26th December 2010
With the end of the year, we often see ‘top-10′ lists popping up on websites, television, magazines and newspapers. Well, since I am housebound at the start of a blizzard where up to two feet of snow is expected, I will write a list of my favorite ten Korean films of the year. Sitting down to organize my thoughts and make a list of the films I liked, I immediately ran into a problem. I wound up with a list of 15 films. That is not as big a problem as not having enough films to write about, but it is going to cause me some problems as I approach the end of the list and want to include everything. Less of a problem were the top five films. These were pretty clear in my mind. Incidently, I am currently in the USA using someone else’s computer.. I opted not to take my laptop and haven’t bought an iPad yet–but may by the end of the week..so no images are included in this article right now as I don’t see an icon for Photoshop on this computer and I don’t want to snoop around their files trying to find one… I will add images when I return to Korea on January 21. Oh–and as I am in the USA, I have not been able to view Yellow Sea which opened this past week. Therefore, that film was not considered for this list. So let me get started–Here are my favorite films of 2010 in reversed order.
10. Unjust, Midnight FM, Man From Nowhere, Servant, Haunted House– I could not choose a number ten film, so I cheated and put all the runner-ups in this slot. All of these movies are worth seeing, but all of them have faults that make it difficult to choose among them. Choin and Unjust have frustrating endings–let’s face it Choin’s ending is extremely sudden and cliche. The Servant was an interesting take on the Chunhyang legend, but I guess I did not really appreciate some of the major changes the film made to the tale (Myong-ryeong is the hero, dammit–not the villain!) Midnight FM, Haunted House and Man From Nowhere could have been at numbers 9 & 10–I kept switching those films around–but ultimately decided I wanted to include a different genre at Number 9 as many of the films I have listed here are action/thrillers.
9. Housemaid– Had this film not been touted as a remake of the 1960 Kim Ki-yeong classic, it would have landed higher on this list. As it is, it is a good film with a beautiful, artistic set and an interesting story. However, it does not capture the spirit of the original film and winds up being a completely different story. The title character wields none of the power nor the all-consuming obsession that the maid in the original did and she never seems like a true threat to the family. Even her ‘revenge’ in the end does not seem particularly effective although I absolutely love the final scene that shows the result of her handiwork.
8. Secret Reunion– I know there are people who are undoubtedly going to rank this movie higher on their lists, but I am comfortable having it near the bottom of my faves this year. Directed by Jang Hoon (Rough Cut) and starring Song Kang-ho and Kang Dong-won, the movie has a lot going for it. The acting as well as the edge-of-your-seat action scenes cannot be faulted. I do, however, fault the ending. The final scene on the airplane just seems very trite to me. I was also somewhat uncomfortable in the way the Vietnamese characters were handled. A little more realism in the end and a gentler hand in dealing with the southeast Asians would have allowed me to rank this film higher. Overall though it was a strong second feature by Jang who had a tough job to live up to his amazing debut film.
7. Metamorphasis– This is another film that I would like to rank higher, but unfortunately cannot. The reason for this is because of the limited number of people who have seen it–or whom may be able to see it. While I loved the movie, it was definitley pure arthouse cinema. It is unlikely, in my opinion to be given a DVD release–though I could be wrong as the recent release of the wonderful arthouse film Written shows–there is always hope. I wrote about Metamorphasis on this site after I viewed it at the Jeonju International Film Festival in Spring. It is the story of a man who wakes up one morning and finds that he is unable to move at all. Throughout the entire film, we can only see through his perspective so 90’s of the movie is looking out the window, the rest in a view of his very small room. It might not sound exciting, but his inner monologue and the end reveal are excellent.
6. Cyrano Agency–A romantic-comedy on my list? I am surprised to see it here as well. ‘Rom-coms’ are among my least favorite genre. But Cyrano Agency won me over probably because the comic aspect is decidedly downplayed–and I actually found myself crying at a couple of points in the movie (Which was slightly embarrassing because I watched it on an airplane). The plot looks at a company that tries to help the lovelorn find their perfect matches by staging situation–even rain!– and writing their dialogue for them. However, the target of one client’s love causes the leader of the Cyrano Agency to question what they are doing. Do not mistake this for a retelling of the classic novel Cyrano de Bergerac–there are several unexpected twists and turns to this film.
5. 71: Into the Fire– When I watched this film earlier this year, I remember writing a review for it and praising the acting of T.O.P– the rapper for the K-pop band Big Bang. That still stands with repeated viewings. His acting elevates this movie which, without his screen presence–may have otherwise wound up among the pile of movies in the number ten slot. But because of his understated acting–especially in the opening sequence which as stayed with me–I am able to ignore the lesser acting efforts by some of the more well-known veteran actors and the ridiculousness of some of the Hollywood-like action scenes which should have been left out of a movie like this.
4.5- Harmony– This is an edit. A day after posting this article, I woke up early in the morning with one question in mind. “When did Harmony open?” A quick check showed that it opened in January 2010 so I had to add it to this list. Not wanting to shuffle everything around, I once again cheated and created a spot for it. Harmony is a wonderfully touching story guaranteed to make anyone cry.
4. Moss– I absolutely loved the atmosphere in this movie. I loved the set. I loved most the acting. The fact that this movie does not wind up as number 1 or 2 is a testament to the quality of films released this year. Moss is based on a comic book, but I had never read it before watching the film. You do not need to have read it to enjoy this film. It is a must-see and would be a good introduction to Korean cinema for someone not familar with them as it is easy to understand.
3. I Saw the Devil– Another excellent movie. Whether or not the controversy prior to its release was real or a publicity stunt (an idea proposed by many viewers in Korea) the fact is the violence is no greater than many Korean films. However, I admit the level is cruelty is higher–though not to the point of Missing (which I still haven’t gotten through). With two powerfully talented actors like Lee Byeong-heon and Choi Min-shik, it is hard to imagine this film being anything but a success.
2. Poetry– An older woman decides to take a poetry class and winds up trying to express her life through poems. This simple premise makes for a beautiful story. This film has won numerous awards including for Best Actress and was recognized at Cannes. This impression may be too short, so I will add two more words– Watch It!
1. Bedeviled— My favorite film of this year–and many years. Bedeviled is very nearly the perfect Korean movie. It is the kind of film that I was worried we would not see again in Korean cinema. Many movies these days are very Hollywood-ized and lack the feeling of being true Korean films, but not Bedeviled. You could pick this film out of time and drop it in almost any decade over the last 40 years and (except for some of the violence) it would fit right in. The movie received a very limited release earlier this year–it did not open in Jeonju. I could not view it until it was released on HanaTv (a direct television service). Since watching it, I have been recommending it to everyone I know. Not on DVD as of this writing, but watch for it. If you buy only one DVD this year, Bedeviled should be the one.