Sheridan Courtney, a recent Worcester graduate, studied a joint honours in Film Studies and Film Production BA (Hons) at an Undergraduate level and has recently completed a Masters qualification in Creative Media, striking a balance between theory and practice. Here he discusses the current trends in Korean Cinema and what to watch next if you enjoyed Parasite.
A screen shot from the film "Parasite" featuring a fimly crowded around pizza boxes on the floor
Parasite 2019

Having made film history for its international success and numerous prestigious accolades, Bong Joon-ho’s dark comedy thriller Parasite (2019) has brought South Korean cinema deservedly into the minds of the masses.

Audiences unfamiliar with South Korean cinema might be wondering where to go next to fill the hole left by Parasite, and need look no further. 

 

 

The Host (2006)

A still from the film The Host featuring two children covered in dirt looking at the camera
The Host 2006

Prior to Parasite, Snow Piercer (2013) and the Netflix Original Okja (2017), Bong Joon-ho’s thrilling monster movie, The Host,was released on a record number of screens in South Korea in 2006. Once again with family at its heart, Joon-ho takes on a satirical edge and political commentary in what could otherwise be a straight-forward monster film.

Loosely inspired by a real-life case in which a Korean mortician was ordered to dump formaldehyde down a drain while working for the US military, the film’s fish-like beast is conceived through similar uncaring ineptitude, eventually emerging from the Han River to attack the citizens of Seoul. When the monster snatches a young girl, her family must come together to save her. Not unlike Parasite, it is a hybrid-genre film that blends satire, horror, and family drama together very well, punctuated by comedic moments that don’t feel at all out of place.  

Oldboy (2003)

A still from the film Oldboy of a man with extremely backcombed hair grimacing
Oldboy 2003

Alongside Bong Joon-ho, Park Chan-wook played an integral part in the New Wave of South Korean cinema in the early 2000s, swiftly becoming one of the country’s most prominent directors following the critical success of the 2003 film Oldboy.

Part of a thematic trilogy on the futility of revenge (which also includes Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance) Oldboy’s neo-noir revenge narrative twists and turns towards a shocking conclusion that is hard to stomach, both for the film’s tragic lead, Oh Dae-su, and audiences alike. With masterful cinematography throughout, as well as a truly impressive corridor fight sequence shot in one continuous take, Oldboy rightfully remains at the forefront for fans of South Korean film. 

A Bittersweet Life (2005)

A still from the film A Bittersweet life of a man holding a gun and deliberating
A Bittersweet Life 2005

Continuing on with the Korean New Wave theme, Kim Jee-woon’s action crime thriller was listed third in Empire’s “20 Greatest Gangster Movies You’ve Never Seen (Probably).” Any satire, political commentary or notes on the fruitlessness of revenge are left at the door of this slick, straight-forward and straight-shooting South Korean flick, but it doesn’t make it any less satisfying.

Having worked his way to the top, hitman Sun-woo is tasked with watching the boss’s mistress, a task that sees his career as a gangster quickly plummeting to the ground. Utilising glorious choreography, a suitably bittersweet soundtrack, and beautiful cinematography, A Bittersweet Life does not pretend to be anything other than it is, a stylish piece of pure entertainment. 

Snowpiercer (2013)

A still from the film Snowpiercer of a man aiming a gun at the camera
Snowpiercer 2013

Based on a French graphic novel, shot mostly in English and starring American actor Chris Evans, it may feel like somewhat of a stretch to add the South Korean-Czech co-production to this list. However, with Bong Joon-Ho once again driving the train, the science-fiction action blockbuster may help ease audiences who may be adverse to subtitled films and transport them further down the track into world cinema.

Once again imbued with commentary on class structure and holding a black mirror up against the world, Joon-ho this time tackles the threat of global warming. Aboard the Snowpiercer train, the last fragments of humanity are hurtled across an apocalyptic frozen planet, passengers segmented by carriages based on their social class. With the lower-classes at the back of the train, a revolution is set in motion against the social elites of the front carriages. Bleak, bold and bloody, Snowpiercer is a wild ride not to be missed, and definitely not to be confused with The Polar Express.

I’m A Cyborg, But That’s Okay (2006)

A still from the film I'm a cyborg but that's ok of a girl holding a cup to her ear
I’m A Cyborg, But That’s Okay 2006

Having covered South Korean monster, action, thriller, science-fiction movies, it only makes sense to lighten the tone with something a little less heavy-going. Following the finale of The Vengeance Trilogy, South Korean auteur Park Chan-wook returned with a bizarrely unconventional romantic comedy.

Young-goon, a young woman who believes she is a cyborg who can forego eating three-square meals per day (instead opting to lick batteries for nourishment) soon finds love within the psychiatric ward in which she is committed, developing a relationship with Il-soon, a young man in a rabbit mask who believes he can swipe the souls of unsuspecting people. Though I’m A Cyborg is arguably not one of Park Chan-wook’s strongest films (one may look towards Joint Security Area, Thirst or Oldboy), the wacky melodrama offers a light breather between the gritty qualities of South Korea’s most well-known films. 

Honourable Mentions

  • Memories of Murder (2003) dir. Bong Joon-ho
  • Okja (2017) dir. Bong Joon-ho
  • Thirst (2009) dir. Park Chan-wook
  • The Man From Nowhere (2010) dir.Lee Jeong-beom
  • Train to Busan (2016) dir. Yeon Sang-ho
  • I Saw The Devil (2010) dir. Kim Jee-woon

This is merely a small insight into recent or New Wave Korean films and by no means an exhaustive list, highlighting the increasing success and globalisation of the Korean film industry, made clearer by the huge, unprecedented critical and commercial international success of Parasite.

The waves made by Joon-ho’s film will likely ripple into future film study, theory and practice, marking an exciting new time in cinema history. In the meantime, between South Korea’s Golden Age of cinema in the 50s through to 1972, and the New Wave of the late-90s and early-2000s, viewers have a wealth of movies to preoccupy themselves with.

World Cinema and Asian Cinema were modules covered on the Film Studies BA (Hons) course at the University of Worcester, and were among my favourite subjects when I studied here.

All views expressed in this blog are the Academic’s own and do not represent the views, policies or opinions of the University of Worcester or any of its partners.