superb technical achievements that is said to be able to rival the production quality of Hollywood movies. SHIRI is then successfully followed up with ATTACK THE GAS STATION! (1999), PEPPERMINT CANDY (2000), JSA: JOINT SECURITY AREA (2000), FRIEND (2001), MY WIFE IS A GANGSTER (2001), MY SASSY GIRL (2001), one after another, churning out movies that hits box office highs. Not only that, the movies produced during this period are also critically acclaimed, such as MEMENTO MORI (1999), VIRGIN STRIPPED BARE BY HER BACHELORS (2000), TAKE CARE OF MY CAT (2001), FAILAN (2001), OASIS (2002), etc.

Herewith, the 25 Korean Movies to watch that I can recommend:

1. SHIRI (Kang Je-gyu, 1999)

2. JSA: JOINT SECURITY AREA (Park Chan-wook, 2000)

3. OLD BOY (Park Chan-wook, 2003)

4. FRIEND (Kwan Kyung-taek, 2001)

5. MY WIFE IS A GANGSTER (Jo Jin-gyu, 2001)

6. ATTACK THE GAS STATION! (Kim Sang-jin, 1999)

7. CHRISTMAS IN AUGUST (Hur Jin-ho, 1998)

8. FAILAN (Song Hae-seong, 2001)

9. MY SASSY GIRL (Kwak Jae-yong, 2001)

10. PEPPERMINT CANDY (Lee Chang-dong, 2000)

11. TAKE CARE OF MY CAT (Jeong Jae-eun, 2001)

12. MEMORIES OF MURDER (Bong Joon-ho, 2003)

13. POWER OF KANGWON PROVINCE (Hong Sang-soo, 1998)

14. CHUNGYANG (Im Kwon-taek, 2000)

15. BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE (Bong Joon-ho, 2000)

16. THE ISLE (Kim Ki-duk, 2000)

17. SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE (Park Chan-wook, 2002)

18. THE HOST (Bong Joon-ho, 2006)

19. TAEGUKGI (Kang Je-gyu, 2004)

20. 2009 LOST MEMORIES (Lee Si-myung, 2002)

21. OASIS (Lee Chang-dong, 2002)

22. THE DAY A PIG FELL INTO THE WELL (Hong Sang-soo, 1996)

23. THE MAGICIAN (Song ll-gon, 2005)

24. THE PRESIDENT’S LAST BANG (Im Sang-soo, 2005)

25. REPATRIATION (Kim Dong-woo, 2003)

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