Known for their gorgeous cinematography and ground-breaking stories rooted in tradition and culture, Korean movies are slowly but surely slipping into the Western hemisphere’s mainstream media. As Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite made history in the biggest movie award shows of the year, it is only fitting to introduce a few more South Korean film directors that have redefined modern cinema.
- Park Chan-wook
His fans call him “Mr. Vengeance” and the Korean public regards him as one of the most influential filmmakers of the country; there is absolutely no denying that Park Chan-Wook has spent his entire career exploring and redefining Korean cinema. With ground-breaking films such as 2016’s The Handmaiden and the Vengeance trilogy (2002-2005), Park’s body of work is heavily influenced by his time as a philosophy student. He also has a natural predisposition for smooth transitions as he explores themes of mesmerizing violence.
- Kim Jee-won
Psychological horror as a movie genre has spent the last decade making waves across the world. In South Korea, directors like Kim Jee-Won are propelling it forward! Kim is known for his affinity for cold villains and his efforts toward redefining the “anti-hero” trope as he develops a wide variety of themes and tones throughout his works. 2003’s A Tale of Two Sisters is widely regarded as Kim’s best. The atmospheric psychological horror film is widely known not only for its complex plot (which is based on a Joseon-era Korean folktale), but also for Kim’s use of sharp cinematography, rich production design, and eerie music score.
- Noh Young-seok
Comedy and suspense don’t exactly go hand-in-hand, but that has never stopped acclaimed director Noh Young-seok. Although his body of work may not be as large as some of the other directors on this list, there is no denying his influence. The indie lo-fi comedy Daytime Drinking (2008) came at a time when Korean cinema focused mainly on melodrama and provided much-needed relief from the heavier themes that plagued the media at the time. With its tagline “Things look different from the bottom of the bottle,” the film perfectly depicts the dreaded hungover state of mind. Noh manages to tell a compelling and universally relatable story, while still staying true to his roots as he spotlights many aspects of Korean culture.
- Yeon Sang-ho
When speaking of range, Yeon Sang-ho’s transition from animated drama films to intense live-action movies presents the very definition of versatility. Earning a plethora of awards for both his animated and live-action works, Yeon’s body of work is composed of a number of cult classics — perhaps most popular among them is the 2016 blockbuster Train to Busan, the summer’s zombie movie that took over cinemas around the world and is still considered to be among the best zombie action films to date. Yeon is known for his raw and down-to-earth portrayal of violence. His first animated feature-length film, The King of Pigs (2011), was praised for its portrayal of bullying and systemic poverty and holds the honor of being the first Korean animated film to be invited to the Cannes Film Festival.
- July Jung
With her directorial debut earning her the Best First Film award at the 25th Stockholm International Film Festival, as well as a number of other awards at international and local film festivals, July Jung has already marked herself as one of Korea’s finest directors and screenwriters. Jung’s honest look into regional politics is only one of the many defining features of 2014’s A Girl At My Door and part of what makes this movie — and Jung — stand out among the vast number of Korean films making waves across the world. Jung’s stunning writing and story-telling abilities are evident through the big screen which makes this LGBTQ+ film stand out even more.
- Hong Sang-Soo
Making his directorial debut at 35 with 1996’s The Day a Pig Fell into the Well, Hong has made his mark as one of Korea’s most prominent art-house directors — some going as far as calling him the “Korean Woody Allen.” With many foreign directors choosing to venture into Hollywood and the American market, Hong chose a route of his own: French cinema. The incorporation of French actress Isabelle Huppert as the lead in 2012’s In Another Country only further proved Hong’s versatility as a director and his story-telling abilities. Hong’s latest film, The Woman Who Ran, is already making rounds across social media, with fans from all over the world eager to see what Hong will do with such a rich and unusual story.
South Korean cinema gives viewers a wide array of themes and genres, with each director and screenwriter standing tall as they bring to life stories deeply rooted in culture and tradition, but simultaneously managing to break any and all stereotypes one may have regarding East Asian cinema. If Parasite‘s ongoing success is anything to go by, this may be the year the rest of the world embraces the Korean cinema wave.
What do you think of Korean films? Were you familiar with any of the directors? Let us know in the comments below if you plan on watching any of these awesome movies!
Featured Image: Bong Joon-ho and the cast of Parasite, LA Times
Written by: Vale Papili