Top Ten Korean Films of 2015

2015 in review

As 2015 draws to a close, it’s the perfect time to review the highs and lows the Korean film industry experienced over the past 12 months.

As the final figures roll in it’s clear that, commercially speaking, 2015 has been a stellar year with much to celebrate. In early December the Korean Film Council announced admissions had hit over 200 million whilst stating total sales of over KRW 1.58 trillion (USD 1.34 billion); two films achieved over 10 million admissions, while six now feature in the top 50 highest grossing Korean film of all time (source: KoBiz). Furthermore, the year still isn’t over as the figures for Himalaya, The Tiger, and The Joseon Magician still haven’t been finalised and look set to add more gains to already impressive figures.

However in terms of quality output 2015 was an especially weak year for Korean cinema. In Hanguk Yeonghwa’s review of 2014 I stated the year had been a lackluster one for K-film and, as much as it pains me to say it, 2015 was worse.

Gangnam Blues (강남 1970)

Gangnam Blues (강남 1970)

In fact, the first six months of 2015 were so woeful for the industry that media outlets were forced to acknowledge that, “only 40.7 percent, or 35.46 million cinemagoers saw a Korean film this year, a record low since statistics began in 2004.” (source: Chosun Ilbo, June 19). Many spectators blamed the low attendance on the dominance of big Hollywood films including Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jurassic World, yet critics were also keen to point out that while production values in K-films were significantly improving, Korean output was generally becoming increasingly generic and made for profit which turned local audiences towards international fare.

The year began with the continued dominance of historical epic Ode to My Father, which ultimately went on to become the second highest grossing film in K-cinema history. While critics were upset with the film’s continued presence in multiplexes, there also weren’t any strong new releases to topple it as despite a slew of high profile titles appearing in cinemas from January to June – including Gangnam Blues, C’est Si Bon, Detective K 2, Empire of Lust, Twenty, The Treacherous, The Silenced and many more – they were met largely with audience indifference.

Coin Locker Girl (차이나타운)

Coin Locker Girl (차이나타운)

During this period however, K-cinema saw international success as four titles – Coin Locker Girl, The Shameless, Madonna and Office – were selected to represent Korea at the Cannes International Film Festival in May. While their selection is cause to celebrate, these films too were met with a muted response by critics and audiences alike when released across the peninsula, although Coin Locker Girl notably exceeded expectations.

Thankfully, the doom and gloom was lifted in summer. The release of uber-patriotic Northern Limit Line in June was a big success hauling $38.9 million, while a month later ever-reliable director Choi Dong-hoon’s blockbuster Assassination scored over $84 million to become the filmmaker’s biggest ever opening, and currently sits comfortably in seventh place on the list of highest grossing Koreans films of all time. Expectations of the spy-thriller’s longevity turned out to be somewhat exaggerated however as a week later Tom Cruise vehicle Mission Impossible 5 went straight to the top spot, but early August saw the release of Ryoo Seung-wan’s Veteran which became a huge hit with audiences and, thanks to positive word of mouth, surpassed predictions to scoop up the lion’s share of audience revenue to become the biggest film of the year and the third biggest film in K-cinema history securing $89.8 million.

The Himalayas (히말라야)

The Himalayas (히말라야)

Such positivity was continued in November as The Priests and Inside Men defied predictions and became sleeper hits with $36.2 million and $46.8 million, respectively, and helped to propel actor Lee Byung-hun back into some positive limelight.

December saw The Himalayas and The Tiger appear in cinemas a day before Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The face-off was widely publicised as a victory for the Korean Wave as, “The Himalayas grossed $8.7 million from Thursday to Sunday, topping The Force Awakens‘ $7.9 million performance over the same period” (source: The Hollywood Reporter). While such articles generally failed to take into account the difference in screen share between the films involved, the Korean film industry took the final figures as a triumphant way to end the year.

Ultimately, 2015 was a highly lucrative year for the industry with cinema attendance hitting yet another record high and Korean films attaining around 52% of the market share (source: Chosun Ilbo).

Now that the year is over, here are Hanguk Yeonghwa’s top ten Korean films of 2015.

INTRO – 10 – 9 – 8 – 7 – 6 – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1

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Top 10 Korean Films of 2014 – Most Memorable Moments of 2014

Top 10 Korean Films of 2013 – Most Memorable Moments of 2013

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Film News

The Advocate: A Missing Body gets an English subtitled trailer

The Advocate: A Missing Body (성난 변호사)

The Advocate: A Missing Body (성난 변호사)

The Advocate: A Missing Body (성난 변호사) – or more literally translated as Angry Attorney – has received an English subtitled trailer ahead of its release on October 8th in Korea.

The film stars Lee Seon-gyoon as top lawyer Byeon Ho-seong, an arrogant man with a reputation for winning even the most difficult cases despite the odds. Yet when a new case presents itself, one without any evidence or even a body, he is forced to team with Kim Go-eun’s prosecutor Jin Seon-min, whereby the duo begin to learn of an insidious plot.

The Advocate is the second film by director Huh Jong-Ho, who previously helmed crime thriller Countdown with Jeon Do-yeon and Jung Jae-young.

Actor Lee Seon-gyoon is red hot at the moment having recently starred in a strong of celebrated films including A Hard Day, Our Sunhi, Nobody’s Daughter Haewon, and All About My Wife. Kim Go-eun has also been busy cementing her status among the A-list since her debut in A Muse, with turns in Memories of the Sword and Coin Locker Girl.

For the trailer The Advocate: A Missing Body, please see below.

Film News

Lee Byung-hun’s Comeback ‘Memories of the Sword (협녀: 칼의 기억)’ Gets English Subtitled Trailer

Memories of the Sword (협녀: 칼의 기억)

Memories of the Sword (협녀: 칼의 기억)

Martial arts period drama Memories of the Sword has finally received a teaser trailer with English subtitles.

Originally set for release at the end of 2014, the film was reportedly delayed due to the blackmail scandal involving Lee Byung-hun, yet as the issue has now subsided an August 2015 date has been announced.

The swordplay epic follows the exploits of three warriors during the Goryeo dynasty who instigate an uprising, yet when their plan is finally set to achieve fruition master swordsman Deok-gi (Lee Byung-hun) betrays his comrades. To escape his wrath, Seol-rang (Jeon Do-yeon) flees with her young daughter to a place he can never find them. Eighteen years later, Deok-gi has positioned himself as a powerful ruler while Seol-rang – now blind – trains her daughter Seol-hee (Kim Go-eun) in ways of martial arts, preparing to exact her bloody revenge.

Directed and co-written by Park Heung-sik – who previously worked with Jeon Do-yeon on My Mother the Mermaid (2004) and I Wish I Had A Wife (2001) – Memories of the Sword will be a real test of the combined star power of three of Korea’s top tier actors, as well as a good indicator as to whether Korean cinema-goers have gotten over Lee’s transgressions.

MotS Kim Go-eun

MotS Kim Go-eun

MotS Lee Byeong-heon

MotS Lee Byeong-heon

MotS Jeon Do-yeon

MotS Jeon Do-yeon

Film News

Fantasy-thriller The Piper receives an English subtitled trailer

The Piper (손님)

The Piper (손님)

The Piper (손님) – or more literally translated as The Guest – has received an English subtitled trailer ahead of its July 9th release date in Korea.

Loosely based on the classic tale of The Pied Piper of Hamelin, the fantasy-thriller is about a father and his sickly boy who, shortly after the Korean War, find themselves at a strange remote village in the mountains on their way to Seoul. Intending to stay there only for a day before moving on, the duo start to experience surreal events amongst the citizens that leads the father to pick up his mysterious pipe.

First time director Kim Kwang-tae takes the helm, although he has previously worked as an assistant director on erotic period drama Untold Scandal and romance flick Almost Love.

The Piper also features some of Korean cinema’s incredible acting talent. With Ryoo Seung-ryong (The Admiral) in the lead as the father and Lee Sung-min (Kundo: Age of the Rampant) as the village elder, the film also includes Chun Woo-hee (Han Gong-ju) and popular star Lee Joon (Rough Play), as well as child actor Goo Seung-hyeon (The Fatal Encounter).

Please see below for the English subbed trailer.

The Piper

Film News

Perfect Proposal (은밀한 유혹) gets an English Subbed Trailer

Perfect Proposal (은밀한 유혹)

Perfect Proposal (은밀한 유혹)

Steamy thriller Perfect Proposal – or more literally translated as Secret Temptation – has received an English subtitled trailer ahead of its June 4th release date in Korea.

Based on French novel “La Femme de paille” (Woman of Straw) by Catherine Arley, the scandalous story depicts an ambitious young man (Yoo Yeon-seok (유연석) attempting to scheme a fortune from his sickly uncle (Lee Kyeong-yeong (이경영), enlisting the help of an attractive yet heavily-indebted woman (Im Soo-jeong (임수정) to do so. If she can marry the old man and manipulate him into changing his will so that she inherits his fortune, the pair will be rich forever more. Yet things don’t turn out as planned.

Director Yoon Jae-goo (윤재구), who previously helmed Secret (2009) and wrote Seven Days (2007), adapted the screenplay as well as taking the megaphone, and it will be interesting to see how he has interpreted such thrillingly seductive source material.

Perfect Proposal also signifies the return of actress Im Soo-jeong after a three year absence from the big screen, and playing a particularly different role from her last outing in Everything About My Wife.

For the English subbed trailer, please see below.

Film News

Kang Je-gyu’s ‘Salute D’amour’ gets English Subtitled Trailer

Salut D'amour (장수상회)

Salute D’amour (장수상회)

The trailer for director Kang Je-gyu‘s latest film Salute D’amour (장수상회) – also known as Long Lives – has been released with English subtitles.

Salute D’Amour tells the story of elderly Sung-chil, a grumpy convenience store clerk who becomes besotted with nearby flower shop owner Geum-nim. Unskilled in the art of romance, Sung-chil asks advice from boss Jang-soo on how to woo his lady love, and as their relationship develops Sung-chil finds himself changing in unexpected ways. Challenges arise however in the form of Geum-nim unapproving daughter.

The romantic comedy is focused on a middle-aged and older audience demographic, continuing what has now become quite a trend in the Korean film industry, and appears much more light-hearted in tone than previous offerings such as C’est Si Bon.

Judging from the trailer Salute D’Amour is quite a stylistic departure for director Kang Je-gyu, who holds a strong reputation for being an initial part of the Korean wave with taut thriller Shiri and for his epic scale as displayed in war films Taegukgi, My Way. More recently director Kang indicated his new aesthetic through short film Awaiting, about a couple separated by the events of the Korean war.

Salute D’Amour boasts a stellar cast including acclaimed veteran actress Yoon Yeo-jeong (Hill of Freedom), as well as hot stars Jo Jin-woong (A Hard Day) and Han Ji-min (The Fatal Encounter).

Salute D’Amour will be released this April.

Film News

Korean Film Biz Podcast – Upcoming Korean Films of 2015

Korean Cinema Today

Korean Cinema Today

Continuing on from our discussion of the Korean independent film industry, the fine people at Kobiz and I turned our attention to more commercial fare by deliberating over the upcoming Korean films of 2015.

To listen to our conversation, where we discuss the assortment of big names making their return to the silver screen and the challenge represented by Hollywood’s big blockbusters, please see below.

Film News