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January 7, 2018

Annual Top-Ten Lists for Korean Cinema 2017

by Darcy Paquet

On the Beach at Night Alone Although 2016 featured a gold mine of masterful big-budget releases (The Wailing, The Handmaiden, Train to Busan, The Age of Shadows), in 2017 we were back to a familiar pattern: independent directors, struggling to shoot their films on tiny budgets, completely outclassing the lineups of the major studios. There were a few exceptions to this rule, to be sure -- Jang Jun-hwan's 1987 was a truly inspiring look at a critical turning point in contemporary Korean history. That it came at a time when Korea is reckoning with the damage wrought by a decade of corrupt leadership made it even more poignant. The Fortress, like 1987 another CJ production, was surprisingly introspective and dark for such a big-budget film. The box office success of A Taxi Driver was encouraging (and a testament to the acting skills of Song Kang-ho), while I was also both impressed and entertained by Yang Woo-suk's political thriller Steel Rain. But it won't be hard to tell from looking at my list that these days at least, my heart is in the independent sector. These low-budget films are much more likely to surprise, inspire and challenge their audience, and most of them don't get nearly the exposure they deserve.

    1.  On the Beach At Night Alone and The Day After, dir. Hong Sangsoo
    2.  Jane, dir. Cho Hyun-hoon
    3.  1987, dir. Jang Jun-hwan
    4.  Romans 8:37, dir. Shin Yeon-shick
    5.  The First Lap, dir. Kim Dae-hwan
    6.  Still and All, dir. Kim Young-jo
    7.  Ash Flower, dir. Park Suk-young
    8.  Merry Christmas Mr. Mo, dir. Lim Dae-hyung
    9.  The Fortress, dir. Hwang Dong-hyuk
    10. The Table, dir. Kim Jong-kwan

December 14, 2017

Top 15 Korean Films of 2017

By Pierce Conran ModernKoreanCinema

Following what turned out to be one of the all-time best years of Korean cinema, 2017 had its work cut out for it, and, sure enough, it fell well short of 2016’s benchmark. Yet what could have been a placeholder year was saved but an array of important titles that signaled a changing current in the industry, particularly the mainstream.

The last 12 months in Korea have been tumultuous to say the least and this has absolutely been reflected in the country's cinema, as it has never put out such an incendiary lineup of films. With several bold and politically-tinged hits storming the box office, what 2016 taught us was that Korean filmmakers are no longer afraid to tackle sensitive subjects and clearly these are the stories that audiences want to see.

Outside of that trend, a couple of big directors (Bong Joon-ho, Hong Sangsoo) had landmark years, but overall 2016 was one of few standouts. Instead, it featured a large amount of above average films, including a broad array of impressive independent titles. Perhaps not the most compelling argument, but I found it to hard to list just 10 films this year, so I’ve once again stretched it to 15. 

As in previous years, feature-length films made in Korea and screened for the first time in 2017 (whether for a theatrical release or at a film festival) were considered. The following list was whittled down from about 120 films seen throughout the year.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know below.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from MKC!
1. Okja
2. Bamseom Pirates Seoul Inferno
=3. A Taxi Driver
=3. 1987: When the Day Comes
5. The First Lap
6. On the Beach at Night Alone
7. Microhabitat
8. Midnight Runners

9. The Fortress

I’ll admit it took me two viewings to reach my current judgement, but the austere period siege drama The Fortress will go down as one of most resonant commercial releases of the year. Echoing the shady politics of the country’s power players, this slow film is thatched together with deep musings on the fabric of power structures in Korean society, which are made to resonate through excellent performances (Lee Byung-hun, Kim Yun-seok, Park Hae-il and more), Kim Ji-yong’s sublime cinematography and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s moving score.

MKC Review

10. Ecology in Concrete
11. The Outlaws
12. The Merciless
13. Behind the Dark Knight
14. Coffee Noir: Black Brown
15. Real

Honorable Mentions

After My Death 
Criminal Conspiracy 
The Day After 
Heart Blackened
I'll Just Live in Bando
The King
A Single Rider
A Tiger in Winter
The Villainess




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