/After Parasite: Five Korean films you should know – Al Jazeera English

After Parasite: Five Korean films you should know – Al Jazeera English

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South Korean cinema is in the spotlight after Bong Joon-ho’s film Parasite made history on Sunday, becoming the first movie in a language other than English to take home the Oscar for best picture in the award show’s 92-year run. 

But film fans and critics have long looked to auteurs from the Asian nation for lavish productions, complex class studies and dark tales of revenge.

More:

Here are five Korean films to enjoy after Parasite.

Oldboy (2003)

Oldboy

Man on a mission: Oh Dae-su takes no prisoners in Oldboy [Courtesy of Arrow Films] 

After 15 years trapped in a windowless room, a door swings open and Oh Dae-su is suddenly free. 

Armed with a hammer and an insatiable thirst for revenge, Oh sets out on a brutal quest to find out who imprisoned him and what happened to his wife and daughter.

Oldboy marks the culmination of Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance trilogy, which explores the themes of revenge and retribution. Its stomach-turning reveal continues to shock audiences almost 20 years after its original release.

Watch the trailer here.

The Spy Gone North (2018)

The Spy Gone North

The Spy Gone North is the true story of a tense undercover operation [Courtesy of Signature Entertainment] 

Set in the 1990s, The Spy Gone North tells the true story of South Korean operative Park Chae-seo – Park Sun-young in the film – who became famous under his codename “Black Venus”.

Sent to investigate the North’s nascent nuclear programme in the guise of a businessman eager to shoot an advertising campaign, Park successfully infiltrates the highest levels of the North Korean government.

Yoon Jong-bin’s tense thriller takes a turn when events at home make Park’s position increasingly dangerous and force him to question where his loyalties truly lie.

Watch the trailer here.

The Host (2006)

The Host

A blockbuster that packs a political punch, The Host remains one of the most popular films at the Korean box office [File: Jung Yeon-je/AFP]

When a US military pathologist orders his Korean assistant to dump 200 bottles of formaldehyde down a drain in Seoul, it spawns a monstrous amphibian that begins terrorising everyone in sight. As the government fumbles to respond, the presence of the US grows in size and malevolence.

The focus on family and inequality in Bong Joon-ho’s earlier film The Host will be familiar to fans of Parasite, as will its leading man Song Kang-ho.

With its perfect blend of frights, laughs and political commentary, the film delighted domestic audiences and remains one of the biggest films of all time at the Korean box office. 

Watch the trailer here.

Burning (2018)

Burning

Steven Yeun, right, received widespread acclaim for his portrayal of wealthy stranger Ben [Thunderbird Releasing] 

A hapless aspiring writer, an alluring young woman and a Gatsby-esque stranger form the trio at the centre of Lee Chang-dong’s portrait of millennial Korean life.

Loosely based on a short story by Haruki Murakami, Burning vibrates with mystery as it explores the ties between three people divided by class but united in their dissatisfaction with their lives.

Best known to fans of The Walking Dead, Korean American Steven Yeun was widely praised for his portrayal of Ben – a wealthy man with a penchant for burning down greenhouses – in his first starring role in a Korean-language film. 

Watch the trailer here.

The Handmaiden (2016)

The Handmaiden

All is not as it seems in the tale of a lady and her maid in Japanese-occupied Korea [Curzon Artificial Eye]

Park Chan-wook’s erotic slow-burner The Handmaiden was a firm fixture on critics’ “best films of the decade” lists as the 2010s drew to a close.

Inspired by Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, the story of a poor girl who leaves home to work as a lady’s maid is transplanted from Victorian England to an opulent rural estate in Korea during Japanese colonial rule.

But all is not as it seems.

A deception-within-a-deception-within-a-deception, the film is packed with plot twists that upend viewers’ understanding of the film’s characters and happenings right until the last minute.

Watch the trailer here.