The one that really got the ball rolling for korean cinema was this Palme D’or winner by Chan Park Wook.
After being imprisoned for 15 years, a man has 10 days to learn why and to take revenge on the perpetrators.
There are so many awesome moments in this film, from the scene where he asks the sushi waitress to bring him something live, and then eats an octopus raw, to the bit where he takes on 15 security guards single handedly in a stairwell.
The plot is borrowed form the Count of Monte Cristo and the music is stunning. Oh Dae-Su’s quest for vengeance becomes complicated when he falls in love with the waitress (Kang Hye-jung).
An absolutely visually beautiful film which also stars Min Sik. A painter grows up in poverty to become a court painter but spends most of his time drinking and sleeping with women. If your knowledge of period set films is based on Merchant and Ivory, you really need to see this.
Spring Summer Autumn Winter and Spring
The film that started it all for me. Although most of the director’s works take place in depressed urban environments, this one is a quietly meditative study of Buddhism.
It is one of the quietest films ever made, with minimal sound and dialogue.
It follows the seasons over many years, tracing the life of an apprentice monk. The monk lives on a floating temple so the film showcases the beauty of the locations.
Memories of Murder
Some say that this is the best Korean film ever made.
Set in the eighties, a police officer tries to solve a series of murders with limited resources and corrupt methods, it’s funny at first but becomes increasingly tragic, as the chances of solving the murders becomes steadily more unlikely.Boon Jong Ho went on to direct the Host and Snowpiercer.
A Tale of Two Sisters
South Korea has made some great horrors and this is one of the most famous. It blurs the line between reality and fantasy as the characters become more unsteady and react to family tragedy.