Korean Film Resources – The Best of The Best
If you don’t speak Korean, it can be difficult to keep up with what’s happening now in Korean film and even harder to learn about films made before the first Korean wave. This list of resources will give you a fuller picture of Korean film and its place within Korean culture.
Roger Ebert was a fixture in American pop culture from his first film reviews in the late 60s until his death in April 2013. He especially loved introducing the American public to the best foreign films, which ignored by most media outlets.
In 2009 Ebert established a section called “Far Flungers” where foreign correspondents highlight the cinema of their own nations and reflect on cinema from their unique perspectives. South Korea is handled by Seongyong Cho, who also runs a popular Korean-language blog about film.
Cho’s Far Flungers column is a mix of Korean and non-Korean coverage (he particularly likes to talk about Alfred Hitchcock). You’ll get reviews of new Korean films, many of which are still in domestic theatrical release. His column shows what’s going on in Korean cinema as it happens. Most Western outlets drag months behind, waiting for subtitling and international distribution. Cho also highlights some of the greatest Korean films of years past. He’s always excited to recommend films that are classics in Korea, but relatively unknown elsewhere.
For me, the best part about Cho’s blog is that he contextualizes Korean films, expanding their meaning and impact. Check out his review of “Memories of a Murder,” a 2003 crime drama directed by Bong Joong-Ho (“The Host”). While “Memories of a Murder” is great on its own, it takes on a new power when you learn how the movies ties in with the Korean life in the 1980s and how it recreates a shocking series of crimes that terrified the entire nation.
During the festival, fans can stream certain featured films online. In 2013 festival 261 films were available online. Many films can be digitally purchased as well. If you love Korean film it is the event of the year. In the off season, the BIFF archive is a veritable who’s who of Korean cinema. There are exhaustive lists of who won what awards, whose script was sold where, and who to look out for.
This is a rare opportunity to get a hold of films that are unlikely to ever see international distribution, either because they are lower budget or because they have subject matter what makes them commercially unviable to Western audiences. For example, Cho Sung-Bong’s “The Wind is Blowing” is a critically-lauded documentary about a small Korean town’s resistance to a joint US-Korea military being built on their land. Because of its subject matter, it is unlikely to be picked up for English-language distribution considering almost 2/3rds of that market is within the US.
Koreanfilm.org is one of the longest-running English-language resources for Korean film. It’s also my favorite of all Korean film resources. Run by my fellow New Englander Darcy Paquet, koreanfilm.org is the film buff equivalent of a candy store. Here you can get fantastic essays, a wide variety of reviews, full lists of domestic releases each year, industry trends, actor databases, and top ten lists.
Perhaps most importantly, koreanfilm.org is one of the few places to learn about Korean films that date before the 1990s, a time when Korea produced few domestic films and almost none got overseas distribution. This site introduced me to “A Flower in Hell,” one of my favorite Korean movies.
The closely named koreafilm.org is a non-profit devoted to preserving Korean film. They are one of the few organizations devoted to restoring film prints in Korea. They also collect “orphan films,” non-identified, neglected, or public domain films including home movies and amateur films.
What I love most about this site are the lists. They have a list of 100 essential Korean studio films and 50 essential indie films. Also great is the ominously-titled feature “The Truth About Korean Movie,” which is just some general trivia about Korean film. Who knew the longest titled movie in Korean history was “Teenage Hooker Became Killing Machine” [Daehakro-eseo Maechunhadaga Tomaksalhaedanghan Yeogosaeng Ajik Daehakro-e Itta]. Yes, the movie is as bad as its title.
This list is by no means exhaustive and there are lots of other good resources out there. Have any you would recommend?