There’s no doubt many countries dominate their individual film markets. It’s hard to ignore the United States’ film industry due to how many films it churns out in a given year. However, even in foreign markets, certain countries have a recognizable industry for many reasons. French films have their artistic nature, Swedish films were made prominent by Ingmar Bergman’s directing, Japanese films focused on the historical timeframes of their past. Even in East Asia, movies by Chinese, Russian, and Indian film industries are usually considered part of the oeuvre of the foreign film market. And yet, even small countries like South Korea have made significant contributions to the world of film even as early as a decade after declaring independence from the North. This week’s two films highlight some gems from the South Korean film industry.
Length: 120 minutes / 2.0 hours
South Korea really broke into the international film scene around the turn of the 21st Century. Sure, they had made films before then, it’s just that now they were creating more movies that were noteworthy of international attention. Films like Audition (1999) and Attack the Gas Station (1999) merely paved the way for the renaissance in South Korean movies that would continue from there. Movies like 3-Iron (2004), The Host (2006), and The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008) have shown that South Korea can work within already-defined genres like romance, monsters, and comedy, respectively. When they push the boundaries of some of these genres, like Oldboy (2003), and the South Korean-directed Snowpiercer (2013), it’s easy to realize that South Korea has a style and influence that is wholly their own.
Based on a Japanese manga of the same name, Oldboy follows Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) on a journey of revenge against a foe he does not know. 15 years ago, he was abducted and trapped in a hotel room with nothing to do but train his body. When he was finally released, he determined to punish those who had stolen those years of his life. With the help of a young woman he meets in a nearby restaurant, Dae-su tracks down the mastermind behind his imprisonment: an old schoolmate by the name of Lee Woo-jin (Yoo Ji-tae). Woo-jin enacted his own revenge on Dae-su without him even realizing it, the 15 years trapped in the hotel room meant to provide poetic justice to the wrong Woo-jin suffered at the hands of Dae-su decades earlier. While this shocking revelation changes Dae-su’s relationship with the young woman, he tries to forget this connection to grab onto this fleeting happiness.
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 109 minutes / 1.8 hours
One of the rare gems of the South Korean film industry reveals that their recent successes are not by accident. Even back in 1960, mere years after South Korea separated itself from the North, their cultural strength allowed them to make films like The Housemaid (1960). It is unfortunate this movie didn’t immediately light the flames of a burgeoning industry, and that South Korea had to wait four decades before the international film critics would take them seriously again. It’s certainly clear the South Koreans had their fundamentals down. Sure, by today’s standards The Housemaid might be more along the lines of daytime television soap operas, but even with this comparison drawn, the strength of its story and drama make it just as relevant today as it was back when it was first released.
When the burdens of maintaining a household become too much for Mrs. Kim (Ju Jeung-ryu), her husband, Dong-sik Kim (Kim Jin-kyu) hires a housemaid to help out. This housemaid (Lee Eun-shim) does her duties but is a strange creature. In an all-too-common scenario, the housemaid eventually seduces and is impregnated by Mr. Kim, adding drama to the household. As a result of Mrs. Kim wanting the housemaid to induce a miscarriage, the housemaid starts plotting the demise of the Kim family’s two children (and one unborn child). Through some elaborate plans involving rat poison, Mr. Kim eventually finds out that his food has been tainted by replacing the rat poison with sugar, noticing the sweet taste in his soup one evening. The housemaid has such control over the family that she convinces Mr. Kim to commit suicide with her by the very same poison.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 South Korean classics