By David Opie
In recent years, directors like Kim Jee-woon and Park Chan-wook have raised the profile of South Korean cinema to unprecedented heights, winning countless awards and international acclaim from all quarters. Well, almost all quarters.
Since 1962, South Korea has submitted thirty films for consideration at the Oscars, but so far, only one has made the final shortlist, and that was last year’s “Burning.” Unfortunately, Lee Chang-dong’s masterpiece still failed to secure a nomination even then.
Don’t count South Korea out just yet though. Following Cannes, there’s already a lot of buzz surrounding “Parasite,” the latest film by Bong Joon-ho, and that’s not the only Korean film you should keep an eye out for in 2019.
This year marks the 23rd edition of The Fantasia International Film Festival and once again, Korean cinema has a typically strong presence in the lineup. From queer indies and offbeat zombie flicks to gangster murder mysteries, join us as we hone in on some of the best picks from South Korea that will soon hit Fantasia 2019 and maybe a cinema near you.
After 17-year-old Joo-ri (Kim Hye-jun) discovers that her father is secretly having an affair, it puts a huge strain on both her family and life at school too when it becomes clear that the woman involved is also the mother of classmate Yoon-ah (Park Se-jin). What follows is a whole lot of drama that pulls in everyone involved and turns their lives upside down for good.
Although the plot might sound overly dramatic, put your faith in director Kim Yoon-seok who’s more widely known as one of South Korea’s most celebrated actors. After starring in internationally acclaimed hits like “The Chaser,” Yoon-seok set his sights behind the camera here to tell a surprisingly feminist story with strong and memorable performances across the board.
When Kyung-min (Kong Hyo-Jin) suspects that someone broke into her apartment, authority figures are quick to dismiss her fears as mere paranoia. However, as the tension escalates and danger creeps in, Kyung-min soon realizes that she’s no longer safe in her own home, forcing her to face this threat on her own terms.
Lee Kwon’s remake of the Spanish film “Sleep Tight” switches things around to follow the victim rather than the perpetrator. By doing so, “Door Lock” transcends the usual pitfalls of remakes like this by creating a new take on the story that’s rooted deep in the misogyny of modern Korean society while also freaking us out along the way.
The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil
With a far more unusual premise than your typical crime thriller, “The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil” starts with a wave of murders that forces criminal Dong-soo (Don Lee) and policeman Tae-suk (Kim Moon-yul) to team up and catch the killer through rather unconventional means.
Given its huge box office success in South Korea, it should come as no surprise that a Hollywood remake of Lee Won-tae’s thriller is already on the way, so check out all of the fierce fight scenes and dark humor at Fantasia first before Sylvester Stallone gets involved. No, really.
House Of Hummingbird
Set one year after the democratization of South Korea in 1992, “House of Hummingbird” follows the Kim family who starts struggling to endure the impact that gentrification is having on their business. In the middle of all this is neglected teenager Eun-hee (Park Ji-hu) who starts to discover hope and respect for herself thanks to Kim Young-ji (Kim Sae-byuk), a new teacher at her school.
This might only be writer-director Kim Bora’s first feature, but “House of Hummingbird” has already garnered plenty of praise at international festivals and it’s easy to see why. With its honest appraisal of teen life, “Beol-sae” is one of the finest Korean indies we’ve seen in a long time, exploring queerness and love through this key moment in Korean history.
The Odd Family: Zombie On Sale
After a stray member of the undead wanders into the town of Poongsan, the Park family discover that there’s a financial gain to be had from this situation and together, they try their best to profit from the surprisingly sexual benefits of zombification. Of course, not everything goes to plan and the Parks may live to regret this decision, assuming they survive at all.
Illegal pharmaceutical experiments lead to a new kind of zombie epidemic in the directorial debut of Lee Min-jae. While it’s certainly not for everyone, the eccentricity of “The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale” sets it apart from other films of its ilk while breathing new life into the zombie genre. It’s surreal fun from start to finish and with big-name stars like Jung Jae-young on board willing to make fun of themselves too, we guarantee that you won’t see another film like this all year.
The Fantasia International Film Festival takes place in Montreal, Canada from July 11 – August 1, 2019. Further details can be found on the official Fantasia 2019 site right here.
You can follow David and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @DavidOpie