Shiri (1999)

Genre: Action, Crime, Drama














Shiri (Swiri) by director Je-kyu Kang is one of the most recognizable South Korean movies from past decade. It was one of the first big budgeted blockbusters produced in South Korea in late 90's and immediate hit in box office, domestic and abroad. Borrowing production values from Hollywood and action from popular Hong Kong movies, it's a vigilant mix of both. A movie that dethroned Cameron's mighty Titanic from it's position of most viewed movie in Korea.

South Korean Intelligence agency comes into possession of information that North's spy's, sleeper agents, are trying to acquire recently discovered liquid explosive CTX. As CTX is undetectable by any known methods, South is afraid that it will be used in terror acts by North Korea to destabilize situation in region.

As two of top agents Jong Won Yu (Suk-kyu Han) and Jang-gil Lee (Kang-ho Song) are investigating this matter, it appears that the enemy is always one step ahead, and suspicions arouse among them of possible mole inside the agency.

Star filled superspy thriller in best traditions of it's time, spectacular firefights using tremendous weapon arsenal, spy intrigues, chases and SWAT teams. All of it on the screen, most of the time.


Director Je-kyu Kang like in his next, famous war movie Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War likes to hint at closeness of both Korean nations, even tho they are enemies, in short breaks between violent fighting, he adds a dramatic layer to it, showing that divide is artificial, and on human level, relationships are possible between the two. Moreover, the movie name itself, Shiri, strongly confirms directors opinions, in a monologue by one of the characters in the movie, it explains that Swiri is a fish, that lives in rivers that flow across the Korea, and the fish doesn't know of South or North, it just swims in a water.

If you judge the movies by cast, finest to this day actors Kang-ho Song and Min-sik Choi, beautiful Yunjin Kim, best known in west for her role in popular TV show Lost, will guarantee that you won't be dissapointed.

Splendid spy action thriller, that won't let you get bored. Good dose of action and drama. Recommended.

DVD from Amazon

A Bittersweet Life (2005)


 Genre: Action, Crime, Drama













One late autumn night, the disciple awoke crying. So the master asked the disciple, "Did you have a nightmare?" "No." "Did you have a sad dream?" "No," said the disciple. "I had a sweet dream." "Then why are you crying so sadly?" The disciple wiped his tears away and quietly answered, "Because the dream I had can't come true."

Before I write anything more about A Bittersweet Life (Dalkomhan insaeng) I have to say that it is one of my most favorite movie ever, not just from South Korean, but cinema in general. A masterpiece by Jee-woon Kim that made me fall in love with his work, and opened my eyes to many amazing films his countryman produce. It swept away awards from many Asian film festivals and got positive critical response from western audiences, but still remains unknown to most viewers that are unfamiliar with Asian cinema.


Sun-woo (Byung-hun Lee) is right hand Mr. Kang (Yeong-cheol Kim), who is a boss of major crime syndicate. For years he has served loyally and without a fault to his employer, and now he has high level hotel complex under his strict management.

During one meeting, Mr. Kang, reveals to him that he has a mistress, a young girl named Hee-soo (Min-a Shin), and while he goes on a trip, he asks for a favor from Sun-woo, to keep an eye on a girl, and see if she is cheating on him. A seemingly easy task that goes sour, when Sun-woo discovers that she is in fact unfaithful to Mr. Kang. Unsure what to do, as his loyalty starts to crumble, Sun-woo decides to keep his findings secret...

Movie so full of style and coolness factor, carried by it's star, brilliant and famous Korean actor Byung-hun Lee, yet it has so much substance beneath it all to think about when credits roll. Suspenseful crime thriller, with noirish undertones, featuring that type of lone protagonist, found in many great movies like Le Samurai with Alain Delon.

Director Jee-woon Kim doesn't just stop there, fantastic cinematography, amazing camera work, with many new takes on action scenes, that all feature brilliant choreographing. A memorable scenes, characters, and bit of directors trademark brutal violence to make it proper gangster movie. And to seal the deal, incredible soundtrack, that I find myself listening to quite often.

A gem of Korean cinema. Must see.

DVD from Amazon
Blu-ray (Directors Cut) from YesAsia

Save The Green Planet (2003)

Genre: Action, Comedy, Drama, Sci-fi














Save The Green Planet (Jigureul jikyeora!) is a debut, and so far only feature movie by director and screenwriter Joon-Hwan Jang. It was nominated and won many awards across the globe, recognizing directors talent.

Lee Byeong-gu (Ha-kyun Shin) is ordinary white collar worker, but he has a secret, or rather he knows THE secret, the big conspiracy. Aliens are living among the humans and are to blame for all problems occurring in society and in his personal life. And what he knows for sure is that soon aliens are gonna make their final attack and destroy the earth. For Lee Byeong-gu it's understandable that he is the only one who can prevent it, to do so he has to get into contact with their leader, alien Prince. With help of his not so normal girlfriend, he kidnaps CEO of company he works for, whom he believes is high ranked alien disguised as human. He tortures him, trying to expose his alien nature and to force him to make a contact with Prince.


To call it really bizarre, is a light way of describing this work. Containing seemingly unbelievable mix of genres, such as comedy, drama, action, science fiction and even horror, or torture flick, this film makes all of it work together flawlessly in this one fine piece of cinema.

A movie that you probably haven't seen anything alike before. Highly recommended if you are in search of something... weird?

DVD from Amazon
DVD from YesAsia

Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War (2004)

Genre: Action, Drama, War














In the end of 2003 Silmido, a movie about South and North relationships, shook the South Korean box office, but not giving it even a few month of rest, another bomb was dropped upon South Korean viewers in early 2004, Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War (Taegukgi hwinalrimyeo), similarly themed film, directed by Je-kyu Kang of his Shiri fame, that beat all the prior set records. One third of South Korea population attended cinema to watch this film according to number of admissions.

It's 1950, two brothers, Jin-seok Lee (Bin Won) and eldest Jin-tae Lee (Dong-gun Jang) are spending ordinary time in streets of Seoul, living together with their mother and fiance of Jin-tae - Young-shin Kim (Eun-ju Lee). Peaceful life ends when North invades, and family is forced to leave their homes. Due to some unlucky circumstances both brothers found themselves on a train that's heading towards the battlefield. Cruel realities of war now become part of them.

Revisiting events set almost exactly 50 years in past, director managed to grab attention of Korean public with this epic war drama. Often called Korean Saving Private Ryan, and not without a reason, they both share that gruesome depiction of war, cruelty served by both sides and magnitude in which the scale of the war is portrayed, be it special effects or actor performances. Even the visual styles of the movie are really similar.
But most importantly they share similar, personal stories of the people involved. Comparable even in the way it is presented in the movie, starting with nowadays, showing survivors who share their memories and tell their stories, followed by dive in the past, where these memories are being replayed.

Films original Korean titles contains the names of flags of both neighboring countries, as a symbolic gesture towards their once shared unity.

Its should be mentioned that this movie is one of the final works of beautiful and talented actress Eun-ju Lee, who sadly committed suicide year after this film was released.

Overall, a powerful and emotionally lasting war drama. Highly recommended.

Blu-ray | DVD from Amazon
DVD from YesAsia

The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008)

Genre: Action, Adventure, Western














You would not really expect a western movie from South Korea, especially a remake of one of the most famous Spaghetti westerns by Sergio Leone, but here it is. The Good, The Bad, and The Weird (Joheunnom nabbeunnom isanghannom) directed by talented Jee-woon Kim.

Set in Manchurian desert during 1930's, story as title suggests involves three central figures and a valuable map. The Good (Woo-sung Jung) bounty hunter is after The Bad (Byung-hun Lee), cold-hearted bandit and hitman, who is hired for a mission to steal a treasure map from Japaneses officials traveling by train, but after derailing the train, before he can get his hands on it, The Weird (Kang-ho Song) manages to snatch it and run off. Japanese Imperial Army is not happy and is on a mission to recover the map.


A good humored movie with plenty of epic shootouts and crazy chases across the desert, featuring motorcycles, horses, army vehicles and cannons. Everything can be found in this movie, almost non stop action full of  explosions, knife fights, machineguns and brawl fights and the iconic Mexican standoff saved for the end.

Director Jee-woon Kim has once again picked two his long time collaborators for lead roles, sharp and charismatic Byung-hun Lee as anti hero, Kang-ho Song who with his humorous facial expressions and behavior is perfectly matched to play the weird one. Woo-sung Jung chosen for the role of the bounty hunter manages to bring that sincere lawfulness and determination in his rendition of classic good guy, a good face among the bunch of thieves and murderers.

Big budgeted, exciting and stylish adventure that is highly entertaining and definitely a must see film from Korea.

Blu-ray | DVD from Amazon.
Blu-ray (UK) | DVD (R2 Collector's Box) from YesAsia.

The City of Violence (2006)

Genre: Action, Crime, Drama














After his success of drama The Crying Fist, director Seung-wan Ryoo followed with this action packed crime drama The City of Violence (Jjakpae).

Four childhood friends meet up for the first time after a long time to attend a funeral of their friend Wang-jae (Kil-Kang Ahn), who has been murdered by a gang of street punks. They all have taken different roads in their lives, Tae-su (Doo-hong Jung) is a detective, Seok-hwan (played by director himself) is an ex-gangster, his brother Dong-hwan (Seok-yong Jeong) is a school teacher and Pil-ho (Beom-su Lee) is a big time mobster. Unsatisfied with official investigation results, Tae-su and Dong-hwan each investigate death of their friend. Soon clues lead them to land development project that both, Pi-ho and deceased Wang-jae had ties to, and now they have to confront their friend.


A really simple plot, that is explained and is quite obvious in early stages of movies, however you should not hold it against this movie, after all it's a great action film with some great martial arts demonstration in fights. Fights themselves are more like brawls, director never presents equal footing for main characters, they are always at disadvantage in numbers, and these numbers are huge.

Interesting camera work and more style than substance. Many are saying that Quentin Tarantino would approve of much that Seung-wan Ryoo is presenting, and I tend to agree, as there are many similarities.

If you like action movie with lot of fighting, driven by classic betrayal, that's not taking itself too seriously, it's right down you alley.

DVD from Amazon.
DVD (Ultimate Edition) from YesAsia.

Guns and Talks (2001)

Genre: Action, Comedy, Drama














Guns and Talks (Killerdeului suda) is action comedy from 2001, directed and written by Jin Jang, who also produced and wrote Welcome to Dongmakgol.

Story about freshly formed group of contract killers in Seoul, who are just starting to make their own name in the business. They complete the task of killing in any way client requests to. This group consists of two brothers, Sang-yeon (Hyeon-jun Shin) and Ha-yeon (Bin Won), and two of their friends Jae-yeong (Jae-yeong Jeong)  and Jung-woo (Ha-kyun Shin).

Business is going well, until one day they have to do a high risk job, while discovering that someones onto them.

While it's a movie about killers, it's more of a light comedy about inner relationships in the group with action parts, and some drama mixed in. Whats great is that you can observe still young actors who few years later would become some of the top stars in Korea, like Bin Won, known for The Man from Nowhere and Mother for whom Guns and Talks was debut movie.

Entertaining flick thats worth a watch. 

DVD from Amazon

The Man From Nowhere (2010)


Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller











The Man From Nowhere (Ajeossi) was biggest and certainly most popular movie of 2010 in South Korea, and currently probably is one of the most well known Korean films of past few years in west. Written and directed by Jeong-beom Lee who had already proved himself as capable director in his debut Cruel Winter Blues from 2006.

Plot summary is simple, a quiet pawnshop keeper with a violent past takes on a drug and organ trafficking ring in hope of saving the child who is his only friend.


Story itself is quite the cliche of action genre, but don't be discouraged by that, whats important is the raw energy and drive that this movie is accompanied by. Young movie star Bin Won who just year ago played shy and quiet boy in fantastic drama Mother, now takes complete makeover and becomes action movie superhero delivering spectacular performance as a powerful lead.

If you are a fan of thrillers that have likable and cool male characters, lots of action, and in general are really stylish, you will love it. If you like movies like Man on Fire, Léon: The Professional, Taken you will love it.

I do love it. It has everything that makes a great action movies. Everything.

A must see.

And Hollywood doesn't sleep, remake right were quickly acquired.

Blu-ray | DVD from Amazon.

2009 Lost Memories (2002)

Genre: Action, Drama, Mystery, Sci-fi, Thriller













If you are into market for science fiction, action blockbuster, 2009 Lost Memories is right down your alley. Directed by Si-myung Lee, it took more than 2 years of production, and cost around 7 million dollars to film this movie, which is a huge budget for a Korean film, making it most expensive movie of the year.

Set in alternative future, year 2009, where Japan has annexed Korea, fought and won World War 2 on allied side, and is a super power on global stage. Two Japanese Bureau of Investigation agents Masayuki Sakamoto (Dong-gun Jang) and Shojiro Saigo (Toru Nakamura) are sent to investigate incident at art museum, where underground anti government organization Hureisenjin had taken hostages during exhibition of antiques organized by Inoue Foundation. Investigating this terror act, agents found clues that point how Seoul might really not be a part of Japan, and how reality they know might not be the "right" one. Maybe even the history can be changed?



Quite clever plot with good flow that keeps entertaining every minute won't leave you bored while watching this spectacular fight for the future. Fans of action films should not be scared by excessive sci-fi elements, movie while set in alternative future is grounded in reality, so don't expect flying cars and lazer blasters.

A quality blockbuster with interesting look on history, great action and fun sci-fi elements.

DVD from Amazon.
DVD from YesAsia.

Fighter in the Wind (2004)

Genre: Drama, Action, Biography














Fighter in the Wind (Baramui Fighter) is based on a life story of famous karate master Masutatsu Oyama, who changed his name later in life from Choi Yeung-Eui. Directed by Yun-ho Yang.


While World War 2 is still being fought, a young man from Korea named Choi Bae-dal (portrayed by Dong-kun Yang) travels to Japan with hopes of becoming airplane pilot, however upon arrival his fate decides differently, leading him into trouble. He accepts fates challenges, and becomes a fighter. Many obstacles in his way, conflicts with Japanese people due to his Korean origin, loss of his master, harsh training, all of which leads to more than 270 accounted fights in his life, as a result him becoming legend of Japanese Karate.

While not completely factual, it's still interesting and well made movie. A great mix between Japanese martial arts and characteristic to Korea drama. Highly recommended  to anyone interested in biographical movies about great personalities in martial arts.

DVD from Amazon.