Why You Need To Watch Korean Films
Hollywood’s most original thrillers tend to come from the smaller studios. Films like ‘The Invitation’ and ‘The Guest’ worked really well, but they’re relatively low budget chamber pieces. A great action film needs more than just stunts and set pieces (and we must know now after sitting through endless identical Tom Cruise films).
Korean cinema has been knocking the ball out of the park for some time now with films like The Wailing, Memories of Murder, The Chaser, A Hard Day, Sympathy For Mr Vengeance, Mother, Bedevilled, The Host and Oldboy (ruined in the remake by Spike Lee). They’re operatic in scale, grand and brave, but also get the small personal details right and feel grittily realistic even when they’re behaving madly and very, very badly.
The city settings of Korean films recall Hollywood movies from the late 1970s. The streets are similar and the way the shots are constructed call to mind the last great wave of Hollywood directors. But very often it’s the sheer audacity of the plotting, which involves a lot of cat-and-mouse charging about and some shameless heartstring pulling.
In ‘The Five’ a young woman loses her family to a killer and is left wheelchair-bound. Naturally, she sets out to take revenge, but this being Korea she does it in a way that would never cross the minds of Hollywood writers, by hiring a misfit team who’ll act for her because, for various reasons, they need her organs. Part of the fun is watching the leads go utterly bonkers in a way that no Hollywood director would allow.
Certain tropes turn up again and again – rainswept streets, stylish concrete apartments, serial killing madmen, unusual talents (the heroine of ‘The Five’ is rather good with Heath Robinson-type devices), strong women and strong violence – for some reason buzz-saws seem to feature regularly. When someone gets a smack in the mouth you can feel your teeth rattle. Even when they slip over on a road they check their hands for grazes, and you wince. For really visceral thrills, it seems East is best.