If you’re a die-hard horror fan, or just an overall genuine movie lover, then you no doubt also share an affinity for the crazy cinema coming out of South Korea these days. Hell, at the peak of the DVD boom, genre fans were lucky to have specialty label Tartan Asia Extreme introducing us to the vibrant, insane movies being produced overseas. It is, after all, the label that gave the films of Park Chan-wook their U.S. home video debut and that includes his classic cult favorite OLDBOY.
While most Korean cinema is not straight forward traditional horror, a lot of horror fans (myself included) are drawn in by the rich storytelling and ultra-violent revenge/vengeance stories often depicted in these films. Here are 6 titles that will not only blow you away, but potentially make you curl up into a little ball in the corner of your room during the end credits. None of these are for the faint of heart, but if you’re into extreme cinema, you’re about to be rewarded.
BLOOD AND TIES (2013)
For those of you that have been obsessing over true-crime documentary series such as MAKING A MURDERER, THE JINX and SERIAL, this one is right up your alley. Da-eun (Son Ye-Jin) is a young, beautiful aspiring reporter, who grew up with a single father who would literally do anything for her well-being. Her and her friends attend a theatrical engagement of a documentary based upon one of Seoul’s most infamous unsolved kidnapping cases in which an innocent little girl ended up dead. When she hears a chilling recording of the kidnapper from the film, she recognizes a familiar phrase that only her father says. Could it be even remotely possible that this man that has sacrificed everything for her could also secretly be a monster? As the authorities get involved and more evidence surfaces, much like Da-eun, we the audience are questioning everything. A truly suspenseful & emotional rollar coaster, BLOOD AND TIES will play with your emotions and keep you guessing until the end!
NO TEARS FOR THE DEAD (2014)
While on a job, a hitman is traumatized when he accidentally shoots and kills an innocent little girl. Distraught from the experience, he wants out of this life, but when the little girl’s mother is also targeted by his employers who intend to “leave no witnesses behind,” he goes on a mission to protect her at all costs and strive for some type of redemption. From writer/director Jeong-beom Lee, you can expect some exciting, crazy and gory action set pieces, gun fights and hand to hand battles. It’s also an examination in grief and guilt as everyone feels the impactful loss of this little girl. A fun and emotional shoot ‘em up action thriller!
THE MAN FROM NOWHERE (2010)
From the same writer/director as NO TEARS FOR THE DEAD comes this film, Jeong-beom Lee’s incredible THE MAN FROM NOWHERE. It’s a cross between LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL and MAN ON FIRE. Bin Won plays a quiet and recluse pawnshop keeper that befriends a little girl in his complex. When her family is murdered and she is kidnapped, he sets out on a task to get her back, unbeknownst to her captors that they’ve just pissed off one of the biggest bad-asses with a violent, turbulent past! The action and fight sequences in this are among the best you’re bound to see. Highly recommended!
Holy smokes. OK. This comes with the strongest of cautions. From a filmmaking perspective, Ki-duk Kim’s MOEBIUS is a fascinating exploration in the bordering psychotic link between mother and son, all told with no audible dialogue. But alas, if you’re one of those guys that cringes whenever you see some guy get kneed in the balls, the amount of penal violence perpetrated in this movie will absolutely devastate you mentally. It’s kind of a really nasty modern take on PSYCHO, minus the matricide, but with much more incest, rape and male genitalia inflicted violence. Just ouch!
SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE (2002)
While OLDBOY is the most famous of Park Chan-wook’s films, you should really start with the first entry in his “Vengeance” trilogy SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE. What makes this film so devastating is that you can understand the perspective of each of the principals involved and you want them all to exact their respective revenge, even though it won’t solve anything. A recently laid off deaf factory worker is desperate to get a kidney transplant for his sister, so he agrees to kidnap his old bosses daughter for ransom. And for all parties involved, only catastrophe follows. It’s a great, great movie, but one that will feel like an emotional endurance test. Oh and there’s one scene involving a baseball bat that you will never forget.
I SAW THE DEVIL (2010)
Easily one of the most brutal, emotional cinematic journeys you’ll ever take – But also one of the greatest vengeance stories ever told. When a secret agent’s pregnant wife is abducted and murdered by a serial killer, he stops at nothing to discover the killer’s identity. But rather than bring the murderer in for justice, he decides to exact his own revenge by capturing him, torturing him and then letting him go to do it all over again. Once again, it’s an emotional endurance test in terms of how much you can take, but it also shows the severe consequences of exacting your own vengeance from all perspectives. And if nothing, these films are all intended to be ambiguous morality tales that leave you the viewer to decide if this is all right or wrong.
If you decide to take the quest of any or all of the above 6 titles, we wish you the best of luck! But we also can’t recommend them highly enough!