Check out movies by these Korean film-makers

PARK CHAN-WOOK.
PARK CHAN-WOOK.
KIM KI-DUK.
KIM KI-DUK.
BONG JOON-HO.
BONG JOON-HO.
KIM JEE-WOON.
KIM JEE-WOON.

1. PARK CHAN-WOOK

Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho are probably tied in global recognition, but their styles could not be more different. Where Bong is playful, Park is serious.

Bong sees sex as a handy plot device. To him, people are machines reacting to external social stimuli. Park sees lust, revenge and the desire for freedom as primal forces driving his characters.

With a trio of films - The Vengeance Trilogy: Sympathy For Mr Vengeance (2002), Lady Vengeance (2005) and fan favourite Oldboy (2003) - Park gained worldwide fame after his thriller Joint Security Area (2000) made him a household name at home. He showed he could blend violence, poetry and tragedy into a seamless whole.

He also scored critical acclaim with The Handmaiden (2016, above). Genteel perversions and erudite pornography feature in this tale of emancipation operating on several levels - women from the men who control them, Koreans from their Japanese occupiers and servants from their masters.

Winner of the Bafta (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) award for Best Film Not In The English Language and nominee for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, this big-budget work showcases the high quality of production design and costuming that Korean films can achieve.


2. KIM KI-DUK

In 2012, Kim Ki-duk's drama Pieta (above) was the first Korean film to win Best Film awards at all three of the top festivals in Venice, Berlin and Cannes.

He has also been dogged by allegations of animal abuse during shooting as well as charges of sexual assault from actresses.

In Pieta, a pitiless loan shark fond of crippling debtors is confronted by a woman claiming to be his mother. What happens next is heartbreaking, but in true Kim style, it is at times hard to watch.

A 2016 BBC poll listed Kim's Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... And Spring (2003), a quiet story of a monk living out his days in a remote Buddhist monastery, as one of the 100 greatest films since 2000. It is a story about life, death and rebirth, couched in a tale steeped in the rhythms of nature.


3. BONG JOON-HO

Many say Parasite's Best Picture win would not have happened if voters had not been made aware of #BongHive, film-maker Bong Joon-ho's outspoken online fan group who love his movies - each one a genre picture (monster, crime, mystery) shaded with black humour and social commentary.

They also star his frequent collaborator, actor Song Kang-ho.

In Mother (2009, above), a girl is murdered and a boy with intellectual disabilities is detained. His mother sets out to find the truth and is met with callous indifference or outright hostility. Kim Hye-ja (above) is unforgettable as a woman whose steely resolve is matched only by her cunning.

Bong's cop procedural Memories Of Murder (2003) has a lot of fans, including Quentin Tarantino, who named it among his 20 favourite movies from the 1990s to the present day.

That must have been some consolation for the American when his Once Upon A Time In... Hollywood was denied a victory by Bong's Parasite at the Oscars.

Loosely based on a series of killings in the 1980s, Memories Of Murder is proof of Bong's mastery of the ensemble movie.


4. KIM JEE-WOON

The film-maker is known for making fun movies that straddle the art-house and mainstream worlds. He has dabbled in horror and supernatural, but is known for his taut thrillers.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008, above) is an "Eastern spaghetti western" set in 1940s Manchuria. A bounty hunter finds a treasure map, but can he evade Chinese bandits and the occupying Japanese out searching for him?

In Kim's I Saw The Devil (2010), a serial killer targets the pregnant wife of an elite agent and the stage is set for a tense cat-and-mouse game.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2020, with the headline 'Check out movies by these Korean film-makers'. Print Edition | Subscribe