One of the great things about being a fan of Korean cinema is that the industry is continually inventive. Whether in mainstream or independent film, Korean filmmakers constantly generate shocks and thrills aplenty, featuring some truly memorable moments that resonate long after the final credits have rolled.
As the title of this feature implies, 2013 was no exception. Shocking scenes frequently appeared throughout a variety of genres, and here are Hanguk Yeonghwa’s most memorable – disturbing, shocking, or just plain awesome – moments of the year.
Final warning – spoilers ahead!
Azooma (공정사회) – Dental Revenge
There have been a number of films in recent years that have explored the serious crime – and soft punishment – of pedophilia in Korean society. Few however can attest to providing such violent revenge as indie thriller Azooma. Rejected by police as well as the child’s playboy father, the ‘ajumma’ (azooma) enlists the help of local gangsters to abduct the criminal and tie the pervert into a dentist chair. Employing her skills as a dental nurse, the ajumma exacts her bloody and brutal – and incredibly cathartic – vengeance by drilling the teeth to the bone without anesthetic. Even better however is that the surgery belongs to the child’s absent father, allowing mother and daughter to walk away and learn to heal.
Han Gong-ju (한공주) – The Internet Video
Heartbreaking and tragic, director Lee Su-jin’s break-out film centers on high school student Gong-ju who conceals an extremely traumatic event in her past. While hints continually suggest that she was sexually assaulted, the truth is even worse – she was gang raped by dozens of her peers. The depiction of the event is truly haunting. However, as the film reaches its climax, Gong-ju’s unaware friends finally learn the truth about her suffering as a video of the assault appears on the internet. Unable to move or speak, Gong-ju’s best friend can do nothing but watch in horror.
How to Use Guys with Secret Tips (남자사용설명서) – Dr. Swalski
One of the most vibrant and enjoyable rom-coms in recent years, How to Use Guys with Secret Tips is brilliantly original largely due to one character – the mysterious Dr. Swalski. In his audacious 1970s apparel, the doctor brilliantly gives advice on how to manipulate men to naive assistant director Choi Bo-na with superb comic timing, even appearing within her life when things don’t quite work out the way they should. With wonderful tongue-in-cheek wit, Dr. Swalski is a fantastic creation from the mind of director Lee Won-seok.
Intruders (조난자들) – The North Korean Spy
Director Noh Young-seok’s (노영석) film about a screenwriter seeking solitude in the mountains is a quirky story, with the slow build of suspense brilliantly executed as the murdered bodies begin piling up and suspicions rise. When the survivors find a hidden basement full of victims tensions reach fever-pitch – until a short North Korean spy jumps out of a closet. Simultaneously hilarious and shocking, the spy displays director Noh’s dark-comic sensibilities and adds a surprising element in an otherwise straightforward thriller.
New World (신세계) – Battle Royale
Through gangster epic New World, Chinese-Korean wiseguy Jeong Cheong – superbly portrayed by actor Hwang Jeong-min – is little more than a loser, a joker more interested in fake goods than in cementing his position within the crime syndicate. That is, until a rival seeks to take him out of the running permanently. Surrounded by assassins, Jeong Cheong displays stunning ferocity as he battles for his life pummeling his adversaries into submission, culminating in a brutal knife fight in an elevator. And in the end, only one man is left standing.
Pascha (파스카) – The Abortion
Busan Film Festival winner Pascha depicts the relationship between 40-something screenwriter Ga-eul and her 17 year old lover. The slow-moving indie drama presents their struggles to stay together, particularly after the news that Ga-eul is pregnant. Forced to have abortion by her family, the deeply depressed screenwriter undergoes the procedure. Yet as she leaves, something compels her to turn back and demand to see the remains. The controversial scene has divided critics, but the haunting image resonates long after the credits.
Snowpiercer (설국열차) – The Classroom
Director Bong Joon-ho’s epic sci-fi has several noteworthy moments, including the shattering of an iced-arm and discussing how babies taste, but the entry into the disturbingly bizarre school is so surreal it tops them all. After battling through dark and grimy carriages in an extremely bloody and violent revolution, the next door opens to reveal a disneyfied classroom on acid full of psychotic fervour. Alison Pill is phenomenal as the fanatical teacher, while the brainwashed students religiously chant the train driver’s name as if he is a deity. With exceptional work by production designer Ondrej Nekvasil, the classroom is a disturbing reminder of the power of bias education on impressionable minds.
The Terror Live (더 테러 라이브) – The General
Newsroom drama The Terror Live was a big hit in Korea due to the open and frank exploration of corruption within the social elite, and the exploitation of workers. As reporter Yoon Yeong-hwa (expertly performed by Ha Jeong-woo) converses with the terrorist who destroyed a bridge live on air, a military general comes to the studio and joins the debate. The general rapidly makes the situation worse, goading the terrorist with lies and defamation building unbearable tension until a bomb in the general’s earpiece explodes splattering blood everywhere. A shocking moment, yet also a victory for exploited workers.