My Favourite Korean Films of 2012

*My apologies, this post was supposed to have been published January 3rd.

I watch a lot of Korean films – in fact; about half of the films I go see in the theatres are Korean nowadays. And no, it’s not because I’m reviewing them. It’s because I enjoy them. 2012 was a particularly good year for Korean films but for the purposes of this article, I’m only going to talk about my favourites of the films that debuted in 2012 AND were available to watch in Toronto.

My “top 10” favourites are in no particular order.

A Werewolf Boy (늑대소년)

I loved this poignant film on a variety of levels. The acting was amazing, especially that of Song Joong-ki (송중기) and I loved the blending of a sweet (and almost entirely innocent) love story with the fantasy/horror of a werewolf story. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it! Apparently, there was an alternate ending as well but unfortunately, I haven’t seen it (I did go see the film again in the theatres after seeing it at TIFF to see the alternate ending but it was the same). Bring tissues!

Want to know more about what I thought? Read my review of A Werewolf Boy in Toronto

The Thieves (도둑들)

This blockbuster film was a huge success and thoroughly enjoyable. I watched it at TIFF and everyone in the audience loved it. It had the perfect blend of action, story and great acting to elevate this caper flick to the next level. Best of all, this is a film that you can watch with anyone (okay, perhaps not really young kids) and feel assured that they’ll love it too.  

Want to know more about what I thought? Read my review of the Korean Films at TIFF

Spellbound (오싹한 연애)

This actually came out in Korea in December 2011 but didn’t debut in Canada until 2012 so I’m counting it in this list. I’m generally not much of a fan of horror films but this isn’t your traditional horror flick as it blends horror, comedy and romance together for an entertaining film that is both unusual and fun (and just a teeny bit scary). Fantastic story that would make the perfect date flick.

Want to know more about what I thought? Read my review of Spellbound

Masquerade (광해, 왕이 남자)

This film would make the list simply because Lee Byung Hun (이병헌) is in it but truly the premise of the story is so amazingly inventive that it makes this historical drama super fascinating. Imagine taking a real event or time during which history is unsure of exactly what happened and creating a possible story? That’s what they did and man, did they do a wonderful job of it. Plus Lee Byung Hun rocks!

Want to know more about what I thought? Read my review of Masquerade

Nameless Gangster (범죄와의 전쟁)

Ever go into a film not really expecting to like it? That’s what I thought when I arrived at the theatre to see Nameless Gangster but man, was I wrong. I was sucked into the story from the start (amazing acting!) and before I knew it, I was rooting for a psychotic gangster.

Want to know more about what I thought? Read my review of Nameless Gangster

Pieta (피에타)

This is one of those films that is fabulously done but tells such a horrible story that it’s hard to say I liked it. It’s a great film though but so very disturbing. Amazing acting in this award-winning film but it’s definitely a film that some people won’t enjoy. Nor would I recommend you watch it on a date. For my review, check out the link under The Thieves (it’s for all the films I saw at TIFF).

Helpless (화차)

This dark thriller will keep you guessing – and on the seat of your pants – throughout the entire film. Lee Sun Gyun (이선균) is simply amazing in it – and one of the main reasons I watched it. You really feel for his character and his acting certainly elevated the film into my top 10 for me.

Want to know more about what I thought? Read my review of Helpless.

Doomsday Book (인류멸망보고서)

I watched this film at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival and found it extremely interesting. It’s not often you find a film that’s really three separate stories by two directors. I particularly liked the end-of-the-world scenario in the last story, Happy Birthday (해피 버스데이).

Want to know more about what I thought? Read my review of Doomsday Book

Stateless Things (줄탁동시)

This is a deep film that will keep you thinking long after the movie is finished playing. Definitely not for everyone – there is an extremely explicit gay sex scene in it – and it’s a bit slow at times but interesting and thought-provoking nonetheless.

Want to know more about what I thought? Read my review of Stateless Things.

The Front Line (고지전)

This is another film that came out in Korea in 2011 (in July) but didn’t debut in Canada until 2012. Okay, so it really shouldn’t be in this list but I did really enjoy it. It’s one of my favourite war films (in any language) and one that I would highly recommend. It was as much about the interactions of the two sides – North & South Korea – as it was about the war (the Korean War) and I liked how real the characters seemed (on both sides).

Want to know more about what I thought? Read my review of The Front Line. 

There were other good films…

I saw a lot of Korean films in 2012 but not as many as I would have liked of course. Thankfully, more and more Korean films are being screened in Toronto – either in theatres or at film festivals. I saw Korean films at five different film festivals in Toronto, including the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF), the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival (Reel Asian), the Toronto After Dark Film Festival (After Dark) and the Toronto Film Festival.

Since there were so many great Korean films in 2012, not all of them could make my favourites list. Other films I saw that I would also recommend include: Glove (글러브), Juvenile Offender (범죄소년), and R2B: Return to Base (R2B: 리턴투베이스). The first two were really 2011 films (but released in 2012 in Canada).

And of course, I can’t see them all but luckily some of the Korean films I didn’t see, my friends did. They’ve recommended: Architecture 101 (건축학개론), Deranged (연가시) and In Another Country (다른 나라에서).

Do you agree with my favourites? What 2012 Korean films did you see? Which ones were your favourites? Did I miss a film you loved?

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

%d bloggers like this: