The spotlight of the world recently shone on South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympics, but film fans have been looking over there for a long time. South Korean cinema has been one of the success stories of recent years, and the country is one where domestic films outsell Hollywood blockbusters; in 2017 just 2 out of the top ten grossing films there were from overseas, in the UK it was 9 out of 10. Korean directors such as Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho have made the jump into English language films, with instant cult classics like Stoker and Snowpiercer. Luckily the streaming services offer some great introductions for newcomers. Netflix users should try Joon-ho’s wonderful Okja, the story of a lovable giant pig and the little girl who owns it. It’s a great example of how Korean films are unafraid of changing moods and tones, as the early slapstick scenes give way to something much darker and serious. It finishes a long way from its cute beginnings and is a powerful and moving film (As a side note, it turned me vegetarian). Amazon Prime members can currently watch 2017’s The Handmaiden as part of their membership, Park Chan-wook is one of today’s greatest directors and this beautiful and beguiling film is among his best. A heartfelt love story, a playful mystery, a sinister thriller, The Handmaiden manages to be all these things at once and Chan-wook mixes dazzling imagery and complex plotting with a film that never looks less than gorgeous. It earns its 18 certificate with scenes that are explicit without being exploitative, a rare combination but one that comes as no surprise from this intelligent and skilful director. If you like these films, then I suggest also watching The Mother, The Yellow Sea and The Good, the Bad, The Weird. For films that will touch the heart, dazzle the eyes and keep you on the edge of your seat, Korea is where it’s at.
From our weekly column in the Oswestry Advertizer, published on 6th March 2018.