10 Best Korean Movies of 2018

The fastest growing cinema, in terms of commercial success and critical appreciation, is indubitably Korean. After decades of not having a cinematic pioneer, the industry is gradually growing from strength to strength. There have been enough samples in the newest century of Korean cinema’s high appeal to audiences. From movies like ‘Oldboy’ and ‘Memories of Murder’, to ‘The Handmaiden’ and ‘The Wailing’, Korean films have matched other contemporary cinema toe to toe. In fact, Na Hong jin’s 2016 ‘The Wailing’ prompted Jada Yuan of Vulture to say that Korean cinema is “operating on a level that makes most American cinema seem clunky and unimaginative”.

2018 was no different and saw valuable additions to the growing list of Korean cinematic masterpieces. ‘Burning’ took everyone by surprise and emerged as one of the best movies of the year. Here’s the list of top Korean movies released in 2018. The list includes Korean thriller movies, Korean romantic movies and Korean horror movies.

10. The Negotiation

We’ve all seen and loved and hated movies about hostage situations and charismatic dealers. ‘The Negotiation’ is based on a similar formula, though the reaction is somewhat mixed. When a crisis presents itself, Hae Chae-yun readies herself. Having had a history of unprecedented success with resolving such situations and safely overseeing the release of hostages, Hae is extremely popular. But when she is confronted with an extraordinarily calm kidnapper, her skills are put to the toughest test in her life. The overused plot concept draws deep sighs throughout. The element of surprise os something that Lee Jong could have used more effectively. Ideas wise, the story is nonchalantly bland, opting to play out its messy plotline with seemingly non-existent vibrancy and energy. The cast puts up a great fight. Son ye-Jin is spectacular as the troubled officer, effortlessly weaving through her emotional range and giving a great account of herself. Hyun Bin makes for a terrifying antagonist, though, the limited character of his villain restraints him from trying new stuff. Overall, ‘The Negotiation’ is bolstered by spirited performances and a few well-crafted action sequences that make it worth a watch.

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10. Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days

Along With the Gods: The Last 49 Days follows the journey of 3 Afterlife Guardians and Su-hong as they journey through their 49th trial in order to gain their reincarnations and how the Guardians slowly recover their forgotten memories through Household God in the living world. How often can sequels live up to the brilliance of their successful prequels? Not very often is the answer I think. ‘Godfather’ was a rarity that is hard to repeat. ‘Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days’ certainly tries to follow with great discipline in the footsteps of its glorious predecessor. From the production design to the spontaneous and endearing light-heartedness to the glowing spirit of life that made the first part so enjoyable, the sequel’s pattern is flawlessly similar to the original. But the end product deceives. The lethargic pace is hard to fall off from and really sucks the energy out of the film. Still, a watchable film that will certainly entertain.

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9. Keys To the Heart

‘Keys To The Heart’ cleverly defines the film with its caption: “Off-tune brothers unite”. The aptness is reflected in the character sketches of Joh-ha Kim and Jin-tae Oh, two brothers; one disabled by the body, the other, fate. They reunite through the stories of their vibrant mother and spend time together to strengthen their family ties and wage a battle against the vagrant life, fighting a united front. ‘Keys to the Heart’ fundamentally relies on the performances of its two leads, who deliver masterful turns. With every grimace and change of expression, they arrest out attention, disarming us with their charm and casting a spell that lasts long after the film ends. The impact-driven message of the film boasts a universal appeal, making the film accessible to a diverse spectrum of audiences around the globe.

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8. Sunset in My Hometown

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Lee Joon-ik has been accused of appeasing award organizers in the past with his films. The mainstream chant that his films align to is often lambasted for its lack of content and an overbearing presence of artificial emotions. ‘Sunset in My Hometown’ runs along similar lines, though differentiating itself from Lee’s other works through an incredibly talented cast. The organic chemistry that the ensemble shares becomes the bedrock of the film, ably supported by a well-scripted plotline. It revolves around an aspiring rapper, Hak-su, who returns to his hometown to visit his ill, estranged father and whilst there ends up arrested for a phishing scam and reuniting with old friends. ‘Sunset in My Hometown’ is a fairly atypical small-town dramedy that involves building bridges and learning life lessons is elevated by Lee Joon-ik’s confident and balanced direction and excellent performances from Park Jung-min and the always impressive Kim Go-eun.

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7. The Great Battle

The Great Battle (2018)

Carlyle once famously remarked, “History is nothing but biographies of great men”. ‘The Great Battle’ employs the philosophy and delivers a powerful action-packed film capable of dismantling big-budget popcorn entertainers of the West. The plot is placed “in 645 AD, where the Tang Dynasty’s emperor Li starts his invasion into Goguryeo, one of the ancient kingdoms of Korea. One victory after another, the Tang army marches into Ansi, protected by General Yang, the lord of the fortress. Abandoned by his country and outnumbered by thousands, the brave general gathers his men and women to face the Tang army on his own”. ‘The Great Battle’ forges a rewarding bond with realistic cinema and depiction of cross-country political discourse. An extremely well-made thriller with a brilliant narrative and direction. The character build up was phenomenal, no suspense but total adrenaline rush from the very beginning will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat. Despite veering off into the less ‘rational’ territory every now and then, Kim Kwang-sik’s epic historical declaration is nothing short of a miracle.

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6. I Can Speak

Much like Kanji Watanabe’s work ethic and dedication to his profession, Lee Je-hoon’s Park Min also lives to serve the society. When an octogenarian lady approaches the authorities to fix her surroundings, Park forms an unprecedented friendship, displaying resilience and honesty that misses public officials in contemporary times. ‘I Can Speak’ starts off like a lighthearted, family, comedy-drama and builds steadily on the premise of its unexpected friendship, to deliver a resonating and cathartic ending, filled with heartfelt laughs and true humane emotions, enough to evoke tears and unfamiliar joy.

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5. Be With You

Woo-jin and son Ji-ho grieve for their pillar in life; wife and mother, who died mysteriously, never to come back. Miraculously, the monsoon brings Soo-a back, troubling the father-son duo. The overwhelming joy quickly disappears as Soo-a fails to register the two in her memory. Korean cinema has managed to create romance melodramas, much like this one, with such conviction and earnestness that it makes American cinema look childish. Where other countries might be more cynical or sarcastic, this one here loves its characters. The film’s heart rests in the comparison of the bond that the characters shared then and now. ‘Be With You’ is lovely and funny and heartbreaking and charming all wrapped up in one great package.

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4. The Spy Gone North

In 1993, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service hires the services of former military officer Suk-young Park to spy on imperial groups on foreign soil. Park is assigned an alias and the code name “Black Venus”. His objective is to secretly infiltrate a group of high-ranking North Korean officials based in Beijing, and also pilfer sensitive information on their bitter rival’s nuclear program. After becoming close to Myong-un Ri, a key power broker, Park’s success allows him to form a close and intimate bond with North Korea’s political leadership, but counters on both the sides threaten to play spoil-sport in his grand plan. Action is substituted by realist dialogue and unnecessary detractors from the story with a sense of urgency that gnaws at you throughout. Soy-thrillers have often conformed to the generic themed-narrative fashioned out of years of influential cinema and vanguards. ‘The Spy Gone North’ knits its own fabric, with great style and substance, to gift us a compelling thriller film that we will remember for some time to come.

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3. 1987: When the Day Comes

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In 1987 Korea, oppression and torture have become as routine as clockwork. Citizens get arrested quicker than the clouds change shape. One such incident sees a college student taken by the authorities and interrogated and tortured. His death is quickly covered up by government officials and order the body to be cremated. The public prosecutor, who still believes in the power of his pristine institution, probes into the death. Despite facing a grave and massive challenge in the form of a dictatorial government, he brings out the truth, inciting public outrage and a revolution against the ruling regime. ‘When The Day Comes’ highly impresses with its stark thematic undertones and meticulous legal research, replete with terrific performances and a hair-raising retelling of a courageous act that still inspires legal practitioners around the world.

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2. Stand By Me

Oh, my heart. Memory evades when me when I come to think of the last time I cried so heavily and profusely when I begin to describe this momentous film. Despite its shoe-string budget and obscureness from the public eye, ‘Stand By Me’ is one of the year’s finest dramas. The plotline itself is a tearjerker. A dying grandfather, who raises his grandchildren on his own, prepares to depart with a special gift for the two. Shot in just over thirty days, ‘Stand By Me’ grounds its philosophical exposition in pure human emotions of empathy and compassion, redefining with it the meaning of family. The profound cinematic experience is humbling and imitates with great effect the prosaic brilliance of Murakami’s short stories. A truly special film that needs to be talked about more.

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1. Burning

‘Burning’ is one of the year’s best movies. Revolving around a rather simplistic premise, ‘Burning’ finds its voice through the brilliant performance of Steven Yeun and the vision of director Lee Chang. Yeon’s performance here is something only the upper echelons of actors can muster; it’s like a hybrid of PSH from ‘The Master’ and Yoo ji-Tae from Oldboy. There are some stunning sequences here; I could feel my neck swirling along to Hae-mi’s sunset sequence, the lifelessness in Ben’s confessions to Jong-su, the serene burning sequence and the final act, which reinstates there’s nobody better than Korean filmmakers when the challenge of evoking emotions in the most visceral form arises. ‘Burning’ takes it one step higher; it lets you see emotions being unraveled, the sorrow, it expresses it for you.he film is constantly winding towards something menacing, quietly and patiently. To say the film is a slow burn would be A.) an understatement and B.) a terrible pun.

Apart from an eye-catching cinematography and an immersive background score Burning has a meticulous depiction of the social reality of contemporary South Korea where class conflict and obsessive love gives birth to a haunting and Hypnotic psychological thriller. The multilayered structure of Burning is noteworthy too, at the beginning it is all about the isolation of the protagonist and his sudden encounter with a pretty dancer Hae-mi; while the second half offers the spine-chilling mysterious elements and with these separate segments, Burning accomplishes to be a quiet yet devastating work of art.

However, Burning has such a haunting, delirious impact after concluding that it is almost impossible to shake. It’s the type of film that makes it hard to walk afterward. ‘Burning’ is a meditative symphony, offering mystery in each frame and no unambiguous answers, crescendoing to a near-perfect ending that colors everything that precedes it unforgettable.

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