From Okja to Pandora, here are some of the best South Korean movies on Netflix streaming right now. How many have you ticked off your list?
1. Snowpiercer (2014)
Director: Bong Joon ho
Adapted from French cult graphic novel Le Transperceneige, Snowpiercer marked English language debut for gifted Korean genre director Bong Joon-ho and leap into big-budget filmmaking. Flaws and holes aside, the film evokes several thought-provoking questions, which have been asked for long in dystopian movies: Whether mankind is worth trying to save at all? Does survival incites greater costs? And is it worthwhile to be inhuman for the better chance of preserving humanity? Very few big-budgeted Hollywood movies have posed questions and have dealt action set pieces secondary to characterization. An enthrallingly executed piece of allegorical sci-fi cinema, Snowpiercer is devilishly unpredictable and ceaselessly dazzling.
2. Okja (2017)
Director: Bong Joon ho
Bong Joon ho’s highly imaginative Eco-fable is an almost-perfect synthesis of humor and horror. The film follows the adventures of a South Korean teen Mija and her genetically modified super-pig named Okja. One of the film’s delights is to observe Bong’s agile directorial skills in moving between different tone and styles. Tilda Swinton dashingly plays the villainous role of a corporate head. Okja is a thoroughly entertaining fare which elegantly incorporates sociopolitical and socioeconomic commentary.
3. The Host (2006)
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Bong Joon-ho’s reinvigorated monster movie is much more complex than effects-heavy escapist Hollywood features. Even the familiar conventions of the genre are shot with a formidable style. Song Kang-ho plays the dim-witted protagonist, whose beloved teenage daughter is carried off by a giant mutant, dwelling in the polluted Han River. The family’s misfits come together to rescue the 13-year old girl. They also have to fight the incompetent, arrogant bureaucrats in protective suits. The Host is a part family comedy and part political satire. Director Bong astoundingly balances absurd humour with genuinely scary situations.
4. My Sassy Girl (2001)
Director: Kwak Jae-yong
Kwak Jae-yong’s endlessly charming romantic comedy subverted all the clichés of the genre, and with a simple plotline. It’s a boy-meets-girl story, but the silly, unconventional scenarios the romantic pair drums up are beyond words. The chemistry between the lead pair Cha Tae-hyun and Jun Ji-hyun is incredibly amazing. They make up for the minor flaws and clichés in the narrative. The first half is a little scattershot with great moments of slapstick comedy. The second half of the film boasts strong emotional element and is slightly melodramatic. Despite a series of unbelievable coincidences in the latter half, the performances move us nonetheless.
5. Pandora (2017)
Director: Park Jung-woo
Park Jung-woo’s nuclear energy-themed disaster drama perfectly mixes melodrama and political/corporate intrigue. The early scenes characterize the simple town populace. The quaint town, situated near the port city of Busan, depends on the nuclear power plant for stable employment. But one day, an unanticipated earthquake creates a catastrophic nuclear meltdown in the poorly-maintained plants. The government and plant management try to cover up and contain the problem. Pandora largely works due to the realistic depiction of people and the government’s chaotic reaction after such disasters. Of course, it goes to ludicrous lengths to weave a cloyingly sentimental narrative. However, the film effectively visualises the disaster sequences, exaggerating our fears regarding this unbridled energy source. Overall, it’s thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking, compared to the obnoxious American movies in the same genre.
6. Forgotten (2017)
Director: Jang Hang-jun
Forgotten is one of the most mentally demanding thrillers out there. It makes you think. It’s mysterious and has a tone almost resembling horror. The premise of the film is extremely complicated and conflicted in itself, which makes it harder for the audience to crack the mystery that lies behind the veil. But what I truly appreciate about this film is that it doesn’t entirely keep you in the dark. After the first half is done and the mystery has been established, the film drops subtle hints and clues regarding the underlying psychological narrative. The build-up before the epic reveal is masterly done. Forgotten is an exciting adventure full of twists and turns and countless red herrings. Watch it. I promise you won’t regret it.
7. Lucid Dream (2017)
Director: Jun-sung Kim
When a film is an amalgamation of genres like science fiction, mystery and thriller, it runs the risk of being over the place. Often, the plot has holes or the climax is unsatisfactory. Thankfully, that is not the case with Lucid Dream. The filmmaker handles it with a lot of skill and finesse, despite it being his directorial debut. The concept, is, in part, influenced by movies like Inception and Vanilla Sky. But it also possesses a distinct style and character.
The story follows a man searching for his abducted son whose trail has gone cold for the last three years. He puts all his bets on a lucid dream therapy that allows him to relive the memories of that fateful day in order to find some new clues. This takes him on a sort of acid trip through his memories and the memories of the prime suspect. The movie does take a lot of elements from Nolan’s Inception and that leads to a bit of predictability. That bit is a let-down. Overall though, it’s a great watch.
These are, what we think, some of the best Korean movies on Netflix. Have you seen all of these? What are your favourites? What did we miss? Tell us all in the comments below.
Additional writing by Deepjyoti Roy