Korean movies are so freaking good, you guys
When it came time for the Flixist staff to do end-of-year lists, we obviously wanted to have things that reflected us as a site, but we also wanted lists that reflected the individual writers. When you boil it down, the real difference between a blog and a more typical site is the existence of personalities in every facet of the content. If you're a regular reader (and you should be), you should have a pretty good sense of who we are. If you see something by Nick Valdez, you know it will be like reading a 13-year old girl's diary; posts by Hubert Vigilla will make obscure references to things you don't understand but will laugh at anyway; and if you see my name in the byline... well, it probably deals with Korean cinema.
It shouldn't be shocking, then, that I am counting down the best Korean films that came to Netflix in 2012. I see a lot of Korean films at festivals, but many don't get proper releases. I can tell people how great a movie is, and they can say, "Sounds great!" but it ends there. That's no fun. Thanks to Netflix, though some of these amazing movies do get to reach a huge audience. An audience that, unfortunately, doesn't realize they are there. This list, which is by no means comprehensive, is meant to point you to some of those films. Specifically ones that hit Netflix in the past 12 months.
I should note that not all of these entries will focus on what makes the movies great (although most of them will), because a couple of entries on this list have made significant impacts on me as a writer and as a film viewer. So in those cases, I will be writing about my own experiences rather than just the film's. If you don't care about that, you should still check the list out. Read the titles, maybe watch a few trailers, read the reviews (which are generally less personal), and then go watch the movies on Netflix. If you do care, on the other hand, you're great. Let's be friends.
Either way, let's get this party started.
Glove is the uplifting tale of a deaf baseball team and how, through extreme hard work and determination, they were able to become a force to be reckoned with (if not necessarily champions). It's based on a true story, which makes the accomplishments of these characters all the more impressive. I found myself extremely engaged from beginning to end, and when the end came, I was both happy (that it was hopeful rather than happy) and sad (that it wasn't really "happy"). Unfortunately, the whole thing is formulaic as hell, which is why it sits at the end of this list. But with the intensity of the drama from most of the films on this list, I felt that having a good old fashioned underdog story on here was important. South Korean cinema may be known for its violent, intense thrillers (and with good reason), but there is quite a bit more out there. Glove is proof of that.
Read our Glove review here.
Watch it here.
5/4. My Way/The Front Line
If you were wondering, the reason this list is a Top 6 rather than a Top 5 was due to my inability to cut either My Way or The Front Line from my recommendations. Originally, it was either going to be My Way or Glove, but then I remembered this whole number system thing was completely arbitrary, so I get to have both. While The Front Line is an overall better film, My Way's first two-thirds are among the best I have seen in any war film. Not surprising, given that the director of My Way also directed Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War, which is widely regarded as the best South Korean war film out there. Unfortunately, the third act takes a turn for the worse, and it drags down the whole film, although hardly enough to keep me from recommending it wholeheartedly.
The Front Line is also fantastic, and I maintain that it was robbed in last year's Oscars because it wasn't even nominated. I loved A Separation, but it's not better than The Front Line. But as the Academy proved in 1999 when they passed over Saving Private Ryan in favor of Shakespeare in Love, a damn good war film just isn't their cup of tea. But it seems that it may very well be mine, and if it's yours, you owe it to yourself to see My Way and The Front Line. There's something really fascinating about seeing A) wars you know from a different side (My Way's bizarre third act takes place from the perspective of the Germans on D-Day) and B) wars you know nothing about (The Front Line focuses on the war between North Korea and South Korea). They certainly feel familiar, but you never really know quite what to expect. In this case, the unexpected is very much welcome... except in the third act of My Way. Seriously. Turn it off when they get to Germany. It won't be a particularly satisfying ending, but you will spare yourself a lot of disappointment and confusion.
The only film on this list that I saw on Netflix first, Silenced is like a fictionalized version of films such as West of Memphis. Like that film, Silenced focuses on actual events, in this case the molestation and abuse of deaf students by their teachers and principal. It goes from the tail end of the incidents themselves through the trial (which didn't end up quite the way one would hope) and somewhat beyond. The ending acts as something of a plea for help, because the case isn't really over. Now, that is all well and good, but it wouldn't be on this list if it was just an interesting case (there are plenty of movies about those). No, Silenced is here because it is an extremely powerful drama about an extremely unpleasant topic. Although I could have done without the uncomfortably graphic (although not pornographic) scenes of molestation, the film creates a tense atmosphere that permeates through all aspects of it.
It is also the first film in quite some time to make me seriously think about my own morals. While the adults who committed the crimes are without question disgusting examples of humanity at its worst, there are other characters who are not quite as easy to dismiss. There is a lot of money thrown around by some very powerful people, and staying righteous in the face of a new career and quite a hefty sum of money is probably not quite as easy to reject as I might think as I self-righteously sit here at my computer and decry their actions. Would I have acted like the protagonist and perservered, or would I have been like the children's parents and succumbed? I don't know. But Silenced made me wonder, and that isn't something I do all that much.
Watch it here.
To date, I have written approximately 100 reviews for Flixist, and Bedevilled, which was only my fourth review, remains the highest rated film on that list. By default, that means the film has to end up here. But I was a very different writer when I saw it. Although I had seen a few Korean films before, it was the films I saw at NYAFF 2011, Bedevilled chief among them, that really sent me down the road that eventually led me to writing a list about South Korean film releases on Netflix. The intensity of the violence and the overall quality of the revenge story rocked me pretty hard, and it definitely had a profound impact on the way I viewed revenge films, Korean films, and films in general.
But that was then, and this is now. I don't know what I would think of Bedevilled if I saw it today, and I haven't been able to bring myself to find out. I will probably still like it, love it even, but will I still believe that the films in Park Chan-Wook's Vengeance Trilogy "pale in comparison"? I doubt it. But even if it's not actually the best Korean revenge thriller out there, I've no doubt that it's a movie that is absolutely worth seeing. Perhaps I'll regret the fact that it currently stands the best reviewed film in my archive (despite only being number two on this list), but I will stand by the younger me's opinion of the film. One of these days, I will rewatch Bedevilled and know for sure. In the meantime, I will fret and worry about something that really doesn't matter all that much. But you should just see it. Because if Alec Kubas-Meyer's opinion in July of 2011 is any indication, it's one hell of a revenge story.
Read our Bedevilled review here.
Watch it here.
If it is possible that I overrated Bedevilled, there is no question that I underrated Sunny. Back when Sunny existed only on the festival circuit, I could only tell people that they had to see it with no clear way of getting that to happen. Now it's all-too simple, and that is absolutely fantastic. If Netflix was just a service that allowed Sunny to get the mass distribution that it deserves, that would still be a worthwhile endeavor. My only complaint is that it's not the Director's Cut. I don't actually know that the ten additional minutes in the DC make the film better, because I haven't had the chance to see it myself, but the fact that Netflix won't give me the option makes me sad. Netflix needs to get on having multiple versions of films with multiple versions. Or if they're only going to have one, stop choosing the theatrical releases.
But this isn't about complaining about Netflix. This is about celebrating Sunny. Sunny is easily one of the best films I have ever seen, and just thinking about it makes me feel all kinds of emotions. The ending is such a brilliantly bittersweet moment that only a heartless cretin wouldn't feel a bit of a tug on the heartstrings. I didn't cry (although several of my friends did), but my eyes definitely got a little watery. From beginning to end, the whole thing just oozes quality, and I don't have a single complaint with the film. The concept of nostalgia is inherently sappy, but Sunny avoids any kind of ridiculous sentimentality, instead making all of the characters (present and past, it takes place in two time periods) so awesome that any feeling of emotional manipulation just disappears.
If you only watch one film from this list, please make it this one. And watch it with a group. You'll feel awkward laughing that hard in a room alone. I know I did the first time I saw it. When I got the chance to show it to my friends, it was a great experience for me. Now that I've made some new friends, I'm looking forward to having that experience again.
Goddamnit I love this movie.
Read our Sunny review here.
Watch it here.