Since the beginning of the millennium and before, Korean movies have out grossed Hollywood movies in the domestic market. The Korean Movie Industry has recently become a major industry in Korean entertainment along with the export of Korean dramas. The result has been an increasingly diverse arrangement of themes and genres. In addition, these same movies have gained recognition and respect in various International Film Festivals such as Cannes or the now famous Pusan Film Festival winning many awards for their achievements. This has lead Korean movies to up their production value and surpass those blockbuster Hollywood movies that previously drew Korean audiences into movie theaters.
Shiri (1999) ---
This was the first Hollywood-style action film to be produced in the Korean film industry, and more than likely started the Korean film wave. It was created as homage to Hollywood action cinemas of the 1980s and contains a story of strong Korean national sentiment. The movie’s title refers to a fish found in Korea’s fresh-water streams symbolically emphasizing the waters of South and North Korea flowing freely together along with the fish. It also ties into the message concerning the issue of Korean reunification, one of the first movies to tackle this controversial topic.
Chunhyang (2000) ---
Based on Korea’s most famous and best loved folk tale of the same name and compared to Romeo and Juliet, this story and its movie remakes have become one of South Korea’s national icons. It is a Korean classic love story set in the Joseon era where a son of a rich aristocratic family Mong-Ryong Lee takes his servant Bang-Ja on a stroll when he encounters the beautiful Chun-Hyang on a traditional swing. Despite her lowly social position, she is beautiful and cultured, but also the daughter of an father who’s an aristocrat. Mong-Ryong falls madly in love with her and asks her to marry him. However, he will have to travel to seeks Hanyang take the official government entrance examinations. In the meantime, a town official by the name of Hak-Do Byun has set his eyes on Chun-Hyang’s beauty. However, she’s in love with Mong-Ryong an declares this so when she is tortured and wrongfully punished by the jealousy Hak-do. Mong-Ryong reappears, but as a beggar undercover because of an assignment to root out corrupt government officials. When Hak-do is discovered to be one of those officials, he is punished and also reprimanted for punishing Chun-hyang so wrongly. This particular version uses the Korean traditional form of storytelling called pansori. Cho Seung-won places the inconsiderate Mong-ryon and Lee Hyo-jeong plays the infamous Chunhyang.
Joint Security Area (2000)---
The film opens with a shooting in the village of Pammunjom, leaving two North Korean soldiers dead and one South Korean soldier wounded. Each country gives conflicting reports of the event with the NNSC sending in a Swiss military officer to conduct an investigation. After the investigator arrives, no one is willing to talk with her and it seems as if a secret is being hid. Starring Song Kang-ho and Lee Byung-hyun, it features some of the best scenes along the DMZ or Demilitarized Zone. This movie not only spawned headlines and broke box office records in 2000, it also drew half a million viewers in Seoul in its first week. It is also worth noting as being the first Korean film ever to be shot on Super 35mm film allowing the use for wide screen. Many in the Korean military were not impressed with the movie calling it pure fantasy.
Bungee Jumping on Their Own (2001)---
The film begins in 1983 when In-woo a university student becomes infatuated with a woman who shares his umbrella during a strong rainstorm. The film jumps 17 years into the future after In-woo goes into the Korean army for his two-year obligation. The story then turns into In-woo as a married high school teacher who is married to another woman but still has feelings for the woman that originally helped him during the rainstorm all this time, which he encounters on his job. At first In-woo is very secure but over the course of the film, he becomes a strong teacher commanding respect from his students and standing up for their rights. The film stars Lee Byung-hyun of JSA fame along with Lee Eun-jun.
In the 1970s four high school friends in Pusan formed a bond that lasted into their adult lives despite their backgrounds. As some years pass, violence and misdeeds tests not only their friendship but drives them apart questioning the brotherhood that once was. It is a true story based on three of director Kwak Kyung-taek’s friends. It stars Yoo Oh-sung and familiar international actor Chang Dong-gun.
My Sassy Girl (2001)---
This film opens with Kyun-woo a gentle but at times naïve college students who always seems to get into trouble. On his way home, he meets a beautiful but very intoxicated young woman who causes a scene and then passes out. As a result of the incident he takes responsibility for her, and begins a relationship of a roller coaster ride as well as Kyun-woo’s promises to save her an right her wrongs. It stars well-known actors Cha tae-hyun and Jeon Ji-hyun (of the famous Korean drama Jewel in the Palace). This movie earned the title of Korea’s best-selling comedy ever in 2001.
This film is loosely based on the uprising from Silmido Island in the 1960s. In 1968, North Korea sent a group of assassins to South Korea to kill President Park Chung-hee and filled. In the meantime, the South Korean government set up there own secret mission to kill Kim Il-sung, the leader of North Korea. ‘Unit 684’, the group depicted in the movie consists of 31 social outcasts and criminals who had been sentenced to death but instead endured torturous training conditions on the island of Silmido. If they succeed in their mission, not only would they become national heroes but they would also be freed from their sentences. But if they fail, all of the special forces would have to commit suicide. At the end of its run, the film was one of the first most watched films in Korea and broke records as JSA previously did. In addition, it attracted audiences from all over the country.
This film is based on a Japanese manga of the same title written by Nobuaki Minegishi and Garon Tsuchiya. The movie tells the story of Dae-Su who is locked in a hotel room for 15 years without knowing why. When he is finally released, he’s still a prisoner of conspiracy and other strange events. When he seeks vengeance, he becomes entrapped in a romance with a sushi chef. This film won many awards in 2004 and also gained praise from director Quentin Tarantino. It stars Choi, Min-sik, Yu, Ji-tae, and Kang, Hye-jeong.
A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)---
Two sisters, Su-Mi and Su-Yeong, return home after living in a mental institution. While they are happy to be out of the institution, they encounter their stepmother who is not one of the nicest mothers in the world. In addition, haunting visions of ghosts and other illusions prey on the girl’s minds, especially when people die. In addition, one of the step-sisters is in harm and wrongfully murdered by the stepmother. As a result, everyone is haunted by the ghost of this death. This psychological horror became one of the starting points of the Korean horror movie drama that has caused Hollywood to remake them.
This war film tells the story about the effect the Korean War has on two bothers. Set at the start of the Korean War, Jin-seok and Jin-tae, the two brothers are from a poor but happy family headed by their mother. Jin-tae shines shoes for a living and is engaged to be married, while Jin-seok is off to college. However, because of the war, the brothers are forced to deal with the separation of their family. Jin-tae is told that if he is to get a medal of honor, that his younger brother will be discharged from the military. After hearing this, he signs up for every dangerous mission. These missions take a toll on him and cause him to change. Jin-seok can't understand how his brother could change so much, especially after his older brother was his caretaker.
'Taegukgi' has been praised for its realistic war scenes. This movie made actors Won bin and Jang Dong-gun attain an a high level or celebrity and respect. It also became one of the biggest successes in Korean film history in 2004 attracting millions to the theater.
The King and the Clown (2005)---
A film set in historical times, this movie tells the tale of a king who goes mad with power and the strange entertainment that goes with it. The story is set in the Joseon Dynasty during the reign of King Yeonsan, an infamously tyrannical monarch. Jang-saeng, a member of the Namsadang Troupe, comes to Hanyang with Kong-gil to escape the abuse of powerful aristocrats. After arriving in the capital, Jang-saeng and Kong-gil perform a skit satirizing the King and his concubine Nok-su, quickly attracting attention and eventually arrest and torture. Jang-saeng however is given a chance to make the king laugh, but alas this doesn’t happen. However, in a twist of fate, when Kong-gil appears before the king he is dressed as a woman and soon the king is a happy lunatic. While both performers gained respect and success in the court, Kong-gil doesn’t want to leave, but stay for the honor of the king. Great attention went into costume production. Not only were the stars’ costumes custom-made, even those of the extras were painstakingly sewn. In all, 600 costumes were completed over the course of a year. It is a beautiful movie with a script that is confusing but also intriguing at the same time. Subjects such as homosexuality and trans-sexuality are topics depicted that are not often discussed in the Korean public.