Korean film has always been one my favourite parts of Korean culture. And although I have no other qualification but the fact that I have seen too many Korean films, I thought I'd share my five personal favourites for those of you who are looking for a way to begin with Korean cinema. Needless to say, there are too many great films to choose from, which is why I selected five films by five different directors who each have their own distinctive style. Naturally, this list is not representative of Korean cinema as a whole, but I think these five films offer a glimpse into not only what Korean film is like, but also into various aspects of Korean society and history.

The Throne
(2015, Lee Joon Ik)

One of the best Korean actors plays my favourite Korean historical figure. That enough is a pretty good selling point. Moreover, from the plot, camera work, acting to costumes and music, everything in this film is on point. And even without a background in Korean history, this film will move you, because Sado's tragedy is told in a way that transcends his time and place. Sado is a story that shows how a mad person is not simply a mad person, and a father who leaves his own son to die by locking him in a rice chest is not simply an evil murderer.

(2011, Lee Sang Woo)

Barbie is a film that hit the spot for me personally. The heroine is a little girl who finds an escapism from her gritty reality in the image of the Barbie doll. And when an American girl (who is also named Barbie) with her father appear, wanting to adopt her sister to America - Barbie dolls's homeland, she does anything to take her place. However, the real world of course is different to what a little girl can imagine. The reason why I felt particularly attached to this film is because I felt like I, and perhaps everyone, have a side of me that is just like that little girl, a side that paints pictures of new beginnings in unknown lands. But as the film shows, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

(2012, Kim Ki Duk)

All Kim Ki Duk's film are an in-your-face critique of Korean society, but they also have something fundamentally human in them. The picture painted by Pieta is far from pretty. It shows the gritty, violent reality of a gangster who cripples people for money and people who have no choice but to fall into his trap. However, one day a woman appears claiming to be the gangster's mother who abandoned him when he was an infant. Pieta is a story about emotions that sway us as human beings - love, loneliness, hatred, vengeance, guilt - told in a way that will stay with you and make you look at the world in a slightly different way.

(2010, Lee Chang Dong)

The storyline of this film is impeccable. And the main heroine is rather unlikely - an ordinary old Korean woman. Faced with this ugly world, she decides to join a poetry class to learn to find beauty in things. Around the same time, her grandson whom she's bringing up gets mixed up in a gang rape incident. Shocked and desperate, she seeks her solace in poetry and finds the resolution to this life crisis in poetry, too. However, if you think this is a nice little story with a happy ending, you've come to the wrong director. Lee Chang Dong's films are known for their sharp social critique as well as a realistic portrayal of unlikely heroes, the way society treats them, and the way they deal with it. Poetry is a beautiful and touching story that unfolds and ends in a way you wouldn't expect.

(2009, Bong Joon Ho)

The theme of Mother is a similar to that of Poetry in that it portrays how far people are willing to go to protect their families. However, this theme is approached from a different angle, with a different storyline and character development, which is why I chose to feature the two side by side. The mother (main character) of the story does anything to clear her disabled son of what she believes to be unfair charges of murder. The film not only slowly uncovers what actually happened, but it also portrays the somewhat unhealthy mother and son relationship and the desperation and determination of a mother who loves her son more than anything.

What are your favourite films (Korean or not)?

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