As we start 2017, we take a look at last year and see the state of Korean cinema of 2016. Fortunately, Korean films in 2016 were awesome.
There were a lot of big blockbusters from Korea's finest directors. "Time Renegades" (kwak Jae-Yong - "My Sassy Girl" & "Windstruck"), "The Age of Shadows" (Kim Jae-woon - "A Tale of Two Sisters", "I Saw the Devil"), "The Handmaiden" (Park Chan-wook - "Old Boy", "JSA - Joint Security Area"), and "The Wailing" (Na Hong-jin - "The Chaser") were several popular hits to grace Korean theaters this year.
This list is also NOT based on movie scores or ratings on IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, or Metacritic. Rather, it's based off our personal opinion on three main criteria: did the movie have a solid story, did the movie suck us into the environment like we were there, and did it entertain us.
Before we get into our top 10 Korean movies list, an honorable mention must be given to "A Violent Prosecutor". This film was extremely popular in Korea, as of January 2017, it is the 15th highest grossing Korean movie.
With all that out of the way, here's the 10 Korean films of 2016 you must see!10. "Missing You - 2016"
When Hee-joo's father is murdered working on a serial case, seven-year old Hee-joo is devastated. Hee-joo's father was a detective and on the hot trail of a murderer.
The killer, Ki-bum, is eventually found and arrested. However, Ki-bum is only arrested for one murder and not the murder of Hee-joo's father. He was sentenced for 15 years.
Meanwhile, Detective Dae-young was Hee-joo's father's partner and has not forgiven Ki-bum. He wants to push for the murder conviction of his old partner.
Fifteen years later, Ki-bum is released from prison. Hee-joo, now 22 years old, has waited for his father's killer to be released and has plans of her own.
9. "Time Renegades"
A cop from 2015 one day realizes he's been getting thoughts from a high school teacher 22 years ago from 1983. When the high school teacher also receives thoughts from the cop in the future, the two men soon learn that they are linked from different eras.
Making the link even stronger, the two men find out that the events happening in 2015 are directly related to 1983, as well as one woman's fate.
"Time Renegades" does a great job in juggling the two time eras of 2015 and 1983. Since this is a kwak Jae-Yong film, there is a lot of time travel elements, as they were was in "My Sassy Girl". The references of technology used back in 1983, such as having a home ring phone, and now having smartphones in 2015, are also used to great effect.
But the best part of the film is, of course, how the events of 1983 directly affect what happened in 2015. During the movie, viewers will slowly discover the secrets behind the two eras, as well as why the high school teacher from 1983 and cop from 2015 are linked.
8. "The World of Us"
"The World of Us" blew us away as one of the sleeper movies of the year. The film explores the relationship between two 10 year-old girls and how they endure their school life.
Director Yoon Ga-eun shows just the contrast between rich and poor kids, how peer pressure affects kids, and bullying. The movie's strength lies in both the real life, relate-able themes of the kids, as well as the kid actor's superb acting.
7. "DongJu, The Portrait of A Poet"
Based on a true story, the movie follows two schoolmates, Dongju and Mong-gyu, and their friendship and friendly rivalry in academics.
While Dongju is more into poetry, Mong-gyu is more of a literary, essay writer type.
Yet, during the early 1920s and 30s, formal writing was more widely accepted, so Dongju's poetry wasn't appreciated by his peers. His strict father wants him to abandon poetry in favor of being a doctor. His peers dismiss his poetry as a waste of time. But Dongju wisely stays the course and continues his poetry.
The two friends' lives start to diverge after high school. The Japanese occupation of Korea is in full swing and both Dongju and Mong-gyu are thrust in the middle of the growing Korean independence movement.
While Dongju is more of the quiet type and passively opposes the Japanese, Mong-gyu is a lot more vocal and aggressive in his protest of Japan.
6. "The Last Princess"
Video review of "The Last Princess"
This movie will most likely make you cry. Or close to it.
After all, her story is one of tragedy.
This film follows the story of the Joseon Dynasty's last princess: Princess Deokhye".The Last Princess" is about how she was forced out of her native Korea as a teenager and banned from returning for 37 years.
Even though Koreans know how her story ends through history books, seeing the princess' life being recreated on film gives new meaning on the tale of Deokhye. The newer generation of Koreans, as well as foreigners watching the movie, will see how she influenced Korea's independence movement and shows the finale of the Joseon Dynasty.
This film is highly recommended to learn why Princess Deokhye's influence in modern Korean history, as well as why she is highly regarded among Koreans today.
5. "The Truth Beneath"
The story focuses on a wife, Yeon-hong, who's married to a powerful politician, Jong-chan. Her husband is running for the Korea Party, but on the first day of his campaign, her daughter was kidnapped.
Yeon-hong, played wonderfully by Son Ye-jin, begins searching for her daughter right away. But her husband, Jong-chan, concerned that her missing daughter will damage his campaign, holds off on telling the public for another day.
The film does a great job in pitting the dilemma of finding their daughter vs. saving face in pursuing an office position. Director Lee Kyoung-mi and co-writer Park Chan-wook show how the wife, Yeon-hong, sees the secrets her daughter surrounding her, as well as the dark side of politics and power.
The full truth is slowly revealed in small doses, while the movie's twists will keep viewers guessing.
As a commentary on Korean politics and a mystery-thriller film, "The Truth Beneath" does an outstanding job at both.
4. "The Age of Shadows"
Video review of "The Age of Shadows"
One of the movies getting much hype in 2016 is the action-spy thriller "The Age of Shadows". Boasting an array of star power, an impressive setting, and slick action scenes, it definitely has blockbuster written all over it.
Taking place in the 1920s in Japanese-occupied Korea, the movie starts off in a bang, quite literally. A horde of Japanese military police fire upon a Korean freedom fighter in Seoul, as they are in close pursuit of him.
As he's running, the Korean freedom fighter gets shot in the foot, crawls into a building, and soon surrounded by the military police. He talks to Lee Jung-chool, a Korean who's working as a Japanese police captain.
Bleeding from being shot all over, the freedom fighter says to the Korean-turned-Japanese officer, "you betray your country to shun Korean independence?" To which Jung-chool says "Korean independence is a lost cause", as the freedom fighter dies from the bleeding after.
But this was just the beginning for the Korean freedom fighters in their fight against Japanese occupation.
The film's success is apparent from its ticket sales and foreign recognition. "The Age of Shadows" was the 11th highest selling film as of January 2017. The action-spy thriller was also South Korea's 2016 entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards.
3. "The Handmaiden"
Director Park Chan-wook never ceases to amaze, nor shock us.
He came out with one of the most talked-about and erotic films this year in Korea with "The Handmaiden". The viewer can expect plenty of sexual innuendo and ahem... naughty scenes.
Based off the novel Fingersmith by Welsh author Sarah Waters, The Haidmaiden follows three characters: a female thief, a con man, and a rich heiress.
The female thief and con man plan to convince the wealthy woman to marry the con man. The thief will pose as a handmaiden, being the heiress's best friend and confidant, while the con man will act as a rich nobleman. Once the two succeed in marrying the con man to the heiress, the two plan to confine the heiress to a crazy asylum.
However, as with all of director Park's movies, the plan doesn't go as smoothly as it should. As the story slowly unravels, differing view points are seen, the true motives of each character are explored, and of course, twists appear to throw off the "marriage" plan.
The great blend of dark, psychological, erotic themes of The Haidmaiden make it both a Park Chan-wook film and of the top Korean movies this year.
2. "Train to Busan"
Video review of "Train to Busan"
A Korean sci-fi movie, let alone zombie film, that's actually good? Yup, that's "Train to Busan" and it exceeds expectations.
When an infected human-turned-zombie jumps onto the departing KTX train at the last zombie, you knew things would to get real crappy fast. Only mere seconds later, hell breaks loose and pandemonium soon breaks out on the train.
As helicopters, police cars, and the military are heard around the city at an alarming rate, the train passengers have a more pressing problem. They're suddenly forced to survive the ever-growing zombie outbreak within the confines of their own train.
"Train to Busan" became a huge hit not only in Korea and Asia, but even had a following in many Western countries as wel
Zombie movies and TV shows are a big hit in Korea. But these shows were exported from the west. After all, Korea hasn't made a quality zombie film until "Train to Busan".
For years, Koreans have religiously watched the hit US TV show, AMC's The Walking Dead. So it's no surprise when a homemade Korean film, "Train to Busan", came out with Gong Yoo as the lead, it would sell.
With it's own take of zombies, a ton of suspense, colorful characters, and the theme of survival vs. helping others, "Train to Busan" is one zombie movie to check out.
This naturally led Hollywood to come knocking. French studio Gaumont's LA division bought the remake rights for an English remake. So get ready for a "Train to LA" or "Train to NY" in the future.
1. "The Wailing"
When a series of gruesome murders happens in a remote village called Goksung (the Korean title of the film), people start to become worried. An investigation is soon launched to find the murderer, as local cop Jong-gu arrives late to the scene.
As the list of suspects start emerging, the police become more confused. When more murders that are similar are discovered, Jong-gu know that this won't be an easy case to crack.
One of the most talked about mystery-thrillers in 2016 is "The Wailing".
Between investigations, demonic possessions, exorcisms, and nightmares, the murder case has on a fantasy take to it. While the movie's plot about possession can be nonsensical at times, director Na somehow makes it work. The film's title, which in Chinese characters means "the sound of weeping", is well-deserved from its plot.
What makes "The Wailing" more unique as a thriller / horror film, it does not really use any jump scares, nor use obvious sounds to foretell what will happen next. The film also has some influences from The Exorcist, as "The Wailing" modernizes the 1973 classic and makes it even darker.
Throughout its two and 36 minute length, it's safe to say that "The Wailing" provides one of the most engaging, epic thriller murder stories in recent years.
What's your favorite Korean films of 2016?
To recap, here are our picks:
1. "The Wailing"
As with all top X lists, we're sure we left out some films that you liked. But no worries, we'd love to learn your favorite Korean films in 2016.
(If you like Japanese films, you may be interested in our counterpart list of our favorite Japanese films of 2016.)
So now, it's over to you.
What do you think? What are your favorite Korean films of 2016? We'd love to know your take in the comments below!
Original Article: Our Favorite 10 Korean Films of 2016
Jason Yu is a film and Kpop journalist and media member based in Seoul, Korea. To learn more about Asian pop culture, check out his YouTube channels at Asian Filmist (Asian movies) and Popsori (Kpop). Or talk to him at @iamjangta.
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