Peppermint Candy (1999)

Genre: Drama

Peppermint Candy (Bakha satang) is yet another piece from our old friend director Chang-dong Lee, a talented novelist, scriptwriter, teacher and former Culture Minister of South Korea. This, his second movie, was his first award sponge and the one that launched him into elite of Korean movie-makers.

On a  bank of small river in some rural area, there is a small reunion of group of students taking place. Soon a man arrives, who was once a part of this group, but his behavior is irrational and confounded, even hysterical. He without saying much wrecks the party and then proceeds to nearby train tracks where he stands and faces oncoming train. In a manner, his live flashes before his very own eyes.

And we as a viewers are invited to see important events of his live that lead him to where he is standing.

A really sad story of a man, a series of a flashbacks that go deeper and deeper into his past. 20 years of a one mans life, and 20 years of entire country's turbulent history.

Masterfully crafted series of flashbacks, that each could deserve it's own short-film. And each meant to evoke certain emotions into viewer regarding the man we observe, his ambitions, and to explain why he is what he is and where he is. Fear, anger, hate and love.

Captivating performance by Kyung-gu Sol which enhances the almost flawless narration of the director. A must see struggle with life for every drama fan.

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Voice of a Murderer (2007)

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Voice of a Murderer (Geu nom moksori) is attempt at crime genre from a director who is mostly known for his romance and drama movies - Jin-pyo Park, and it's quite a successful attempt at that, a highly grossing and recognized at many movie festivals effort.

Han Kyung-bae (Kyung-gu Sol) is a famous TV news anchor, who enjoys his fame and because of his success is preparing to take large steps forward to significantly advance his career. While all of his focus is shifted to work, his family, a beautiful wife and not so perfect son, is put on hold.

It all changes when one evening his son doesn't come back home from playground. A phone rings, and conversation begins that will control Han Kyung-bae and his wife's life for many tiring and sorrowful days.

In a similar manner (especially the ending if I might point it out) to remarkable Memories of Murder this film tells a story based on a true events that happened in South Korea. Movie deals with kidnapping and devastating emotional effect it produces on family members, parents in particular, also touching on ineptness of police force that is commonly displayed in oh so many Korean movies.

It may not contain masterful execution and brilliant touch for visuals that director of Memories of Murder Bong Joon-ho and his team posses, but nonetheless it's a solid and suspenseful thriller. Backed up by really solid cast choice of talented Kyung-gu Sol as a father in distress.

A good movie for fans of crime genre, a bit on a long side, but well worth a watch.

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Cruel Winter Blues (2006)

Genre: Crime, Drama

Director Jeong-beom Lee took a huge bite out of Korean box office with his high octane action thriller The Man From Nowhere, but what about his earlier works? As it turns out he's made only one feature film prior to this, and his debut movie is called Cruel Winter Blues (Yeolhyeol-nama). Also a movie revolving around gangsters, but more tame and personal than his new blockbuster.

Seasoned, but still small time, gangster Jae-Mun (Kyung-gu Sol) takes gang's newcomer Chi-Guk (Han-seon Jo) under his authority and leaves for a small provincial town. There, soon set to arrive, attending his hometown's sporting event is influential businessman Dae-Sik (Je-mun Yun) who few years ago murdered Jae-Mun's friend. Unable to shake the guilt of his friends death, Jae-Mun in his own way is finally ready to settle this old matter once and for all.

While waiting, he befriends mother (played by Mun-hee Na) of Dae-Sik who is owner and sole worker of a small dining place. As she starts treating him like her own son, Jae-Mun who is abusive and disrespectful to his underling, captured by her influence slowly starts to enjoy quiet and leisure life that this, imperfect in it's own way, dusty and crumbling town provides. His will to vengeance slowly starts to fade away. Change is happening somewhere deep inside of him.

If you are expecting a gangster movie involving lot's of gunfire, fights, or other violent means of mutual destruction, this film is not for you. As opposite to The Man From Nowhere, which had plenty of aforementioned stuff,  this is much slower paced, personal drama. But still it's a gangster drama, obviously a popular sub-genre to explore in Korean movie circles, so there will be blood.

First class performances by all of main cast, great direction and cinematography. A great take on genre by Jeong-beom Lee. Engaging, heavy and personal story. Definitely worth a watch.

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Silmido (2003)

Genre: Drama, Thriller

After his blockbuster Public Enemy that was huge success, director Woo-Suk Kang got green lighted for another big project, Silmido. Yet another South Korean movie that draws it's plot from tensions between both neighbor Korea's, and sure enough it did well in box office. But common theme doesn't mean bad movie, definitely not in this case.

In 1968. group of North Korean special forces consisting of 31 man, infiltrated South Korea with mission to assassinate president Park Chung-hee. They failed. However this event shook South Korean intelligence agency to it's core, and decision was made to answer North using similar means.

On Silmido island a special force is being formed to accomplish this task. Under the name "Unit 684" 31 criminals, some from death row, have been recruited and begin their training to infiltrate North. In 1971, when unit is finally ready to commence their mission, there are changes in political climate in top layers of government, peace talks are priority, and decision is made to eliminate Unit 684. But before this order is carried out, there is revolt on island.

Movie is based on true story, and you can read more about it here, which is quite interesting piece of history, as existence of this unit and it's mission was kept secret until beginning of 90's.

After release, and huge popularity, South Korean government officials were vocal about how film depicts cruelty that government subjected it's soldiers. However it needs to be understood that this is a movie, and not documentary, and it's to be expect from director to make it more dramatic for the sake of entertainment.

Either way, this is really good thriller, that's worth a watch.

DVD from Amazon.
DVD (R2) from YesAsia.

No Mercy (2010)

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

No Mercy (Yongseoneun Eupda) is another fantastic, yet unknown for most gem from Korean cinema, and a great debut of director Hyoung-Jun Kim, strengthened by good cast of experienced actors and beautiful cinematography.

Forensic pathologist Kang Min-ho (Kyung-gu Sol) is involved in investigation of a serial killer who is known for decapitating his victims. Soon police finds a suspect, odd environmental activist Lee Seong-ho (Seung-beom Ryu), who doesn't confess but clearly is somehow involved, he then starts to play a strange game with Kang Min-ho, whose daughter untimely appears to be missing.

Another somber thriller about serial killers in best traditions of Korean movies, as a highlight featuring some quite disturbing and revealing scenes from daily work of medical examiner. Add to that masterfully crafted ending that that was a huge surprise for me personally and you got a winner. 

Overall No Mercy really reminded of  Fincher's Se7en, which I think is a golden standard of serial killer movies, and it's a good thing.

If you want suspenseful, revengeful and intense thriller about serial killers, No Mercy delivers.

DVD from Amazon.
DVD (First Press Edition R3) | DVD (R3) from YesAsia.

Oasis (2002)

Genre: Drama

Oasis is a third feature film from one of the finest Korean drama directors - Chang-dong Lee. This drama gained him international recognition, a nomination for Golden Lion, Special Director's Award, SIGNIS Award and FIPRESCI Prize at Venice Film Festival of 2003. After finishing this movie he went to serve as South Korea's Minister of Culture for one year.

After being released from prison for commited involuntery manslaughter Jong-du Hong (Kyung-gu Sol) returns to his family, only to find himself redundant among them. In prison he had resolved to make an apology to the family of the man he murdered. After arriving there he spots a girl Gong-ju Han (So-ri Moon), and out of his feelings of abandonment and loneliness he makes advance at her.

But there is something about these two people that makes this story very special. Jong-du Hong is slightly mentally handicapped and Gong-ju Han has suffered stroke and has severe cerebral palsy. He is mentally unfit for this society, and she is physically. Both their families threat them badly and see as a bother. They are unwanted.

Is true love possible between them?

Heavy and dramatic movie about people who are different from others. An emotional roller coaster in which director manages to squeeze out tears or sadness and little joy. It's hard to watch movies as emotionally draining as this one, and yet gives rewarding feeling of satisfaction after credits roll. 

And I'd really like to emphasize powerful performances of both actors, especially So-ri Moon whose portrayal of cerebral palsy victim is phenomenal, and it's hard to believe it's the same actress after you see her out of the character.

A perfect drama.

DVD from Amazon.
DVD (UK)  | DVD (Special Edition) from YesAsia.