thriller

Here you will find reviews of Korean thriller films. The genre is one of the most popular in Korea, featuring a wide variety of narratives exploring the darker aspects of society and culture. Please click on the picture, and you will be taken to the review.

26 Years (26년)

26 Years (26년)

26 Years (26년) – 8/10

26 Years (26년) is a great cinematic adaptation of Kang Full’s webcomic. With its politically sensitive story involving the 1980 Gwangju massacre and the subsequent pardoning of the dictator responsible, the film strikes an emotional chord despite the fictional revenge tale. Director Jo Geun-hyeon has produced a highly engaging thriller and is a poignant reminder of the legacy of Chun Doo-hwan’s regime.”

Azooma (공정사회)

Azooma (공정사회)

Azooma (공정사회) – 7/10

Azooma (공정사회) is a potent revenge thriller concerned with a mother who seeks retribution. Director Lee Ji-seung (이지승) wonderfully conveys the temperament of the ajumma as she is pushed to breaking point by patriarchal society, and it is enthralling to see a Korean woman at the helm of such violence. The narrative is consistently compelling as misogyny is explored and a female protagonist enacts arguably justifiable vigilante torture.”

The Berlin File (베를린)

The Berlin File (베를린)

The Berlin File (베를린) – 8/10

“The Berlin File (베를린) represents a stylistic evolution for director Ryoo Seung-wan, featuring some of the best action sequences in recent memory and arguably the best of his career. The director captures the paranoia of the spy world with confidence. While the over-abundance of characters bog down Jong-seong’s mission, director Ryoo deserves credit for placing a North Korean agent as the ‘hero’ of the film, making The Berlin File an exhilarating spy thriller.”

Blind (블라인드)

Blind (블라인드)

Blind (블라인드) – 5/10

Blind (블라인드) certainly had the potential to be an interesting and creative take on the thriller genre, but unfortunately due to the lack of character development and innovation it is a rather bland and mediocre offering. The actors involved all provide competent performances despite the limitations imposed on them, while Kim Ha-neul is somewhat convincing as a visually impaired witness.”

Cold Eyes (감시자들)

Cold Eyes (감시자들)

Cold Eyes (감시자들) – 8/10

Cold Eyes is a slick and riveting thriller. A remake of hard boiled Hong Kong noir Eye in the Sky, Cold Eyes is a quite different film due to the focus on a seemingly futuristic Seoul and state of the art technology. With a highly engaging story and rapid pacing the film is consistently entertaining, making Cold Eyes a wonderfully compelling cat-and-mouse thrill-ride.”

Confession of Murder (내가 살인범이다)

Confession of Murder (내가 살인범이다)

Confession of Murder (내가 살인범이다) – 5/10

Confession of Murder (내가 살인범이다) is best enjoyed as an action film rather than a thriller due to the wonderfully orchestrated work by the stunt team. While exploring the statute of limitations and notion of celebrity has plenty of potential, writer/director Jeong Byeong-gil (정병길) ultimately doesn’t assert the required depth – both in narrative and characterisation – due to his attempt to appease fans of multiple genres. An entertaining way to waste a couple of hours.”

Countdown (카운트다운)

Countdown (카운트다운)

Countdown (카운트다운) – 6/10

“As an attempt at creating romantic chemistry through deceitful but fun con-artistry, Countdown (카운트다운) somewhat succeeds. As always, Jeon Do-yeon (전도연) and Jeong Jae-yeong (정재영) give wonderful performances, and director Heo Jong-ho (허종호) conveys the two opposing worlds his protagonists inhabit with skill. However, the potency of Countdown is greatly reduced through the offensively misogynistic representation of its lead female, and with a final act that holds little relation with what came before.”

Dynamite Man (다이너마이트맨)

Dynamite Man (다이너마이트맨)

Dynamite Man (다이너마이트맨) - 2/10

“A title such as Dynamite Man conjures images of a fun grindhouse B-movie. However the reality is a far cry from such hopes as the film is an utterly woeful attempt at a revenge thriller, one that is not only excruciatingly dull but also technically quite amateurish.”

The Gifted Hands (사이코메트리)

The Gifted Hands (사이코메트리)

The Gifted Hands (AKA Psychometry) (사이코메트리) – 3/10

The Gifted Hands (사이코메트리) spectacularly fails as a supernatural thriller. Featuring an awful script full of holes and bizarre logic, bad acting particularly from the (unintentionally) mentally unbalanced central protagonist, as well as wasting the potential of psychometry itself, the film really is a shambles. Director Kwon Ho-young (권호영) performs competently at the helm, but it is not enough to save the vacuous thriller from being instantly forgettable.”

Guardian (보호자)

Guardian (보호자)

Guardian (보호자) – 5/10

Guardian has an interesting premise, as a father is tasked with kidnapping a boy in exchange for his own abducted daughter. However the story is quite underdeveloped throughout, with a lack of tension and suspense equating to scenes that never fulfill their true potential.”

Howling (하울링)

Howling (하울링)

Howling (하울링) – 7/10

Howling (하울링) is an interesting thriller, one that attempts to blend an array of socio-cultural critiques alongside traditional cop fare with spontaneous combustion and a killer wolf thrown in for good measure. Director Yo Ha [...] excels in conveying the misogyny endured by women in contemporary Korea, with some riveting scenes and a great performance by Lee Na-young.”

Intruders (조난자들)

Intruders (조난자들)

Intruders (조난자들) – 7/10

Intruders (조난자들is a wonderfully quirky tale of a screenwriter who ventures into the countryside yet gets more than he bargained for with the odd locals. Director Noh Young-seok’s (노영석) second film is beautifully picturesque and consistently laced with dark humour throughout. While the film never manages to capitalise on the great premise, for the most part Intruders is a fun, engaging and refreshing thriller.”

I Saw the Devil (악마를 보았다)

I Saw the Devil (악마를 보았다)

I Saw the Devil (악마를 보았다) – 8/10

I Saw the Devil (악마를 보았다) is a wonderful addition to an over-saturated genre, and offers a fresh and interesting take on the notions of revenge by implicating audiences within the frantically-paced violence that transpires. As such, the protagonists lack depth and the events that transpire do little to provide evolution, but the film is not intended as a character study. Rather, it’s about the nature of violence and retribution, its escalation, and the accountability of the audience in their desires for such cruelty.”

Memories of Murder (살인의 추억)

Memories of Murder (살인의 추억)

Memories of Murder (살인의 추억) – 10/10

Memories of Murder (살인의 추억) is a fantastic example of a crime-thriller that does not rely on gore in producing an enthralling film about serial murders. The fact it is based on a real-life unresolved case provides authenticity and a mixture of genuine fascination and horror that such events could transpire in recent history. As such it justifiably deserves its status as being not only one of the most prolific films to originate from Korea, but also in cementing Bong Joon-ho’s reputation as a respected auteur.”

Moby Dick (모비딕)

Moby Dick (모비딕)

Moby Dick (모비딕) – 5/10

Moby Dick (모비딕) is a squandered opportunity, with talented actors and a fantastic premise that are let down through a narrative that lacks direction and focus. While it is generally competently directed, there is unfortunately no escaping the narrative inconsistencies, absence of character development, or lack threat posed by the shadow operatives, all of which require a real leap in the suspension of disbelief in order for Moby Dick to remain plausible.”

Moss (이끼)

Moss (이끼)

Moss (이끼) – 8/10

Moss (이끼) is a incredibly well executed thriller that delves into Shakespearean themes of the vie for power amongst the ruling classes. The interplay of different features of society, from religion to the criminal classes, constructs a dense tale of suspense that highlights the unfairness, and the generational differences, within a culture”

Old Boy (올드보이)

Old Boy (올드보이)

Old Boy (올드보이) – 10/10

Old Boy (올드보이) is a monumental achievement not only for Korean cinema, but also in terms of international recognition. It’s little wonder why audiences use it as the frame of reference in comparing other films from Korea despite the unfairness of such comparisons. The innovative narrative and technical prowess, as well as the exemplary performances, serve to make Old Boy (올드보이) a timeless classic and an absolute must-see.”

Shiri (쉬리)

Shiri (쉬리)

Shiri (쉬리) – 7/10

“It is important not to understate the importance and influence of Shiri (쉬리) in Korean cinematic history. While it may not be a ‘perfect’ action film, it helped to insure not only that the national cinema had serious potential but also that a country that had struggled for years following the Korean War could be recognised for its cinematic output. Shiri proved that a national cinema featuring national socio-cultural concerns was indeed possible.”

SIU - Special Investigations Unit (특수본)

SIU – (특수본)

SIU – Special Investigations Unit (특수본) – 5/10

“A solid example of the cop thriller, SIU – Special Investigations Unit (특수본) is nonetheless hampered by the strict adherence to generic conventions and contrived storytelling. While action sequences are well executed and sufficient red herrings are thrown into the mix, the representation of an incompetent police force and the lack of emphasis bestowed upon the social message means that SIU – Special Investigations Unit (특수본) never rises above adequate.”

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (친절한 금자씨)

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (친절한 금자씨)

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (친절한 금자씨) – 9/10

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (친절한 금자씨) is an incredible final installment to the Vengeance trilogy, presenting an entirely different notion of revenge through one of the most compelling female protagonists in cinematic history. Park Chan-wook’s beautifully creative vision, as well as Lee Young-ae’s captivating performance, make Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (친절한 금자씨) an enthralling exploration of vengeance and feminism that demands repeated viewing.”

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (복수는 나의 것)

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (복수는 나의 것)

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (복수는 나의 것) – 8/10

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (복수는 나의 것) is a fascinating exploration into the nature of revenge and violence, highlighting how two seemingly ‘good’ men can evolve into psychotic killers when bereaved. Further exploration of the socio-economic problems could have enhanced the poignancy further. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a riveting and emotionally charged debate on the escalation and futility of vengeance, and how the loss of a loved one can become poison when the path of revenge is taken.”

The Terror Live (더 테러 라이브)

The Terror Live (더 테러 라이브)

The Terror Live (더 테러 라이브) – 7/10

The Terror Live (더 테러 라이브) is a rare and highly interesting thriller. Within the confines of a newsroom director Kim Byeong-woo (김병우) does an excellent job in escalating tension by featuring a variety of camerawork techniques, while the story regarding corruption within both Korean media and the government is a potent socio-cultural critique. While the lack of characterisation and comedy undermines the suspense, there is more than enough on offer to provide an entertaining thrill-ride from start to finish.”

The Traffickers (공모자들)

The Traffickers (공모자들)

The Traffickers (공모자들) – 6/10

The Traffickers (공모자들) is a thrilling and violent film about the black market organ trade that exists between Korea and China. Director Kim Hong-seon captures the tension and action with skill in his debut feature, and the abject horror that arises throughout the film is palpable. Yet the film is hugely problematic as the central protagonists are the exploitative, perverse traffickers who sport zero redeeming features, but the audience are expected to will them to succeed. The Traffickers is an engaging albeit paradoxical thriller.”

The Unjust (부당거래)

The Unjust (부당거래)

The Unjust (부당거래) – 8/10

The Unjust (부당거래) is not simply another continuation of Korean cinema’s distrust of law enforcement agencies; it is an incredibly thrilling and compelling exploration of an array of socio-cultural discourses and anxieties [...] The fast pace, confident stylisation and electric performances make The Unjust (부당거래) one of the best cop thrillers in recent years and a fantastic addition to the genre.”

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