Of course I can just start with the standard fangurl’s list – Jung Woo Sung, Lee Byung Hun, Rain – but there are plenty of blogs and websites that will give you that.
My top ten reasons for becoming addicted to Korean cinema will in fact quickly get you addicted to Korean cinema if you follow them up, even if you don’t just fall over and die the first time you see Lee Byung Hun – but I guarantee you will anyway.
On with the lust – I mean list. Freudian slip!
1: The first and most important reason is that you are sick to the back teeth of Hollywood. All those endless sequels, addle brained chick flicks, comic book characters (even when the characters aren’t from a comic book) and of course, the remakes. Remakes of old movies, classic movies, foreign movies, movies that just should have English speaking actors in America or no one will watch them because of the subtitles, and Korean movies. That’s right, Korean movies, because Hollywood hasn’t come up with anything original in decades, so it copies Korea to find fresh ideas. Enough said.
2: It’s never bland. Funny, extraordinary, politically incorrect, but never bland. Korea is like the last frontier of movie making. The actors are always injuring themselves doing mad stunts. Korean Jackie Chans, the lot of them. The scripts are brutally honest, going where a mealy mouthed western script wouldn’t dare unless it wants to get labelled an ‘art movie’. I don’t mean swearing and sex, that’s so repetitive in western movies, it has become bland. I mean ideas, shocking ideas, and twists you never see coming. I mean no tame sticking to genre either. A Moment to Remember is a heart wrenching romantic weepie, yet it contains ones of the funniest scenes ever when a guy on a motor bike tries to snatch Son Ye-Jin’s bag.
3: Korean cinema is about life. Remember those movies that actually made you resonate to the situations of the characters? When you could relate to them because they weren’t all doctors and lawyers and lived in MacMansions? In Korean movies and drama, some characters live just like you do. And they feel and react just like you do, and they dress just like you do, and eat – yay, they actually eat! – and they say dumb things and smart things, and are just generally real folks, just like you. I think that is because Korean film makers and actors and actresses haven’t lost touch with reality, and the beauty of truth in cinema.
4: Boy, can they creep you out. Korean horror is superb, scary, and you will soon amass a list of movies you will just never, never, never watch again. I saw the Devil is on mine, but not Old Boy. I love that movie.
5: Korean movies espouse old fashioned values like loyalty, duty and family. Maybe that’s why Hollywood has to remake them. Notions of duty to family, especially to the older members, have little impact in the west. In fact, the more selfish, slack and downright arrogant you can be, especially if you are a woman, the more of a cinema role model you will be. I don’t buy it. Politeness and respect are beautiful to see.
6: Korean movies make you think. They don’t just follow Hollywood formulas. You actually have to pay attention, and leave your preconceptions at the door. Korean War movies give you insight into their view of the Korean War. M*A*S*H sometimes did that, but always filtered through American consciousness. For example, when family means as much as it does to Koreans, what is the impact of families being torn apart by war? Watch The Brotherhood of War and weep. War affects everyone, and this movie will give you a far better understanding than any Hollywood movie.
7: Korea can do blockbusters. Watch the gorgeous Musa, the action packed The Good, The Bad, The Weird, or any big costume epic from the land of spectacular scenery and headstrong actors launching themselves into thin air tied by a rope. Magnificent battle scenes, fantastic horsemanship, and production values that make your eyes water come together in unforgettable movies.
8: Romance is really romance. Not just couples rushing into bed and then spending the rest of the movie agonising over gender issues because there’s really nothing left to do after you’ve already banged each other’s brains out.
9: Korean movies go off topic. Personally I love this. Life doesn’t stay on topic, or pack itself into different genres. Korean directors are quite happy to pursue a random thought, and I am more than happy to follow them. I can see that this would annoy someone whose idea of a movie is more Hollywood, though.
10: All right, I give in. Korea has some of the most attractive actors and actresses on the planet. Luckily, they are also some of the most talented, heartfelt, emotionally unleashed and totally natural as well. And Korea also has brilliant character actors, like Kang Ho Song, the Weird from The Good, the Bad, the Weird and the star of many other fine movies like Memory of Murder.
Where do you get Korean movies? eBay is a good place to start, or you can find some full length movies on YouTube if you want to dip your toe in. Sites like Far East Films and Yes Asia are also great places to find Korean DVDs. Check Amazon as well – never know what you’ll find there. Dive in – cinema can become an adventure again.