10 of the most outstanding Korean films of 2013
It's been another great year for the Korean film industry, with successful box office numbers proving that when it comes to the big screen, the Koreans aren’t slowing down. With big-name directors like Bong Joon Ho (Memories of Murder, The Host), Park Chan Wook (Oldboy, Thirst) and Lee Ji Woon (Tale of Two Sisters, The Good, The Bad, the Weird) making Hollywood debuts with all-around outstanding performances in a variety of films, 2013 was another affirmation to the world that Asia’s newest powerhouse of filmmaking is South Korea.
Here are ten of the best from this past year, in order of release date.
1. Miracle in Cell No. 7
Miracle, the story about a wrongfully imprisoned, mentally challenged man who would do anything to see his beloved daughter again, accomplishes two things. One, it is the vehicle for a standout performance by the tremendous Ryu Seung Ryong (Masquerade), who is nothing less than magnetic. Two, it’s got heart, and a big one, at that.
The film received six nominations at the 49th Baeksang Awards, where Ryu won both the Grand Prize and the Best Actor honor. At the 50th Grand Bell Awards, the film won Best Scenario and Best Actor with 12 nominations.
2. The Berlin File
A North Korean agent finds himself and his pregnant wife running away from their country with the help of a hardened South Korean intelligence agent. The Berlin File was filmed beautifully in Berlin and stars the always-excellent Ha Jung Woo (The Chaser) and a surprisingly adept Jeon Ji Hyun (The Thieves).
Berlin received four nominations at the 34th Blue Dragon Awards and won for Best Lighting and Best Cinematography. At the 49th Baeksang Awards, it garnered three nominations and won Best Actor for Ha, while at the 50th Grand Bell Awards, it received an additional five nominations and again won for Best Lighting and Best Cinematography.
3. New World
In what might be one of the most masterful gangster films to grace South Korean screens in years, New World, an Infernal Affairs-esque take on an undercover police officer’s identity struggle between crook and public servant, takes a formidable, absolutely brilliant cast (Lee Jung Jae, Choi Min Sik, Hwang Jung Min, Park Sung Woong) and creates a memorably stylish — and appropriately bloody — spectacle.
The film picked up four nominations at the 34th Blue Dragon Awards, where Hwang won for Best Actor. It received three nominations at the 49th Baeksang Awards, and at the 50th Grand Bell Awards it won Best Music and had six nominations.
Montage is a story about a woman and a detective who are in a race against the clock to find the kidnapper who killed her daughter. It’s also the story of how Uhm Jung Hwa (Dancing Queen), in a defining role, became one of the best working actresses in the industry.
Uhm won the Best Actress honor at the 50th Grand Bell Awards, where the film picked up three nominations, and two more at the 34th Blue Dragon Awards.
5. Cold Eyes
Slick, cool and fast-paced, Cold Eyes depicts a highly skilled surveillance team’s efforts against a very dangerous and very mysterious man. The pic, with its sweeping shots of the Seoul cityscape and its gorgeous cast (Han Hyo Joo, Jung Woo Sung, Seol Kyung Goo), is a visual treat and a proper homage to the Hong Kong film Eye in the Sky.
Han won Best Actress at the 34th Blue Dragon Awards, while Jung was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor honor.
6. The Terror Live
A button-and-bomb-happy terrorist calls a narcissistic news anchor who is looking to make a comeback, blows up a bridge, and demands to speak to the president. It's all broadcast live. The real gem here is the sheer presence of Ha Jung Woo, who manages to singlehandedly carry this 97-minute pic with the expertise of an actor on top of his game.
Terror was nominated twice at the 34th Blue Dragon Awards, where it won Best New Director.
Director Bong Joon Ho’s first Hollywood effort brings the likes of Chris Evans (Captain America), Tilda Swinton (We Need To Talk About Kevin), Octavia Spencer (The Help) and John Hurt with Korean acting giant Song Kang Ho (Thirst) to a post-apocalyptic future in which people clash and revolt in a battle of the classes.
At the 34th Blue Dragon Awards, the film received four nominations and won Best Director and Best Art Direction. At the 50th Grand Bell Awards, it picked up nine nominations and won Best Editing and Best Art Direction.
8. Hide and Seek
In this thriller, a businessman living an ideal and successful life discovers that a stranger is lurking in his home and leaving strange symbols. Chaos ensues. The film includes brilliant performances by Son Hyun Joo (The Chaser, The Golden Empire) and Moon Jung Hee (A Thousand Days’ Promise).
The film picked up three nominations from both the 34th Blue Dragon Awards and the 50th Grand Bell Awards.
9. The Face Reader
Face-reading is top dog in this period film of royal court struggles and murder. The ensemble cast, led by Song Kang Ho, includes Lee Jung Jae (New World), Kim Hye Soo (The Thieves), Lee Jong Suk (I Hear Your Voice) and Jo Jung Suk (You’re the Best, Lee Soon Shin).
Face picked up a whopping 14 nominations at the 50th Grand Bell Awards, where it swept the floor by winning Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor (Jo) and Best Costume. At the 34th Blue Dragon Awards, where it was nominated six times, Lee received the Best Supporting Actor honor.
A tale of a family’s heartbreak, desperation and — against all odds — hope after the rape of a young girl. Come for the feels, stay for the tears.
The 34th Blue Dragon Awards gave the film six nominations and three wins for Best Film, Best Supporting Actress and Best Screenplay.
Tell us your favorite Korean movies of the year!