Best Korean Noir Movies

Park Chan-Wook’s Decision To Leave is currently in UK and Irish cinemas, and on MUBI from 12th December. I decided to have a look at some of the best noir films South Korea have released over the years. Chan-Wook’s film is inspired by Film Noir hence this list and as for ever this is only a taster in what the country has to offer…

Oldboy (2003)

If we’re going to talk about a Park Chan-Wook, you have to talk about his first international hit. Starring Choi Min-Sik as a Oh Dae-su a man who is kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years. Set free with no reason given for his imprisonment, Dae-su seeks vengeance and find who his captor is.

When it comes to Korean cinema this is one of the first films you’ll find on the must watch list. Over the years it has grown into a cult classic which saw Spike Lee direct a mediocre Hollywood remake. Part of The Vengeance Trilogy with Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and Lady Vengeance the other two filmss which some consider better films.

Night In Paradise (2021)

After the death of his his half-sister and niece, a gangster enforcer heads to Jeju Island escaping mob warfare. Only to find himself living with a arms dealer and his daughter, and his actions from his past catching up on him.

An atmospheric thriller, that has plenty of blood, that is a visual feast. From Park Joon Hung who also wrote the script for the devilishly brutal I Saw The Devil and another film on this list, now on Netflix.

Memories Of Murder (2003)

If you enjoyed Parasite, You’ll want to check out Bong-Joon Ho’s darkly intricate murder mystery noir. The cast is lead by Joon-ho regular Song Kang-ho (Parasite) along with Kim Roi-Ha. The pair are Seoul based cops, inexperienced, who lead the investigation after murder of woman. The investigation gets nowhere and this film is based on the true story of ten women raped and murdered between 1986 in a small suburb town south of Seoul.

The film is set in 1980’s Korea and depicts the changing political environment, corruption of the police . Packed with dark humour, and of course a film that set Bong Joon-Ho as one of Korea’s best filmmakers.

The case today is still unresolved.

The Chaser (2008)

Perfect example of the Neo-Noir film, Na Hong-jin’s thriller is that. Desolation, agony, violence and a nerve shattering finale. Another film based on a serial killer which a former disgraced cop now pimp finds himself on the trail of one of his prostitutes whohas disappeared.

This is one of the darkest and best Korean thrillers and doesn’t have Bradley Walsh in it!

A Bittersweet Life (2005)

Looking for the stylish noir, Kim Jee-woon’s crime thriller ticks all the boxes. Tense action with a taut narrative even a little philosophical at times. It stars Lee Byung-Hun, as Sun-woo who is asked to keep an eye on his crime boss mistress. Find out if she is seeing another man, if yes kill them both. Sun-Woo himself falls only find himself left for dead, only to recover with vengeance on hi mind.

New World (2013)

If you love Martin Scorsese crime drama-thrillers, Park Hoon-Jung’s film will be right up your street. This one has a lot of depth and takes it’s time to build up the emotion and tension. It’s one of the very few noir thrillers that takes it’s time to appreciate it’s characters. All the usual suspects are here: violence, action scenes, plot twists and characters to love and hate.

The right hand man of a Korean criminal syndicate wants to leave behind his old life for a more ‘legal one’. When his boss is killed in a car crash, power struggles kick-off making it harder for him to leave.

Mother (2009)

Another film from Bong Joon-Ho blessed with a fantastic cast. An heartbreaking and very unpredictable film which a man with learning difficulties is framed for the brutal murder of a schoolgirl. Convicted his elderly mother to find the true killer in a small town that everyone virtually knows each other. The film doesn’t try to play with the genre’s traditional rules and sterotypes.

The Man From Nowhere (2010)

It’s tricky trying to make something truly original, next best thing is to use tried ideas and make it your own. Lee Jeong-Beom’s thriller does this with great success. It deals with some unsettling, horrible issues such as Organ trafficking, child abuse next to drugs. Kinetic action when a former special agent’s life is turned upside down after the death of his wife and unborn child. Now a loner working as a pawnshop owner when a young girl and her junky mother are kidnapped he attempts to save both.

The Yellow Sea (2010)

After the brilliant The Chaser Na Hong-jin reunites with that films stars Ha Jung-woo and Kim Yoon-seok. We find ourselves on the Korean/Chinese border about a taxi driver who agrees to take out a hit in return his debts are paid. Things go wrong and he must go on the run from not just the police but also the gangsters. Majestic cinematography, fast paced editing make this a worthy look.

Notables

A Dirty Carnival (2015), The Housemaid (1960), Breathless (2008), Midnight (2021), Beast Clawing At Straws (2019), The Villainess (2017), The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil (2019), Carter (2022)

Decision To Leave is in UK, Irish and U.S Cinemas now and on MUBI from 12th December.

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