Bungee Jumping of Their Own (Korea) 2001

Sometimes reincarnation doesn’t get it exactly right. Seo In-woo (Lee Byung-hun) finds the love of his life, Tae-Hee (Lee Eun-ju), under his umbrella on a rainy day after classes at the university. A relationship happens – almost in spite of Seo In-woo – and tragedy arrives in the form of a bus.

17 years later, Seo In-woo is married, a father and teaching at a school when he realizes one of his students seems very familiar. While I love many a Korean film, their romantic films are usually so over-whelming and sentimental – the sound tracks are so lush that I doubt there’s an unemployed cellist on the entire peninsula – that I rush straight over to some J-horror to balance my soul. This one is so different in concept and execution and is so off the wall in a matter-of-fact way that stands almost alone. Don’t let the sappy DVD cover put you off.

Jealousy Is My Middle Name (Korea) 2002

OK, I'm sold on Park Chan-ok, a female director from Korea whose “Paju” really impressed me. Where the Koreans are excelling as filmmakers is taking situations that may be common to film stories, busting them down to their guts and bolts and entirely rethinking how they should play out. This is the story of a guy who gets a job at the place where the boss stole his girlfriend even though the boss dumps her pretty soon after. This boss -- an editor at a magazine -- is also boinking the main character's new love interest. What would play out as a romcom or sitcom anywhere else becomes another new twist on the revenge story.

The Host (Korea) 2006

The best film Disney didn’t make in several decades. An American doctor pollutes the Han river and what results is a big ass monster in a bad mood and the story centers on a family when one of the daughters is snatched by the monster and taken to its lair in the sewers.

Flat-out fun by a master director who even gives the monster a character. A total change of pace from the director’s previous film, “Memories of Murder,” and one of the highest grossing films in Korea. A fun monster flick done really, really well.

Co-written and directed by Bong Joon-ho. With Song Kang-ho, Byeon Hee-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doona and Ko Ah-seong. Cinematography by Kim Hyung-ku and music by Lee Byung-woo.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird (Korea) 2008

Director Kim Ji-woon (“Two Sisters,” “A Bittersweet Life,” “I Saw The Devil”) calls it a “kimchee western” even though it takes place almost a century after most oaters and in China to boot. Obviously, it takes Sergio Leone’s “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” as a jumping off point although it really isn’t a spoof. Featuring an A-list cast (Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun and Jung Woo-sung) it’s an action comedy with some brutal Peckinpah-style violence. Not some, I mean a lot. Pure Friday night boy fun with no romance side stories to slow down the shootings, stabbings, train derailments and just plain raising hell fun. It’s about a treasure map, a bounty hunter, cruel killers and a loveable psychopath. The occupying Japanese Imperial Army appears as even more trouble for the trio out to find the treasure. No sense trying to make more of this than what it is and that’s an incredibly well-made action flick that is as funny as it is bloody.

I Saw The Devil (Korea) 2010

First note: If this flick had been made in Hong Kong, it would get a Cat 3 warning. It is a very, very, graphic and violent film. From Kim Ji-woon, the director of "A Tale of Two Sisters," "A Bittersweet Life" and "The Good, the Bad, the Weird," and starring Choi Min-sik from "Old Boy," "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" and "Himalaya, Where The Wind Dwells" and Lee Byung-hun from "A Bittersweet Life," "I Saw the Devil" is an incredibly violent story of a murderer-rapist who kills the wrong girl. She's the daughter of a police detective and the girlfriend of a Korean intelligence officer. The retired police detective is more involved with the grief of the situation and the intelligence officer is way too involved in the revenge angle. This -- like Shohei Imamura's "Vengeance Is Mine" (one of the best films of its type that I've seen) -- doesn't reduce the murderer to a cartoon serial killer as Hollywood tends to do. There are no psychological profilers and the piece of scum psychopath isn't an expert on Florentine art of the renaissance. A revenge tale where you lose more than you gain by winning.


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© 2012 William Ahearn

When I first began to put a list of Korean films together, I began chronologically and soon after gave up. Instead, I just remembered or referred to my write-ups and tossed favorite films in until I had 25 and then I stopped. Ever since the Korean Film Archive began streaming films on Youtube, I’ve been overwhelmed trying to keep up, and between the archive and my leftover favorites, another 25 will soon follow.