2015 was another great year for South Korean cinema, with its financial and artistic growth and being witnessed globally, since South Korean films are getting screened and distributed in a large number of festivals and countries around the world, netting a plethora of awards and grossing enormous sums.
Three titles included here made the top 10 list of the highest-grossing films in South Korea, earning the second, the third and the seventh position on the table, in a trend that also showed that local productions are presently holding the interest of South Koreans, instead of Hollywood productions, as is the rule in other Asian countries.
Due to the delay of some of the titles’ screening in the west, the list took the liberty of incorporating “Ode to my Father”, that was actually screened in December 2014 in Korea, but in 2015 everywhere else.
10. The Beauty Inside (Baik)
Based on the homonymous American film, “The Beauty Inside” tells the story of Woo Jin, a furniture designer who, since his eighteenth birthday, has woken up in a different body every day. Those bodies differ in age, sex and even nationality, thus resulting in Woo Jin’s frustration and subsequent solitude, having only one real friend who knows his secret, Sang Baek.
Eventually he meets a girl named Hong Eun Soo and falls in love with her. The film then takes a turn towards the melodramatic, particularly after he reveals his secret to the girl.
Baik had a chance to direct something spectacular, both by using the 21 actors that play the protagonist’s role and by answering questions regarding sexual orientation and racism. However, he chose to create an easygoing film, whose primary characteristic is the fact that it does not take any chances.
Nevertheless, the film is a highly entertaining romantic-fantasy comedy that benefits the most from the appearance of a number of accomplished actors (Kim Sang Ho, Lee Beom Soo, Park Shin Hye, etc) and the acting of Han Hyo Joo, who plays Eun Soo.
9. Collective Invention (Kwon Oh Kwang)
Sang Won is an idealistic journalist who is assigned to investigate an incident that initially seems like an urban legend: the existence of a man who turned into a fish after participating in medical experiments. Eventually she discovers the creature, named Park Gu, and learns his story.
The aforementioned was an actor who agreed at one point to participate in a clinical test from a pharmaceutical company, due to the money promised him. However, the experiment’s results were disastrous, since his upper body became that of a fish.
After the discovery, Sang Won submits a video with Park Gu to her channel, and upon its broadcast, a chain reaction is initiated throughout the country, with a number of individuals wanting to exploit the creature for their own benefits, others blaming the company for its practices, and others supporting it due to the results. Nevertheless, the only thing Park Gu wants is to return to his former self, although nobody seems keen to let him do that.
Kwon Oh Kwang directed a black comedy that is actually an allegory regarding popular culture and the way it functions within society. The film is well paced and quite entertaining; however, its script suffers at points and the answers to the critical questions presented are never adequately revealed.
8. Shoot Me in the Heart (Mun Che Yong)
Based on the homonymous, awarded novel by Jeong Yu Jeong, “Shoot Me in the Heart” is set at a psychiatric hospital and tells the story of two quite opposite characters who end up there for radically different reasons, eventually becoming best friends.
Soo Myung has been institutionalized since he was 19 due to a traumatic experience he had at the time and has a fear of scissors. Seung Min belongs to a rich family, but used to have pyromaniac tendencies as a teenager. However, that is not the actual reason he is held at the hospital.
The two of them strike up a peculiar friendship, among gleeful and violent nurses and a number of patients, including one who uses the rest as horses, an alcoholic who wants to become a social worker, and one who seems to know everything about the institution.
Mun Che Yong directed a violent movie, chiefly due to the frequency of brutal scenes rather than their depiction. The comedy and the drama appear in equal proportion, as is the case with the various flashbacks that slowly disclose the true story of the two patients, in an evident though successful attempt to use as many Korean favorite themes and notions possible.
In that fashion, there are two main nurses, one evil and one moral, with the former getting what he deserves in a plethora of times, and the latter proving repeatedly how just and compassionate he actually is. Furthermore, the film entails great cinematography, particularly in the scenes shot outside the hospital.
Both the protagonists, Lee Min Ki as Seung Min and Yeo Jin Goo as Soo Myunga, are wonderful in their parts, with the former having a more demanding role.
7. Assassination (Choi Dong Hoon)
Another action blockbuster, “Assassination” was the highest grossing film in 2015 and the eighth all-time highest grossing film in Korean cinema.
The film is set during the Japanese occupation of the country in the 1930s and tells the tale of a team of resistance fighters. A sniper named Ahn Ok Yun, a gun smuggler and a graduate of the Independence Military School named Chu Sang Ok, and explosives specialist Hwang Deok Sam are tasked with the assassination of the governor of Gyeongseong and a Korean mogul who is pro-Japanese. However, treachery lurks inside the resistance lines.
Choi Dong Hoon directed a film that moves quite rapidly, occasionally looking like a music video, and entailed a number of the genres’ favorite techniques and notions, including women fighters, unexpected humor, martial arts, impressive action scenes, and a number of flashbacks.
Furthermore, he presented a clear dilemma between patriotism and profit, building upon it in most of his script. However, the movie becomes naive and unreal at points, a fact that nevertheless hides well beneath the impressive action.
Technically, “Assassination” is a true masterpiece, with the cinematography, the set design and the action choreography being utterly magnificent.
6. Coin Locker Girl (Han Ju Hee)
Ma Il Young was found in a coin locker, raised by beggars, kidnapped and sold to a crime ring when she was a little girl. Mother is the notorious leader of the ring that is based in Chinatown in Incheon and is involved with fake IDs, loan-sharking and organ trafficking.
By the time the girl reaches 18, she has become a cruel and fierce bouncer and Mother’s right hand, in a gang additionally including a boy her age, a girl with pink hair and a mentally handicapped boy. However, during one of her missions with Suk Hyun, the son of a debtor, she falls in love with him and tries to escape her crime life, in an action that causes a number of chain reactions in the crime world.
Han Ju Hee directs a violent action thriller about the Korean underworld, although he also entails a number of social subjects, chiefly through the relationship of Mother with her “children”.
Both the leading female actresses portray quite interesting characters with Ma Il Young’s obvious need to become a regular teenage girl and Mother’s feelings, which she never lets out, trying to appear cruel and strong, and succeeding to the fullest.
Kim Go Eun is excellent as Ma Il Young, although the one who steals the show is Kim Hye Soo, who is sublime as Mother, portraying a truly intimidating character in astonishing fashion.