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The Ten Best Korean Films Streaming on Hulu (2015 Edition)

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That aren't available on Netflix

Last month, we posted our list of best Korean films available on Netflix. But I made the point there that Netflix's supply has been drying up lately. Over the course of this year, the number of available films has quite literally halved.

On the other hand, Hulu seems to be picking up some of that slack. Many people don't think of Hulu as a serious contender, and that's understandable, but if you're a film fan, there's really quite a bit to like. Being able to take full advantage of their partnership with the Criterion Collection in and of itself justifies the price of admission, as far as I'm concerned. Now knowing that this list of films that I already love and others that I'm looking forward to finally seeing (and, admittedly, others I can guarantee I will never see) is available, I feel even more secure in my subscription. (If you don't want to subscribe, though, Hulu allows anyone to watch films for free with commercial breaks. A Hulu Plus subscription allows you to see them ad-free.)

There is some overlap in the catalog  two-thirds of The Vengeance Trilogy is available, as are films like War of the Arrows, Moebius, and Hide and Seek (listed in our Netflix Top 13) – but each of the ten films on this list are, as of the press time, exclusive to Hulu. And every single one of them is absolutely worth watching. There are some other really enjoyable films on the service, such as Secret Reunion, Rough Cut, and The Attorney, but this list is being limited to ten entries, and some things had to give. The fact that films as good as those got cut speaks to just how great Hulu's catalog is, certainly by comparison.

So let's get to it!

Sunny

Sunny
Director: Kang Hyeong-Cheol

When people ask me what my favorite Korean film is, I usually tell them Sunny. It's not necessarily true (though it might be), but I say it to gain street cred. Most people (at least in America) haven't heard of Sunny, but every Korean person I've mentioned it to has known it. A couple of them have told me I couldn't get it because I'm not Korean. I don't think that's quite fair, though I sort of understand where they're coming from. There are politics that I don't understand, but I think it's ridiculous to say that me not quite getting the context means I can't love the film for how I see it. Because even if that plays around the backdrop (or a backdrop), what matters is the human drama that plays out in the foreground. It's often hilarious, occasionally heart-breaking, but always wonderful.

Sadly, the Director's Cut, which adds two scenes (one of which is arguably the most impacting in the entire film), isn't available, but even so, Sunny is a spectacular film. I fell in love with Sunny long before I saw the Director's Cut. You will too.

Watch it here!

Moss

Moss
Director: Kang Woo-Suk 

Moss was among the first Korean films I reviewed for Flixist. I wasn't quite new to Korean cinema at the time, but it was one of the catalysts for what would end up being a reasonably deep dive. It was my first introduction to actor Park Hae-Il, though, who has become one of my favorite Korean actors. He's a pretty small guy, but he more than makes up for it with an abundance of presence and talent. What I particularly enjoy about Moss is the fact that it's a film where not only was I concerned about the main character in the general "Always care about the protagonist" sense but also the "Oh shit, this guy might actually get killed by these people" sense. The intensity of it (and a history of that kind of thing in other Korean thrillers) meant that his fate wasn't all that certain. It meant that the "thriller" was particularly thrilling, and though it's a bit on the long side, it never drags. It's got you, and it keeps you right up until the end. 

Watch it here!

Memories of Murder

Memories of Murder
Director: Bong Joon-Ho 

Here's the thing: Memories of Murder is probably the biggest item on this list, but not because I think it's the best. Everyone else thinks it's the best. This was not just Bong Joon-Ho's breakout film, but for many it was Korean cinema's breakout film. This retelling of a tragic and senseless violent act and the ensuing investigation is disturbing and intense and important in ways that I will admit to not understanding (political things again). And on those grounds alone you should watch it, and the fact that it's here is awesome.

On a personal level, I think this is a far less compelling film than Bong Joon-Ho's followup, The Host. I take particular issue with the comedic aspects of the film (including a particular transition that is overtly funny to the point of being parody), because they work against an otherwise deadly serious narrative. It's an issue that plagues Korean films in general, honestly, and Bong Joon-Ho's work in particular. To be clear: I like the film quite a bit, just not quite as much as everyone else. Perhaps since it's here, I'll give it another shot.

Watch it here!

Silenced

Silenced
Director: Gong Ji-Young

In my Netflix list, I lamented the loss of Silenced from Netflix's catalog. It's a soul-crushing movie, one of those bleak looks into the evils of humanity (it's based on a true story) and the horrific things that are allowed to happen (no one was charged). To make a film about something like this requires the utmost skill and ability to navigate horrors without succumbing to them. This film could have easily turned into something truly vile, but it doesn't. It's a film that makes you angry at society, indignant about the justice system, and depressed about the future of our species. But it's also an extremely compelling drama and one that is well worth your time. Just block off a few hours afterwards. Ya know, for the sobbing.

Watch it here!

 

Joint Security Agency

Joint Security Area
Director: Park Chan-Wook 

Speaking of debuts (sort of), Park Chan-Wook's Joint Security Area is the film that put the director on the map. It may have been his third film, but JSA was the breakout movie. He would follow this up with The Vengeance Trilogy, and even though it's a very different type of film, you could see that talent in full swing. It's a fascinating film about the relationship between North and South Korea, one that is all the more poignant as tensions heat up at the border of the countries again. It's also interesting as a film that crosses cultural boundaries. It's hard to really understand what goes into the constant standoff like this (particularly for someone who wasn't around for the height of the Cold War), but the movie isn't really about that, simply using it as a backdrop for more relatable drama. The message – we're not so different, you and I – isn't the most original, but the execution is more than enough to make up for that.

Watch it here!

Sex Is Zero

Sex is Zero
Director:  Yoon Je-kyoon 

And while we're on the topic of obscure-ish films, Sex is Zero is a film I've yet to see on other services. For a while, its sequel was available on Netflix (no longer, but it's on Hulu), but I had trouble tracking down the original. I've always found Korean romantic comedies fascinating, but the number of them available to see is always fairly low. Perhaps it's an issue of the comedy not crossing cultures (or distributors not thinking they'd cross cultures) or maybe it's something else entirely, but I see less of that than I'd like. I heard of Sex Is Zero years ago when looking up the "Best of Korean Cinema" years ago (I'm the target audience for this list, by the way) and it showed up on multiple Best Comedy lists. Is it one of the best comedies? I dunno, but it's a whole lot of fun, and the kind of thing that you should definitely check out while it's available.

Watch it here!

Nameless Gangster

Nameless Gangster
Director: Yoon Jong-Bin 

Nameless Gangster is just a great gosh darn movie. An excellent one, even. One of my favorite mob films. That's a function of a lot of things, but as always, Choi Min-sik's performance is the key thing here. Following years of the ultra-corrupt civil servant-turned gangster's life, we get to see the seedy underbelly of 1980s Korea and the role that family plays in it. Most mob movies that head this way are about the Italian mob, and obviously we know that family is a big deal there, but it seems like the blood thing runs even deeper in Korea, and that makes it a particularly interesting film to watch. The violence is intense as well, and the distinct lack of shoot-outs due to the general difficulty of procuring weapons honestly makes for far more interesting and visceral confrontations. If you're familiar with (and perhaps tired of) American mob movies, this one will serve as a breath of fresh air.

Watch it here!

Bedevilled

Bedevilled
Director: Jang Cheol-Soo

This film sits in an odd place for me. I wrote about it at the 2011 New York Asian Film Festival. It was one of the first reviews I ever wrote. I was also fairly new to Korean cinema at the time, only having spent a couple years prior getting into it, and certainly not getting into the country's deep cuts. I gave the film a 94, which at the time was an even more significant measure of quality than the currently very-difficult-to-reach level we have now. It meant that a film had to be effectively perfect and then some. I called the film better than the Vengeance Trilogy. I think I was a little caught up in everything. 

Context matters when seeing a film. I saw Bedevilled with a crowd, and that crowd was rowdy and ugly and I didn't enjoy being there with them. I was so angry at their shouting and still liking the movie quite a bit that I think I over-compensated. I loved this movie, not because it was better than the Vengeance Trilogy, but because the people who actively attempted to get in the way of my investment in the story failed.

This is one of those films that I find quintessentially Korean. You're subjected to horrors, maybe you receive some catharsis, but in the end it's all meaningless. There is no victory here. Nowadays, my score would have been lower, but I still think it's a film worth seeing.

Watch it here!

Bleak Night

Bleak Night
Director: Yoon Sung-Hyun 

I saw Bleak Night a couple years ago. I wanted to review it. Tried to. I wrote six different introductions to the review and bits of a body, but I hated every single one. It's a hard film to talk about, because suicide is a hard topic to discuss. The name is an apt one; this film is extremely bleak, and it doesn't leave you with a whole lot of hope. But that says nothing about its quality (and it's hardly the most depressing film on this list). Films should be challenging like this, making you consider your own actions and the way you treat people. It's a film about consequences and the chain of events that could lead someone to end their life. It begins with the suicide and works its way back. You know the ending, which makes it all the more crushing to see. But as long as you go in expecting the emotional impact, you will find it more than worth your while.

Watch it here!

The Whistleblower

The Whistleblower
Director: Yim Soonrye

Speaking of films I saw and wanted to write about but never did, The Whistleblower is a film that I saw at the most recent New York Asian Film Festival and really, really loved. Like, it was one of my favorites at the fest, but I didn't write about it. Why? Because I didn't feel like I could do my feelings justice. Due to time and other constraints, I was forced to write mostly capsule reviews, and I refused to condense my feelings on this film into a couple hundred words. And the reason is that this film affected me less because it's a great movie (though it is) but because of the context in which I saw it. Not long before , I was internet-attacked fairly viscously for reasons too stupid to get into here. But even though my life was never actually in danger (there were some threats or at least implications of threats in there, though), much of the public smearing that the lead character undergoes while just trying to do his job resonated in a very personal way. It was the film I wanted and needed to see at that point. 

You will not have that context when you see it. You'll just get an interesting thriller about an interesting historical-ish event in modern Korean history. You'll see what pride and nationalism force people to do and the struggle to combat that in the face of absolute truth. It's fascinating, and I wish I'd had time to write about it. But I got that chance here, albeit briefly. Thanks, Hulu!

Watch it here!

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Alec Kubas-Meyer
Alec Kubas-MeyerReviews & Features Editor   gamer profile

Alec Kubas-Meyer signed up for Flixist in May of 2011 as a news writer, and he never intended to write a single review. Funny, then, that he is now the site's Reviews (and Features) Editor. After... more + disclosures


 


 



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