Thursday 10 May 2012

Korean Film Archive on YouTube

Exciting news! The Korean Film Archive has created a YouTube channel, which features many classic Korean films for free streaming. You can check it out here:

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Podcast on Hong Sang-soo

A podcast on Hong over at VCinema, which is also hosting a blog series by Adam Hartzell on Hong's film THE DAY HE ARRIVES:

Monday 23 April 2012

Cinetracks radio show on Arirang

Tomorrow at Midnight (technically Wednesday 12:00 am Korean time) I will appear on the Arirang radio show Cinetracks for their Spotlight section. This will be a weekly segment, focusing on a different Korean director or actor each week. This week's director is Hong Sang-soo.

If you are in Canada, it will air Tuesday at noon in the Maritimes, 11 am in Quebec/Ontario. The link is below. There is also an iphone/android app that will allow you to listen. 

2012 Jeonju International Film Festival Preview

Sunday 22 April 2012

Monday 5 March 2012

A Hong Sang-Soo Primer

As a contribution to the Korean Cinema Blogathon and as an ode to the great AV Club "Primer" series of beginner guides to pop culture subjects, I decided to offer an overview of a decidedly non-pop filmmaker: the Korean master Hong Sang-soo. Also, given that I have a presentation on Hong to give in a couple of weeks, I thought writing about the totality of his work would be a good exercise.

Hong 101

I saw my first Hong film just over four years ago, beginning with his 1996 debut, The Day a Pig Fell in the Well, which established many of Hong's recurrent characters and themes: there is a artist, Hyo-Seop, a writer, involved with two women: Min-jae, a younger woman who worships him, and Bo-gyeong, an older married woman. The film also follows Bo-gyeong's husband, Dong-u, as well as Min-su, a disturbed young man infatuated with Min-jae. The difficulty of male-female relationships, as well as the doubling and overlapping structure, certainly established a pattern for Hong's future work, but in many other ways it is atypical. This is true of both the dark, menacing tone and the rather expressive editing style. Similar to other "network" movies featuring large ensembles interconnecting, The Day a Pig Fell in the Well feels grander and more didactic in its themes than anything that would follow. As Hong's career moves forward, his tone begins to lighten, his editing style begins to slow, and meaning becomes more allusive.

2002's Turning Gate, Hong's fourth feature, is the first to follow a single protagonist, the actor Gyeong-su, as he has a relationship with two different women. Long takes now dominate Hong's style, and while there are some repetitions, the structural rigor of the first three films has been loosened. There are those who consider this one of Hong's masterworks, but I'm not among them. For me, Hong is at his least interesting when dwelling upon a single male character and making him the major focus. This is probably because his male characters feel like such dead-ends and showing the follies of these men has only limited value. For all their flaws, the women in Hong's work provide most of the energy and interest.

A major transitional text, if for me another of his lesser works, is 2005's A Tale of Cinema. This is the first Hong film to make filmmaking an explicit theme while continuing to explore his interest in dysfunctional couples and repetitions. The film director Dong-su watches a short film by his senior director Hyeong-su. The second half features Dong-su pursuing the actress of that film, Yeong-sil. With A Tale of Cinema, Hong introduces a new stylistic device: the zoom. With his previous film, Woman is the Future of Man, Hong made almost no movement into a scene, playing out the entire film in a long shot, long take style. The zoom allows Hong to maintain his long take style and yet still provide some variation in shot scale, but he also uses the zoom in a peculiar way. It is both very self-reflexive, as even the least sophisticated viewer cannot help but notice each zoom, and also strangely un-expressive in any traditional sense. One not only notices the zoom, but usually has a difficult time deciphering its meaning.

A Tale of Cinema at the same time marks a departure for Hong in that after this film, he would no longer feature explicit sex scenes. Much has been made of how "unsexy" Hong's films are, that despite (or maybe because?) of the explicit sex scenes the films had little erotic appeal. I think this is at best an overstatement and at worse a typical art cinema denial of any kind of bodily pleasure. Since its inception, art cinema has traded on erotic appeal, and likewise, since its beginning, critics have downplayed its importance. Certainly, many of the sex scenes of Hong's first six features have moments of uncomfortable sex that is presented more realistically than the usual smoothness of the sex acts in most movies. But couldn't it be argued that this very realism, this quotidian sexuality, gives it a different kind of erotic charge, different but nevertheless still real and potent? It's also worth noting that the elimination of explicit sex has not eliminated eroticism from his art, but has merely shifted its emphasis, making it more suggestive (and thus more traditionally "erotic").

Intermediate Work

Hong's oeuvre can be largely categorized as comedic, especially his more recent work (the removal of explicit and usually unsettling sex has perhaps helped this). It's hard to find an exact point when the comedic turn really takes hold, but 2006's follow-up to A Tale of Cinema, Woman on the Beach, seemed to establish a transition into a lighter tone and a less formally rigorous structure. Not that the repetitions are not still there, but overall the films feel less like a puzzle than some of the earlier work. Woman on the Beach is not a particularly difficult film to grasp or understand, which is not to say that it isn't as thought-provoking in its own way. Rather, the ideas become more explicitly discussed by characters, and the audience has to participate in the dialogue rather than making pieces fit. It may also be the first Hong film with a rather upbeat ending, and one in which a female character (played by the great Go Hyeon-jeong, who would appear in two later Hong films) almost takes over the narrative from the male protagonist.

Continuing in this comedic vein is 2008's Night and Day, which mostly takes place in Paris. The lead character, the painter Seong-nam, cannot return to Korea for fear of being arrested for having smoked marijuana (the harshness of drug penalties being more severe than the West). Separated from his wife, he begins an affair with a fellow ex-pat art student. Probably the Hong film that shows the biggest influence of Eric Rohmer and Luis Bunuel, Night and Day disappeared after its original release for a few years, and only recently has become available again on home video. I saw the film at the 2008 Jeonju film festival, and was my first Hong film seen with an audience. The very positive reaction to the movie, especially its comedy, gave me a better feel for how to approach Hong going forward, and even to reconsider the earlier films.

Hong would continue in this comedic tone with his next two films, 2009's Like You Know It All and 2010's Hahaha. Like You Know It All reunited Hong with actor Kim Tae-woo, who plays an art cinema director who spends the first half of the film on a festival jury and the second half visiting a university in Jeju Island to give a lecture. This is obviously a world Hong knows very well, and the character of Kyeongnam is the closest to a Hong surrogate that we have seen. Hahaha also has some clear autobiographical elements, especially given the fact that it is set near his own hometown. Here the comedy turns almost farcical, and Hong's deconstruction of masculinity is at its most thorough. Again, it is the women who really provide the interest, especially Moon So-ri, working with Hong for the first time, in one of the lead roles. While both of these films are enjoyable, they did seem to be traversing some of the same ground Hong had been exploring since Woman on the Beach. Although I do not think the criticism that Hong is repetitive holds much water, I was glad that Hong tried something a bit different in tone and scale with his two most recent films.

Advanced Studies

Although one of the least discussed of Hong's films, 1998's The Power of Kangwon Province is one of the more structurally complex works of his career. The first half shows us the journey of Ji-suk, who is traveling with her friends and trying to get over a recently ended love affair with a married man, Sang-gwon. The second half shows Sang-gwon's journey to the same location, although the two don't meet until the film's conclusion. The two halves of the film fit together in an alternating pattern when the story is reconstructed. Perhaps its only equal in terms of narrative complexity is his next film, 2000's The Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors. This film's narrative has been debated, with some viewing it as an art cinema-style Rashomon case, in which first the male and then the female character give their perspective. However, others, most notably Hong scholar Marshall Deutelbaum, insist that each scene only plays once, and that in the film's second half we are simply getting different time perspective. Thus, it is not a question of one character or another getting sick, but rather both characters getting sick at different times of the same evening. This argument is compelling, showing how Hong is trying to get his audience to not think in simple art cinema cliches. But there is at least one sequence, and a key one, which is shown from two different perspectives. It is thus not clear that Hong isn't deploying an dual perspective narrative, or at least deliberately misleading his audience to this conclusion. This type of narrative play would continue in some later work, but ceases to be the major element like it is in the early films. This is one reason why Hong's later work is more accessible, and why it may be best to work backwards in chronology if first coming to his work at this current time.

The Essentials

1. The Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (2000): it is difficult to designate a Hong masterpiece, since the quality of his work is so remarkably consistent, but this is certainly the film that has provoked the most discussion for its puzzle-like structure. It also features striking black and white photography, which Hong would not return to until his latest, The Day He Arrives.

2. Oki's Movie (2010): at a quick 80 minutes, this may be the ideal first film for a Hong neophyte. Consisting of four short films featuring the same recurring actors (and perhaps characters?), it is yet another Hong film set at a film school and involving teachers and students. The final sequence, also titled "Oki's Movie", features the character of Oki recalling two separate dates with two different men, each taking place at the same time of year and location, only years apart. It is the best twenty minutes of Hong's career.

3. Night and Day (2008): my vote for Hong's funniest film, and also one with the greatest surrealist streak. This element has been present ever since The Day a Pig Fell in the Well (which is obliquely referenced here), with its matter of fact dream sequence, but reaches its fullest expression here, with nods back to Bunuel's L'Age d'Or. Not surprisingly, the result is also probably Hong's most erotic work, despite the absence of explicitness.

4. Lost in the Mountains (2009): one of Hong's harder to find films, this 35-minute short was made as part of the 2009 Jeonju Digital Project. It features a couple of important firsts in his career: the first voiceover narration and the first female protagonist. This produces the most progressive work of his career, albeit one that requires a familiarity with his earlier films to really have the ending's emotional and almost cathartic release hit home. Interestingly, the three leads would reunite two years later on Oki's Movie, which also has the format of the short film. In many ways this can be seen as a forerunner of that later masterpiece.

5. Woman is the Future of Man (2004): the most spare and minimalist of all of Hong's films, with just 51 shots in an 87 minute running time. Apparently, the shorter than length was unintentional, as a whole sequence had to be removed because Hong couldn't make the rhythm work in the editing room. Watching the film you wouldn't suspect it, as everything works together quite perfectly (unlike 2011's The Day He Arrives, another shorter film that did feel somewhat incomplete). Hong's obsessions, especially regarding repetitions, really seems to peak here. Maybe his most perfect film, if one that is maybe too slight and alienating to be considered his absolute best.

Korean Cinema Blogathon

On now until the end of the week, check out the Korean cinema blogathon:

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Picture Essay: THE THIRD MAN in Vienna

I just arrived back in Seoul from a two week summer holiday in Europe, which included a stop in Vienna, Austria. I was excited to see Vienna partly (OK, mostly) because one of my favorite movies, Carol Reed's 1949 film noir THE THIRD MAN, was set and partially shot in the post-war city (as was another movie I quite like, BEFORE SUNRISE). THE THIRD MAN is one of the films I have seen most often, many times on a very bad public domain VHS copy. I was pleased to find that the city very much caters to cinephiles similarly obsessed with the film. A local cinema, the Burg Kino, has screenings of the film in 35mm three times a week, and I was able to catch a late Friday screening. Seeing the city itself certainly makes a viewing of the film a fresh and new experience, even if it's the 50th plus time. But the constant screenings are only part of the story. There is also a walking tour, a tour of the kanal sewer, and, best of all, the Third Man Museum, a private collection by Gerhard Strassgschschwandter made available to the public on Saturday afternoons, 2pm-6pm, as well as by appointment on Tuesday evenings. It claims to be the only museum in the world devoted to a single film, and the amount of material assembled is very impressive. The following is a picture essay detailing some of the sights of Vienna today compared with shots from the original film, along with a tour of the museum itself.

The famous doorway where we first meet Harry Lime. Doesn't really look the same in person, yet comparing the photographs it is remarkably similar all these years later.

The Riesenrad, the Ferris wheel which still exists in the Prater amusement park and where Harry Lime compares people to dots.


The first room of the collection features bios of the cast and crew, including many of the supporting actors taken from the Viennese stage and screen, as well as many posters and photos detailing the film and its history.

Next is a room dedicated to composer Anton Karas, including over 400 covers of the "Third Man theme" which are available for listening, as well as the original zither used by Karas to compose the score.

One of the more unusual exhibits is an original sewer from the period, which reveals that they were in fact too thick for one's fingers to fit through. Reed had to build a prop to create the surreal shot of the fingers coming out of the ground (those are Reed's own fingers).

There is a small reading room of THIRD MAN literature, in both English and German.

A brief two minute clip of the film is shown on an original projector from the post-war period.

A collection of VHS and DVD boxes, including the "Hollywood Classics" edition I wore out many years earlier.

Yes, there were THIRD MAN boardgames.

A nice discovery: a Croatian remake of THE THIRD MAN titled TRECA ZENA (THE THIRD WOMAN) from 1997, in which the gender of the characters is reversed and the setting changed to post-war Croatia of the early 90s. Sounds fascinating but haven't located a copy yet.

The final room features an exhibition on THE THIRD MAN in Japan, with many posters and collectibles on the film's impact in that country. Particularly of interest is the large number of Japanese advertising using the film's final shot, which is generally avoided in the North American and European promotions. An academic essay explaining this phenomenon awaits at some point.

More detailed information on the museum can be found at their website. A must-see if you are a fan and in Vienna for a visit.

Saturday 12 March 2011

Jeonju Film Festival and Jeonju Digital Project

The Korean blogathon concludes today, so I thought I would contribute one final post for the week. Thanks to Martin at New Korean Cinema and to cineAWESOME! for hosting this week. You can find the blogathon's link page here.

In less than two months, the 12th Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF) will open (April 28-May 6). This will be my fourth year attending, and it is my favorite of Korea's festivals, even more so than the Pusan (now Busan) festival. It does not attract the same prestigious new films as Busan, but it makes up for this with its retrospectives and JIFF master classes. In 2008, I was able to attend a screening of Bela Tarr's 8 hour SATANTANGO, followed by a Q & A with Tarr. In 2009, there were master classes with film critics Raymond Bellour, Richard Porton, and Adrian Martin. Last year, film directors Bong Joon-ho and Pedro Costa gave extended lectures as part of the master class program. These are experiences other festivals rarely offer, and why Jeonju is such a popular destination for true film lovers. Another unique aspect is the annual Jeonju Digital Project, in which three filmmakers are given 50 million won (approximately 50,000 dollars) to make a roughly 30 minute short film (the actual running times vary from 12 to 43 minutes, although most are close to the 30 minute mark). The festival has attracted a great range of directors, including many of the last decade's most prominent international auteurs. The full line-up is:

2000: Park Kwang-su, Kim Yun-tae, Zhung Yuan
2001: Jia Zhang-ke, John Akomfrah, Tsai Ming-Liang
2002: Suwa Nobuhiro, Moon Seung-wook, Wang Xiaoshuai
2003: Bahman Ghobadi, Aoyama Shinji, Park Ki-yong
2004: Bong Joon-ho, Yu Lik Wai, Ishii Sogo
2005: Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Tsukamoto Shinya, Song Il-Gon
2006: Darezhan Omirbayev, Eric Khoo, Pen-ek Ratanaruang
2007: Harun Farocki, Pedro Costa, Eugene Green
2008: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Idrissa Ouedraogo, Nacer Khemir
2009: Hong Sang-soo, Kawase Naomi, Lav Diaz
2010: James Benning, Denis Cote, Matias Pineiro
2011 (upcoming): Jean-Marie Straub, Claire Denis, Jose Luis Guerin

I have seen the 2009 and 2010 projects, and have purchased the box set issued by the festival that includes the 2000-2008 films. I've been (slowly) making my way through these films, and thought I'd offer a couple of reviews for two of the Korean films in the collection: Park Kwang-su's (2000) and Bong Joon-ho's Influenza (2004). Park and Bong are representative of two different movements and generations of Korean cinema. Born in 1955, Park made his feature debut in 1988 with Chilsu and Mansu and became one of the major figures of the Korean New Wave with such socio-political dramas as Black Republic (1990) and A Single Spark (1995). Over the past decade he has become less prominent within Korean cinema, as the shift has been made to the less politicized and more mainstream New Korean Cinema. Bong represents this newer movement. Born in 1969, he made his feature debut in 2000 with Barking Dogs Never Bite. He has gone to huge success over the past decade with Memories of Murder (2003), The Host (2006), and most recently Mother (2009). While certainly not without social interest, Bong's work is less directly political and certainly more exportable than the films Park and other New Wave filmmakers were making.

Despite this, the two films, perhaps because of their short, digital form, have certain similarities. Most notably, both are about the technological changes within the culture and the effect of this on individual characters. is a contemporary, Korean take on a familiar art-house genre, the film about filmmaking. The plot revolves around Hayan, a former internet porn star (hence the title) working in an art house film who is nevertheless subtly pressured into a nude scene.

The film opens with digital images of her porn site, and then with news that she will be starring in a "Chungmuro art film". The first dialogue is of Hayan on her cell phone, talking about the scene she is about to shoot and claiming it is not a sex scene, but a love scene, very different from the porn she used to make.

However, during the "love" scene, the director decides he needs to film her without any underwear, for "technical" reasons. Hayan eventually agrees, but the film ends by stating that she did not return after the first day of shooting, and that her website remains down. At first, the familiarity of the plot and theme makes the film somewhat off-putting, and there is a certain obviousness and didacticism here, things that are not uncommon in Park's work. However, by the conclusion, it ended up working for me.

While the exploitation of female actresses and their bodies is well-known and established, the actual emotion on Hayan's face as she fakes an orgasm has a visceral power. Park's cutting from this to the images on her porn site make for an effective conclusion, partly because it leaves open some interpretation to the audience. Why is this experience worse for Hayan than the porn films? Is it simply her shattered expectations? Is it the fact that she is not in control of the means of production? Has she realized her porn background has forever marked her as simply a porn actress and nothing more? is not as full and original a treatment of these themes as many of its art cinema predecessors, most notably Jean-Luc Godard's Contempt (1963), but given its form it really can't be. What it does (at least partially) successfully is update this theme to the contemporary digital age.

Influenza is a film even more concerned with digital technology, as it is filmed entirely with CCTV footage, tracing a single man's descent into crime. There are ten different scenes, beginning with the man, Cho Hyuk-rae, contemplating suicide (November 12, 2000) and ending with him trapped and about to be captured following a robbery and assault.

Given the limitations of the running time and budget, Bong created a rather ingenious narrative and stylistic form, limiting himself to this kind of primitive, early cinema, moving from black and white to color, and even including one camera that pans, although mechanically and without concern for capturing the action. It also contains a great deal of social commentary, although without any explicit agenda. We can see the forces at work that cause this man's fall, reducing him to a homeless man who has to turn to crime. And the constant surveillance itself feels like part of the oppression, the idea that one man's life can be tracked and turned into a cinematic entertainment without his knowledge. Watching the film, especially the conclusion, I was reminded of Jafar Panahi's Crimson Gold (2003). I do not know it was a direct influence, although Bong's Memories of Murder and Crimson Gold both played at many of the same festivals that year (Cannes, Toronto, Hawaii, Rotterdam). Like Panahi's great film, the crime here is seen within its context. It is not as rich a film in its social observation as Crimson Gold, but given the short form, Bong is able to create something special here, in my opinion his best work besides Memories of Murder.

Of all the Jeonju Digital Project films I have seen so far, my favorite, not surprisingly, is Hong Sang-soo's Lost in the Mountains. You can read my review from 2009 here.

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Top Ten Korean Films

As part of this week's Korean Blogathon, I thought I would contribute my Best Ten Korean films. Although my consumption of Korean cinema is far from comprehensive and heavily weighted towards certain auteurs, I have now seen enough films to provide a decent list. I decided to include only one film per director in order to vary the selection. My hope is that it provides a good introductory guide to the best Korean film has to offer. Also, the list is biased towards films of the past two decades. Part of this is because I have not seen a wide variety of classic Korean films, but mostly it is because I think contemporary Korean cinema surpasses its classic period, unlike the cinemas of America or Japan. This is mostly due to contextual factors. I have no doubt that under different conditions, directors like Kim Ki-young and Yoo Hyeon-mok could have made films that were the equivalent of John Ford, Akira Kurosawa, et al. But however interesting classic Korean cinema is (and it's one that is increasingly fascinating to me), I do not feel it compares aesthetically to contemporary Korean films. That said, here is my list:

1. SECRET SUNSHINE (Lee Chang-dong, 2007)

Finally receiving a release recently in North America, this is the Korean film that has stayed with me the longest. I'm a huge fan of Lee's 2002 OASIS, and while the social relevance of that film and his recent POETRY is greater, something about the style, performances and existential themes of SECRET SUNSHINE make it resonant in a way few movies have. The film so obsessed me that I wrote a long article trying to analyze and understand it (it's available here). I still don't believe I have. Not that I'm complaining. Other great films by Lee: PEPPERMINT CANDY (1999), OASIS (2002), and POETRY (2010).

2. LIES (Jang Sun-woo, 1999)

Director Jang Sun-woo spent the 1990s creating a number of provocative movies, such as ROAD TO THE RACETRACK (1991), FROM ME, TO YOU (1994), A PETAL (1996), and BAD MOVIE (1997). In 1999, he finally went all the way with his adaptation of the censored Korean novel LIES. It was censored and cut here in Korea (as was BAD MOVIE), only appearing uncut at festival screenings and eventually on foreign DVD releases. I first saw the film at the 2008 Chungmuro film festival here in Seoul, and thought it was one of the great films about not only sexuality and eroticism, but also Korean society as a whole. My original review is here. Also by Jang, A PETAL is essential and important viewing.


My favorite current director, Hong Sang-soo has made 11 features and one short film in the last 15 years. All are very good and worth seeing, thus selecting one of his films as a stand-out is difficult. I chose VIRGIN STRIPPED BARE because of its beautiful black and white look and its narrative complexity, a structure so challenging that critics continue to debate its significance. You can see my original review here. Other Hong films demanding serious consideration here are WOMAN IS THE FUTURE OF MAN, NIGHT AND DAY, LOST IN THE MOUNTAINS and OKI'S MOVIE.

4. AN AIMLESS BULLET (Yoo Hyeon-mok, 1961)

For a brief period of time in 1961, the Korean film censorship laws lessened, and Yoo Hyeon-mok took the opportunity to sneak in this great post-Korean war drama, reminiscent of the great Hollywood noirs. The bleakness of the film and its view of Korean society is rather stunning, unmatched by anything in Korean cinema until the birth of the Korean New Wave in the late 80s.

5. CHRISTMAS IN AUGUST (Hur Jin-ho, 1998)

Hur Jin-ho is the master of understated melodrama, and CHRISTMAS IN AUGUST is a near perfect example of the form. The plot outline of a young photographer who is slowly dying and the relationship he forms with a young girl sounds hopelessly maudlin, but is transformed by Hur's patient style. That a film that departs from the stylistic norm of intensified continuity so greatly could be such a box office attraction shows how adventurous Korean audiences of the late 90s were.

6. SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE (Park Chan-wook, 2002)

The first in Park's Vengeance trilogy, followed by the Cannes winner (and box office smash) OLD BOY and completed by LADY VENGEANCE. OLD BOY is probably the most accessible and crowd-pleasing of the three, while LADY VENGEANCE the most thorough in its deconstruction of revenge. SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE has a nice balancing of the two, avoiding the contradictory virtuosity of the violent set-pieces of OLD BOY while not sacrificing storytelling momentum in the manner of LADY VENGEANCE's final half. All three films work best together as a whole and represent Park's height as a director thus far.

7. TAKE CARE OF MY CAT (Jeong Jae-eun, 2001)

The only film on my list by a female director, who are still under-represented in Korean cinema. I saw this film at the 2008 Women's International Film Festival in Seoul, and was struck by how different it was from other female-centered films made in the west, in particular, the lack of focus on the character's relationships with men. Jeong's concern was to center the action around the young women, all recently graduated, and how their friendships change as they enter the adult world. In an interview after the screening, Jeong revealed that she constructed the story out of fragments of her own experience, and the result shows, with hardly a false note in the entire film. Original review here.

8. MEMORIES OF MURDER (Bong Joon-ho, 2003)

Within a serial killer genre that has really worn out its welcome since David Fincher's SEVEN in 1995, MEMORIES OF MURDER was able to bring something new to the table, managing to make a great entry into the genre while also critiquing it from within. Everything that critics said about the overly praised ZODIAC applies much more to Bong's masterpiece. Despite the success he achieved with THE HOST and MOTHER, this remains his best work. Original review here.

9. A GOOD LAWYER'S WIFE (Im Sang-soo, 2003)

I was first introduced to Im Sang-soo's cinema through his 2005 political satire THE PRESIDENT'S LAST BANG, a work I admired (especially for its politics) but didn't really love as cinema. The film he made previously, A GOOD LAWYER'S WIFE, is both socially astute while also being a superbly shot drama. It also features another amazing performance from the greatest of Korea's seemingly endless roster of incredible actresses, Moon So-ri. My original review is here. Also see Im's great reworking of THE HOUSEMAID.

10. THE HOUSEMAID (Kim Ki-Young, 1960)

While I personally may prefer Im Sang-soo's remake, Kim Ki-young's 1960 original is the more complex and disturbing work, a deft mixture of melodrama and horror that makes great use of Kim's interest in Freudian themes. The sympathies here are rather divided, with both the family and the housemaid shown to be monstrous in their own ways. The framing device also shows a modern self-awareness within this classical Korean text. My original review is here.

Honorable mention:

HAPPY END (Chung Ji-woo, 1999)

CHILSU AND MANSU (Park Kwang-su, 1988)

GILSODDEUM (Im Kwon-taek, 1986) and CHUNHYANG (Im Kwon-taek, 2000)

MADAME FREEDOM (Han Hyung-mo, 1956)

MY DEAR ENEMY (Lee Yoon-ki, 2008)