Top 15 Korean Films of 2016

Contributor; Seoul, South Korea (@pierceconran)
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While 2016 has a been a difficult year in many regards, one area where it has excelled has been Korean cinema. With big auteurs returning with some of their best work, younger filmmakers making their presence felt and another new batch of promising indies, the industry has put out its best crop of films in years.

Films with strong social messages featured prominently and it's also been a strong year for women directors, with four names featured in the 20 titles below (which include five honorable mentions). While indie films were as strong as ever, compared to previous lists, far more commercial films appear here. This is partly because of the number of name filmmakers with a new title in 2016 but perhaps also due to the success of foreign companies venturing into the Korean market, such as Fox and Warner Bros.

Given the riches on display it hardly seemed fair to cut out several films that might have made the top five or so in other years so I've expanded this year's list to an indulgent 15 titles. I've seen just over 100 local films in 2016, a little less than usual but I don't think I've missed anything major. As usual, the criteria for films were those that screened for the first time this year, either at a festival or directly in theaters.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know!

Happy New Year!

Scroll through the gallery to go through the list, starting with a few films that didn't quite make the cut.

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Around the Internet

ManateeAdvocateJanuary 4, 2017 12:26 PM

Stellar list. I love Korean cinema.

ZetobeltJanuary 4, 2017 12:39 PM

The Wailing, what a great film!

cuckoozeyJanuary 4, 2017 6:12 PM

Definitely my fave film of 2016, nice to see it at #1 here...

Pasta_BearJanuary 4, 2017 11:13 PM

Thanks for the list. Praying for a blu-ray release of The Truth Beneath. It's been way too long since Crush and Blush.

BtoFuJanuary 5, 2017 3:41 PM

Really hope to see Addiction Karaoke get a bluray release sometime soon. Also can't wait to see The Age of Shadows.

I must be the only person around who fucking loathed The Wailing though! Think I've officially given up on ever clicking on any level with Na Hong-jin... at least until he mellows out a little and that probably won't happen anytime soon.

Most interesting thing for me in Korean cinema in 2016 is the apparent boom in sex-themed flicks. I haven't bothered to actually engage in seeing any but I'm going to assume most are plain old softcore erotic thrillers. It's an interesting change in the climate to see so many being produced... I can only assume they make the vast majority of their money on streaming services - if any of them are highly profitable at all anyway. Trying to find any information on what's sparked it though is difficult.

Pierce ConranJanuary 5, 2017 6:37 PM

Yes, there are a huge amount of erotic titles coming out these days. They're dirt cheap and make all their money from IPTV (Korean VOD) and online streaming. Several production companies specialize in them. They make them, sell them to streaming companies, sometime even before they're made, and forget about them. Online and VOD sales are getting quite strong in Korea and there's a thirst for content you wouldn't watch in the theater, as you say, softcore erotica. It is increasingly hard to make commercial films and I've seen several directors and producers who failed with more expensive and serious films move into this domain. Occasionally, it's also an avenue for hard-working indie filmmakers to get something made without any hassle and a small (but guaranteed) payday.

Regarding Na Hong-jin, you might be in luck, thought I'm not sure it's what you asked for. He's currently involved with a live action adaptation of ROBOT TEAKWON V, essentially the Korean TRANSFORMERS. He has professed a love for robots in the past.

KARAOKE CRAZIES doesn't even have a Korean release date soon and given the probably small size of its eventual release I daresay a bluray here is unlikely. Could get picked up overseas at some point though.

Pierce ConranJanuary 5, 2017 6:39 PM

A DVD is definitely on the way, but I wouldn't hold out much hope for a blu-ray. Very few films make it to the format, especially those that haven't been a hit for their studios.

Pasta_BearJanuary 5, 2017 6:52 PM

Painful but true. I find it difficult to accept that a studio would allow their product to be commercially represented by an awful-looking (by modern standards) format from the 90s. But I suppose Korean folks are probably able to rent online in high-def, so maybe it doesn't end up looking quite so terrible for them.

BtoFuJanuary 6, 2017 2:18 AM

Robot Taekwon V is about the last thing I expected to hear him involved with but that's really quite an interesting choice. As you say probably not really what I asked for, but despite struggling with his movies his technical skill has never been lost on me. Similarly a zombie film was about the last thing I probably anticipated (or at least it being live action) from Yeon Sang-ho and that turned out really well. Could be an interesting departure for sure.

And yeah I'm hoping that maybe someone like Third Window Films or Well Go USA could at least get their hands on Karaoke Crazies down the line. I'll find a way to see it regardless but my thirst for physical media goes on!

wagnerfilmJanuary 8, 2017 9:09 PM

There may be a blu-ray from another region, like Hong Kong or Japan. Right now, all I can find listed at for The Truth Beneath is a Japanese DVD, but I assume other versions from Korea and HK are soon to be announced.

Pasta_BearJanuary 8, 2017 10:34 PM

Fingers crossed.