The films listed here have immense importance in the world of Korean cinema. They represent post-1990’s new wave cinema in South Korea that built the foundation for a lot of Korean films today!
1. The Host (2006, Bong Joon Ho)
The Host is a 2006 monster film that follows the kidnapping of a man’s daughter by a monster that resides in the Han River, and his attempts to rescue her.
2. Joint Security Area (JSA- 2000, Park Chan Wook)
JSA is a mystery-thriller which concerns the investigation into the events that led up to a fatal shooting incident within the DMZ (De-Militarised Zone), the border that separates North and South Korea. As the story unfolds, so do emotions, secrets, and more.
3. Christmas in August (1998, Hur Jin Ho)
A romance drama film that follows the story of a terminally ill photographer who falls in love with a beautiful woman.
4. Friend (2001, Kwak Kyung taek)
The film follows the story of 4 friends; a mobster, a rival mobster, the class clown and an exemplary student.
5. My Sassy Girl (2001, Kwak Jae Young)
One of South Korea’s most successful romantic comedy films, told in 2 parts and an overtime.
6. Peppermint Candy (1999, Lee Chang Dong)
This film begins with the suicide of the protagonist, and proceeds in reverse chronology to depict some of the events in the last 20 years of his life that led up to that moment.
7. On the Occasion of Remembering the Turning Gate (2002, Hong Sang Soo)
This movie follows the life of protagonist Gyung-Soo as he navigates through his career, friendships and relationships- all in Hong Sang Soo’s signature film style of domestic realism.
8. Memories of Murder (2003, Bong Joon Ho)
This is a film based on a true incident- Korea’s first and most infamous serial murders in its history, the events of which took place between 1986 and 1991 in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province. For an update on the case, see here.
9. 3-Iron (2004, Kim Ki-Duk)
Named after the prominent appearance of a golf-club, the film focuses on the relationship that develops between a drifter and an abused housewife. It is also notable for its lack of dialogue throughout the film.
10. Old Boy (2003, Park Chan Wook)
This film focuses on the protagonist Oh Dae-Su, who is imprisoned in a hotel room for 15 years. Upon his release, he sets out on a journey of vengeance, unearthing disturbing secrets as he goes.
Trivia: well-known Hollywood director Quentin Tarantino was heavily inspired by this very film!