Below is a chronological list of 21 key S. Korean New Wave movies (with commentary) that I compiled to hand out at a Facets Multimedia screening of Save the Green Planet earlier this year. Below the list is a link to a video of the lecture I gave prior to the film.
Christmas in August (Jin Ho-Hur, 1998) – Exquisite melodrama about the romance between a terminally ill photographer and one of his clients.
Nowhere to Hide (Lee Myung-se, 1999) – This outrageous action movie is basically one long chase between two cops and a killer. An early scene where an assassin plies his trade to the strains of the Bee-Gees’ “Holiday,” amid yellow autumn leaves and a gently falling rain, is unforgettable.
Peppermint Candy (Lee Chang-dong, 1999) – Forget Memento and Irreversible, here’s the original “edited in reverse” movie – a tour de force of filmmaking that begins with the suicide of a thirty-something businessman, then skips backwards over the previous twenty years of his life to show the personal tragedy of one man’s loss of innocence and corruption set against the sweeping backdrop of S. Korea’s tumultuous recent history.
Barking Dogs Never Bite (Bong Joon-ho, 2000) – Wonderful offbeat comedy/romance and an auspicious debut from one of the most significant Korean directors of our time.
Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors (Hong Sang-soo, 2000) – Erotic melodrama about the subjective nature of reality, gorgeously shot in black and white.
Chunhyang (Im Kwon-taek, 2000) – Folk opera/musical from one of the “old masters” of S. Korean cinema.
JSA: Joint Security Area (Park Chan-wook, 2000) – The absolute best place to start exploring the S. Korean New Wave; ingeniously plotted political thriller and invaluable history lesson.
Failan (Song Hae-sung, 2001) – I defy you to see this unique gangster movie/melodrama hybrid and not weep by the time it’s over.
Turning Gate (Hong Sang-soo, 2002) – Comedy/drama about a young man’s quest for love that marries the formalism of Antonioni with the naturalistic performances of Cassavetes.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (Park Chan-wook, 2002) – The first entry in Park’s essential “Vengeance trilogy” is also the most austere and tragic.
Memories of Murder (Bong Joon-Ho, 2003) – Like a Korean Zodiac, this tells the riveting true story of a police investigation into a series of unsolved murders.
Save the Green Planet (Jang Jun-hwan, 2003) – The story of a blue-collar worker convinced that his former boss is an alien intent on destroying the human race, this outrageous and provocative black comedy reflects political anxieties dating back to South Korea’s pro-democracy protests in the 1980s while also serving as a prescient ecological fable on a more universal scale.
A Tale of Two Sisters (Kim Ji-woon, 2003) – Mixture of psychological and supernatural horror that effectively conjures up an atmosphere of dread from the first frame to the last.
Oldboy (Park Chan-wook, 2003) – Excellent freak-out revenge movie with a supremely ironic “happy ending” that lingered in my imagination long after it ended.
3-Iron (Kim Ki-duk, 2004) – A nearly silent love story that starts out as a work of realism and then slowly, almost imperceptibly, enters a world of purely poetic metaphor. Hypnotic and amazing.
The President’s Last Bang (Im Sang-soo, 2005) – Black comedy/political satire that tells the incredible true story of the assassination of President Park Chung-Hee.
Lady Vengeance (Park Chan-wook, 2005) – The sublime third installment of Park’s vengeance trilogy combines elements of the first two (very different) films and throws intriguing philosophical/religious reflections into the mix.
The Host (Bong Joon-ho, 2006) – The Spielbergian/Hollywood family-in-peril adventure movie formula is subversively used to express some anti-global/capitalist sentiments in this outrageously entertaining monster movie.
Woman on the Beach (Hong Sang-soo, 2006) – Hong Sang-Soo’s funniest ode to romantic folly. You’ll be humming the catchy score for days.
Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang-dong, 2007) – A widow moves with her son to the hometown of her recently deceased husband only to encounter further tragedy in this thematically complex, novelistic character study from the great writer/director Lee Chang-dong.
The Chaser (Na Hong-jin, 2008) – A generic serial killer plot is given a refreshingly original spin by adding an abundance of expertly executed foot-chases in this superior thriller.
And the lecture: