My “Top 10” Korean Films of 2016

Sorry this ‘best of’ list is a bit belated.

2016 was a good year for Korean film and luckily, many of the great films made their way to Toronto (yay us!). For the purposes of this review, I only consider the films that first played in Toronto, either in the theatres or at film festivals, in 2016. Luckily, more Korean films seem to be screening in Toronto and various other major cities in North America, and many of them are doing quite well here. Train to Busan (부산행) played a record (for Toronto) 11 weeks in the theatres here, almost doubling the previous record for a Korean film here. And it wasn’t the only film to do well in Toronto which is heartening.

Unfortunately, it was a bad year for me and watching films – my viewing percentage of films is usually about 90% of the Korean films that play here, with about 75% reviewed – but both percentages were much lower in 2016 and for that I apologize and vow to improve in 2017 so we can bring you even more film reviews.

But enough about me, let’s talk about the films. In no particular order, here are my favourite Korean films of 2016 – all of which I recommend strongly. I tried to order them but it was an impossibility as I liked all 10, for different reasons perhaps but they’re all worth watching. If you haven’t seen them already, definitely check them out if you have the chance, you won’t regret it. So without further ado…

My Favourite Korean Films of 2016

Courtesy of TIFF

Asura (아수라) – 2016

This dark crime film was super fun to watch. Pretty much everyone in it is morally corrupt but that’s part of what makes it fun to watch – and the acting is spot on, I will never look at so-maek (소맥, a mix of beer and soju) the same way again. Everything about the film – from the cinematography to the action to dark characters – works.

Want more info, check out my review.

Courtesy of TIFF

The Handmaiden (아가씨) – 2016

A beautifully acted and shot film, it’s one that might surprise you (if you didn’t read the book it’s based on) with some of the twists. The acting was amazing, especially by the two female leads, and it has some of the oddest sex scenes. It truly is a thriller that will keep you entertained.

Courtesy of TIFF

The Age of Shadows (밀정) – 2016

Between the director and the actors, it should be no surprise that this film made my top 10 list (as well as others). It’s a period film, an action flick and a drama – all rolled into one blockbuster film that thankfully, lived up to its promise. I loved the humour, the almost sepia tone to how it was shot, the crazy slap scene, and the acting. I could go on but let’s just say, it’s good.

Want more info, check out my review.

Poster courtesy of Cineplex

Train to Busan (부산행) – 2016

It’s always interesting to see your favourite actor playing a character that you’re not going to entirely like but Train to Busan is more than just that. Director Yeon Sang Ho (연상호) managed to craft a fabulous zombie film that was fun to watch, while still managing to provide some of the social commentary he’s known for in his animated films. I wasn’t the only one who loved it as like I mentioned, it now holds the title of being the longest running Korean film (in Cineplex theatres) in Toronto.

Want more info, check out my review.

Film still courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment

The Wailing (곡성) – 2016

This is one film that will surprise you, constantly, as you delve deeper and deeper into hell, beautifully set in a small town in Korea. The combination of shamanism, satanism, and superstition meld into a creepy film that’s a treat to watch.

Want more info, check out my review.

Courtesy of TKFF

Dong-ju: The Portrait of A Poet (동주) – 2016

This gorgeous black & white film is based on the real life of poet, Dong-ju, and is elevated not only by the powerful story but also the acting of the two leads, Kang Ha-Nuel (강하늘) and Park Jung-Min (박정민). Bring tissues!

Image courtesy of TKFF

Karaoke Crazies (중독노래방) – 2016

I was so happy that Karaoke Crazies screened at the Toronto Korean Film Festival after missing out seeing it at South by Southwest last year. And was it worth the wait. Weird, dark and funny, it’s a fun film.

Courtesy of TKFF

Snow Paths (설행 눈길을 걷다) – 2015

This subtle film balances the bleak, sad topic of addiction with hope via one of the main characters to create a film that shows the story behind the addiction is key to battling it. Well worth watching, it’s a delicate look at addiction, loss, family, and religion.

Want more info, check out my review.

Courtesy of TKFF

The World of Us (우리들) – 2016

This heartbreaking film about friendship, bullying and peer pressure gives you an intimate, and accurate, portrayal of late childhood. Despite the topic – and the tears I cried – it never gets too dark, and there are funny moments that help you connect to the characters and film. Plus the wonderful acting by the young actors elevates this film and makes it one I can’t help but recommend.

Want more info, check out my review.

Courtesy of TIFF

Yourself and Yours (당신 자신과 당신의 것) – 2016

This was an interesting film. Okay, that shouldn’t be a surprise being as the director is Hong Sang-Soo (홍상수), but it almost didn’t make my list. Viewed against his other work, it’s a little disappointing (I loved last year’s Right Now, Wrong Then 지금은맞고그때는틀리다) but viewed on its own, it’s an engaging, if light, look into human relationships.

Biggest Disappointment of 2016

Courtesy of TIFF

While it wasn’t bad, I was expecting more from the film because of who the director was and based on previous films I’d seen which often pushed boundaries in cinema. Which film am I talking about? The Net (그물) by Kim Ki-Duk.

While The Net wasn’t nearly as bad as his last film, STOP (스톱) – which was honestly one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, from the crappy acting to the repetitiveness to the horrible cinematography – but it was normal and bland compared to his edgier films like Moebius or Pieta (피에타). I can’t say I’ve ever left any of his films happy but I’ve often been impressed or intrigued by them. They usually stick with me and make me think. The Net was just bland and forgettable – neither good nor bad.

Final Thoughts

Despite my viewing habits falling short of the mark in 2016, it was still fun seeing the various Korean films that came to Toronto – either playing in the theatres here or screening at one of Toronto’s many film festivals. There was just so many great Korean films to choose from in 2016 and I hope the trend of good films making their way to North America continues. And if you haven’t seen any of the films I mentioned above, add them to your play list (and let us know what you thought of them) because they’re all great films. Sorry the article was so late though. ㅠ

What Korean films did you watch in 2016? Which was YOUR favourite?

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.

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