Tag Archives: Korean


Jigureul jikyeora! 

“I sometimes feel as if movies from all over the world have melted inside me.”–Joon-Hwan Jang


DIRECTED BY: Joon-Hwan Jang

FEATURING: Ha-kyun Shin, Yun-shik Baek, Jae-yong Lee, Jeong-min Hwang

PLOT: Aided by Sooni, a lovelorn acrobat, Byung-goo abducts Kang, a pharmaceutical company executive, believing him to be a high-ranking agent of a group of aliens from Andromeda bent on eradicating the earth. As a pair of detectives close in on Byung-goo, the delusional man tortures the businessman in the basement of his remote cabin, hoping to force him to use his “royal DNA” to contact the prince of the Andromeda galaxy. Kang escapes but is recaptured and hobbled, and begins to play a psychological game with his tormentor, pretending to cooperate to avoid further injury.


  • Jang says the scenario for Save the Green Planet! was inspired by an Internet post suggesting was an alien in combination with his fondness for (and dissatisfaction with) Stephen King’s Misery.
  • This was Joon-Hwan Jang’s debut feature. He has made two movies since, a crime feature and a historical drama, neither of have shown significant weirdness or drawn many eyeballs outside of South Korea.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Byung-goo’s homemade alien hazmat suit: a trash bag poncho with a modified miner’s helmet rigged with blinking gizmos (including a rear view mirror that bobbles up and down) of uncertain purpose and utility. The first time you see him outfitted in this garb, you know exactly who you’re dealing with.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: One bullet, one bee; ghost mom with meth; aliens did kill the dinosaurs

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The first two thirds are a demented genre mashup of sci-fi, comedy, horror, thriller, and action elements whose rambunctiousness is aimed squarely at midnight movie audiences. But it’s the final act, which shifts to an even madder perspective and goes so far as to outright steal scenes from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)—while still managing to feel original—that puts it over the top.

English-language trailer for Save the Green Planet!

COMMENTS: Despite a sometimes (and sometimes not) predictable Continue reading 316. SAVE THE GREEN PLANET! (2003)

291. 3-IRON (2004)


“It’s hard to tell that the world we live in is either a reality or a dream.”–closing quotation to 3-Iron


FEATURING: Seung-yeon Lee, Hyun-kyoon Lee, Hyuk-ho Kwon

PLOT: A young man spends his days pinning advertising fliers to residences as a pretext to discover who in the neighborhood is on vacation; he then sneaks into their home and stays for a few days, always cleaning and fixing something around the house as a form of payment. One day he discovers that the residence he’s broken into isn’t empty; a battered woman catches him sleeping in her bed. The two silently connect and, after the intruder assaults the abusive husband with a barrage of golf balls, the wife accompanies him on his break-ins, until the law catches up to them.

Still from 3-Iron (2004)


  • Major characters with no dialogue is something of a Ki-duk Kim trademark: his 2000 effort, The Isle, featured a mute heroine, and the male protagonist of 2001’s Bad Guy was almost entirely silent.
  • This was the first movie Kim made after forming his own production company. To save money, the writer/director did the motorcycle stunt work himself.
  • Included in “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.”

INDELIBLE IMAGE: An easy pick. It’s the image chosen for the poster: the husband and wife embracing, while the wife kisses her lover who stands behind her spouse, unseen. To the uninitiated, this shot suggests the movie will be about a love triangle; knowledge of the story imbues the scene with more ambiguity.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Silent lovers; jailhouse golf; invisibility training

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The premise of a man who lives in others’ homes is unusual. The fact that the two lovers never speak to each other, although capable of speech, adds a layer of mystery. In the mystical third act where the protagonist trains himself to be perfectly undetectable, however, 3-Iron opens up into legitimately weird realms.

Original trailer for 3-Iron

COMMENTS: 3-Iron is best understood as a ghost story. Not that Continue reading 291. 3-IRON (2004)



FEATURING: Kim Young-ae, Lee Ki-seon, Yoon Il-bong

PLOT: A Korean housewife believes that their new maid is having an affair with her husband; is it all in her imagination, or does it have something to do with the mysterious shaman’s doll the strange girl carries around everywhere?

Still from Suddenly in the Dark (1981)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: A rare Eighties horror from South Korea, recently “rediscovered” and released on Blu-ray by Mondo Macabro, Suddenly is not quite a lost classic (and not especially weird by our standards), but it is a solid psychological horror/drama with a unique focus on female sexual insecurity.

COMMENTS: Suddenly in the Dark is unusual not merely because it’s female-centered, but because it revolves around a very particular female anxiety—the fear that a wife’s slowly fading beauty will lead her husband to abandon her for a younger mate. The specialization of this obsession is a fertile soil for the movie to explore a broader and more universal theme of paranoia, with lots of different textures. Seon-hee’s fears may be totally unfounded, or they may be only partly true; she might be losing her mind due to out-of-control suspicions arising from neglect by her workaholic husband, or she might be the victim of a supernatural conspiracy to take her spouse from her and destroy the family structure. The audience is kept off balance about whom they should fear: Seon-hee, the paranoid wife, or Mi-ok, the seemingly innocent young maid who carries a bundled-up shaman’s doll everywhere. There are enough hints of supernatural agency—such as the appearance of a slide depicting the frowning doll in the lepidopterist’s presentation before the totem actually appears in the story—to make the audience wonder if the source of the disorder is witchcraft, insanity, or gaslighting.

Mi-ok’s coquettish expressions are good, finding the right guise of uncertainty midway between genuine simplicity and a cunning mask. The younger girl is frequently shown standing above the wife in the frame, on the balcony looking down on her older counterpart, to emphasize her recent ascendancy in the household. Her body is exploited—she has frequent nude scenes and upskirt shots—but the twist is that she’s the object of the female gaze, not the male. The husband barely gives the girl a second glance; it’s the wife’s eyes that linger on her exposed flesh, burning not with lust but with envy.

If you favor the use of a fractured camera to depict the disintegration of the female mind, you’re in luck: it seems like about ten percent of the film is shot through a kaleidoscope. Once, a kaleidoscopic dream is superimposed on an image of Seon-hee fitfully sleeping, a great effect. Other shots are distorted by the simple but effective trick of affixing a thick water glass to the lens, sometimes adding a green and/or red filter to the mix. The result is a disorienting visual mix where significant objects—the doll—appear rotating inside a shard swirling in a morass of psychedelic colors. Mixed with the female paranoia, the colorfully cockeyed visuals give the film a distinct giallo feel, with a Korean flair (a character descended from the “Sea God’s grandmother” is an exotic non-European element). The ending is too literal for my tastes, but features plenty of cathartic destruction. Suddenly in the Dark never made its way past Korea’s borders in its initial run, but it makes us wonder what other minor treasures may be hiding in the vaults of cinema’s outer rim.

An interview with the producer in the extras reveals that a remake is planned. The film itself is heavily influenced by the 1960 Korean drama/thriller The Housemaid, in which a seductive maid disrupts the balance of a happy family.


“Wow, this one is wild! A colorful, psychedelic supernatural shocker from Korea, this stylish offering is a hugely enjoyable mind twister that assaults the viewer with a seemingly endless variety of creative visuals that turn its seemingly routine story into something totally fresh and unpredictable.”–Nathaniel Thompson, Mondo Digital (Blu-ray)


Gumiho Gajok

DIRECTED BY: Hyung-gon Lee

FEATURING: Si-Yeon Park, Hyeon Ju, Jung-woo Ha, Jun Gyu Park, Ju-yeon Ko, Cheol-min Park

PLOT: A family of foxes pose as circus performers; if they can eat a human liver on the lunar eclipse, they will become human for good.

Still from The Fox Family (2006)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s not especially weird. This is one of those fantasy films whose strangeness to Westerners stems mainly from different cultural expectations.

COMMENTS: “Where can we find a lot of humans?” asks the clueless Fox patriarch at a lonely gas station as the clan makes its way from the mountains to the city. The family of four is actually centuries old, but they’ve been living as kumiho—mischievous shapeshifting fox spirits—in the mountains. According to this movie’s spin on the ancient mythology, if they devour a person’s liver on the night of the lunar eclipse, they can become human forever. Unfortunately for this particular family, they are (mostly) sweet-natured yokels who are completely at sea when it comes to human society. They can’t even seduce lonely humans, supposedly the specialty of kumiho. The brother’s spastic dance floor moves get him ejected from the club, and the sister can’t fathom why her striptease doesn’t work on a particular subway patron. Still, it would be hard for them not to eventually bumble into a victim or two—except for the fact that they unwisely trust a con man who develops a scheme to protect his fellow humans (and save his own liver) while exploiting the clan.

There is a temptation to classify The Fox Family as a black comedy because of scenes like the one where a homicide detective absentmindedly scratches his head with a severed arm he finds at a grisly crime scene; yet, overall the tone is sweet, and even family-friendly. Even the con-artist is a pussycat at heart. The only features that give The Fox Family a whiff of weirdness are the musical numbers. They are mostly love songs from Si-Yeon Park—a South Korean model who is one of the world’s most beautiful women—although each member of the clan gets a moment in the spotlight. The only bizarre show-stopper is the trip to recruit victims—er, circus performers—at a camp for the homeless. Somehow, they dance their way into a complete different musical number, a Sharks vs. Jets vs. riot police style dance-off, complete with 1984-vintage breakdancing. This one scene may make the film worth a view for fans of Asian dementia.

If you want to understand why this film isn’t really weird, just use your imagination to change the fox spirits to something more Western (say, werewolves) and recast it with Hollywood stars: Danny DeVito as the father, Anna Kendrick as the older sister, as the brother, and for the cutie pie younger daughter—are there any Fanning sisters left? Suddenly, what we have isn’t a weird movie, but a light comedy with blockbuster potential. Although you would have to ditch those musical numbers.


“… nothing quite prepares viewers for the unhinged craziness of Lee Hyung-gon’s The Fox Family… Everything here is manic and mercurial.”–Anton Bitel, Eye for Film (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Kat,” who described it as “Shape shifting fox spirits, a street riot that becomes a dance off and the oddest use of a Wonder Woman costume I’ve ever seen [and I’ve seen some odd ones!]. You can’t go wrong really.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)



FEATURING: Jung Suh, Yoosuk Kim

PLOT: A mute woman who runs a fishing resort becomes obsessed with a suicidal fugitive hiding out in one of the floating cabins.

Still from The Isle [Seom] (2000)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It’s a bizarre, perverted sadomasochistic love story in a unique setting, made with skill and a few touches of surrealism.

COMMENTS: One of the most unique features of The Isle is the peculiar setting: a fishing resort on a picture-postcard lake dotted with one-room floating cabins for rent. Guests spend their days drinking beer, staring at the misty mountains in the distance, and fishing off their doorstep; while there they are almost completely dependent on the stunningly beautiful, mute proprietress, who ferries them back and forth to the shore and delivers bait, coffee, and prostitutes in her dinghy. (The hideaway appears to make more money off of escort services and wealthy men sailing their mistresses out to a bungalow for some floating hanky-panky than it does off of fishing). One day, the woman pilots a quiet, handsome man out to the yellow float; he catches her eye when she discovers that he is suicidal and has sailed out to the lake to work up the courage to bump himself off. This is the setup for a very odd romance that develops between two lovers with tormented pasts—backstories that are never fully explained but are hinted at by the obsessive fury with which they fall for each other and the self-loathing ferocity with which they mutilate themselves.

For a romantic drama, The Isle has a relatively high body count; but, despite a few horrific moments, no one will confuse this arthouse effort with a slasher. The tone is always straightforward and serious—even solemn—and this matter-of-fact treatment makes some of the bizarre occurrences near the end seem almost believable. The aquatic setting supplies a built-in metaphor for submerged meanings and hidden psychological depths, and beautifully murky underwater shots abound. Particularly lovely is a shot where Jung Suh, whose character moves above and below the waterline at will, peers down into the fathoms while her long jet black hair floats like seaweed behind her. Other strange and memorable moments include what is likely to be the most improbable and painfully gruesome suicide attempt you’ve ever seen, and a mysteriously surreal parting shot of a bushy island of green reeds. Evoking the mysterious power of mutually destructive attraction, The Isle is a movie that just might get its hooks in you—although hopefully not as literally as it gets its hooks inside its characters.

Fair warning to animal lovers: it does not appear that the Korean chapter of PETA was allowed on set for this shoot, as violence against vertebrates is a running theme in the film. The Isle features a frog skinned and pulled apart, sushi made and eaten from a living fish as it flops around, a drowned bird, and a dog choked by a leash and struck. Although some of the cruelty is faked, some of it clearly is not.


“…a thoroughly original item that adds further fuel to South Korea’s recent rep for sexually themed offbeaters.”–Derek Elley, Variety (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Spass.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)


DIRECTED BY: Sang-soo Hong

FEATURING: Jun-Sang Yu, Bo-kyung Kim, Sang Jung Kim

PLOT: A director who no longer makes movies arrives in Seoul to touch bases with an old friend; he gets drunk, meets various acquaintances and colleagues, and then situations start to repeat themselves, with variations.

Still from The Day He Arrives (2011)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s got a subtly weird edge to it, but like its protagonist the film is too meandering and listless to demand more than our temporary interest.

COMMENTS: The Day He Arrives probably resembles nothing so much as a series of hazy recollections of a blackout drinking binge, where events keep getting jumbled up and you can’t remember whether it was Monday of Tuesday night when you mashed faces with that waitress in the alley, or even whether it really happened or you just wanted it to. The story starts with film director Sungjoon arriving in Seoul to meet an old friend; he’s stood up, but he encounters an actress he used to know, spends an evening getting drunk with three films students, then makes his way to the apartment of an ex-girlfriend to make a pathetic, teary pass at her. The next day (at least, we assume its the next day) he meets the same actress again, then meets up with his friend. They go to a bar with the friend’s girlfriend for a night of drinking, and are joined by the bar’s owner, who looks exactly like the girlfriend whose apartment the director just left the night before with promises that they would never meet again. From this point on, events in the story begin repeating themselves, but with variations. Every day, Sungjoon runs into the actress again on the street, and every night he and his friend return to the bar (ironically called “Novel”), sometimes joined by a new companion. Lines of dialogue and events repeat themselves, and characters we’ve seen interacting together before act as if they’ve never met. Each time Sungoon accidentally bumps into the actress on the street, however, they remember their last conversation, implying a chronologically continuity at odds with the fugue-like repetitions of the barroom scenes. After going on like this for a little while, the film ends arbitraily. Overall, Day paints a portrait of a man adrift in the world, a man who’s smart and observant yet doomed to make the same mistakes over and over. He’s a lost soul, but in an extremely polite and genteel way. The Day He Arrives is unique, but it inevitably evokes comparisons to many previous movies, from Last Year in Marienbad to Groundhog Day to (thanks to the actress playing dual roles) Vertigo. With its dramatic relationship basis enhanced by curious narrative experiments whose significance is not at all clear, it’s also reminiscent of Abbas Kiarostami’s recent Certified Copy.  Of those two films, I preferred Day, because it’s more economical (i.e. shorter) and it has a better sense of humor than the often self-important Copy. I suspect anyone who liked the one will respond well to the other. Both movies appear aimed at sophisticated viewers who consider subtlety an unconditional virtue. I can’t say I subscribe to that view: I prefer movies that transcend the mundane rather than wallowing in it, movies with a “wow” factor. Lacking that, a movie should at least offer an engaging plot, characters I can care about, or a stimulating intellectual idea to mull over; this movie makes a stab only at the last of these criteria. The Day He Arrives never gets around to suggesting what it’s about (which isn’t necessarily a problem); it also never makes a case as to why we should care (which is a problem).

Sang-soo Hong’s movies all feature lots and lots of drinking. If his hour-long interview included on the Day He Arrives is to be believed, his cinematic depictions of marathon drinking bouts come from personal experience.


“Hong offers a strange mixture of magic, mystery, rueful melodrama and dry comedy that’s like absolutely nothing else.”–Andre O’Hehir, Salon.com (contemporaneous)


Reader review by Jason Ubermolch.  Some background on this review: in the suggestion thread, Jason recommended three movies: Brother Sun, Sister Moon; this one; and Zachariah.  I noted that the first two movies were critically acclaimed but sounded only mildly weird, so I picked Zachariah to cover as the weirdest of the trio.  Thinking I was unduly dismissing 3-Iron‘s weirdness, Jason offered to make the case for it as a weird movie and do the write up himself.  (This procedure is highly recommended, by the way; we would love to see the reader recommendation category grow)!


FEATURING: Seung-yeon Lee, Hyun-kyoon Lee (Jae Hee), Hyuk-ho Kwon

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: 3-Iron is a love story in which the lovers communicate their joy, grief, fear, trepidation, trust, and insecurities – believably – without ever exchanging dialogue. Plus, the subtle uncanniness of a man who can move silently, without being seen, adds a poignant surreality to the last quarter of the movie.

Still from 3-Iron (2004)

PLOT & COMMENTS: The protagonist of 3-Iron is a young Korean man who breaks into people’s houses while they’re on vacation and lives in their homes.  He eats their food, listens to their stereos, and sleeps in their beds, but he also fixes their broken appliances, cleans their laundry, and, more or less, earns his keep.  One night he occupies a house in which a beaten wife, Sun-hwa, is hiding with a bruised and bloodied face; she trails him silently, unseen, as he goes about his chores.  When her husband returns from his business trip and begins to beat her, the young man pelts the husband with golf balls, and then rides off with Sun-hwa on his motorcycle.

In the next half of the movie, the squatter and Sun-hwa continue to live out their innocent breaking-and-entering lifestyle, turning into an efficient and silent house cleaning team.  In a photographer’s apartment, Sun-hwa learns the trade.  In a boxer’s house, the nameless man is beaten by the owner and it becomes Sun-hwa’s turn to feed and nurse a bruised victim. In another house, the hero and Sun-hwa shyly woo each other and kiss.  And in yet another, they discover an old man who has died; they prepare his body for a funeral and bury him, only to be accosted by the deceased’s Continue reading READER RECOMMENDATION: 3-IRON [BIN-JIP] (2004)




FEATURING: Kang-ho Song, Byung-hun Lee, Jung Woo-sung

PLOT: Set in 1930’s Manchuria (during the Japanese occupation of China) and loosely based

Still from The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2009)

on Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, the film concerns the mad-cap, gunslinging antics of three men in search of a mythical treasure.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Sure it’s got a fun premise and goofy atmosphere, but the weirdest thing about the film is the “Weird” of the title, who’s primarily a wacky take on Eli Wallach’s “Ugly” character from Leone’s film, with spiky hair and the best jokes in the script.  It’s an excellent, peculiar movie, but never reaches List-worthy levels of bizarre.

COMMENTS: Yoon Tae-goo—AKA “The Weird” (Song Kang-ho)—is a resilient petty thief who chances upon a treasure map while robbing a group of Japanese soldiers. Park Chang-yi—AKA “The Bad” (Lee Byun-hun)—is a malicious assassin sent to reclaim the map, who resigns himself to hunting down Tae-goo. Park Do-won—AKA “The Good” (Jung Woo-sung)—is a taciturn bounty hunter chasing after both men’s rewards, who eventually teams up with Tae-goo in the search for the treasure.  Sprinkle in some curious Manchurian bandits and a dedicated group of Japanese soldiers, and soon you’ve got an all-out chase replete with wackiness, gunfights, and thrills!

There’s a lot going on in this film, but the sheer enthusiasm that brings it together makes it all completely work.  The story is fun and interesting, the action is loud and inventive, the characters are appealing, and the visuals are detailed and colorful.  There’s a range of costumes, weapons, and gadgets, giving the movie a slightly anachronistic/steampunk feel.  The premise is both an homage to and appropriation of Leone’s original, but infused with its own imaginative mythos and offbeat sense of humor, distinguishing it from a simple remake.  The addition of complex Manchurian history involving a multinational conflict gives the story a unique perspective.

The three leads are superb, but Song Kang-ho really owns the film.  As “The Weird” he’s hilarious, likable, and unexpectedly capable.  Plus, he’s got a secret past!  The writers did well to make him the central character, devoting the most time to his story and giving him the best lines.  Song is adept at wacky comedy but never slides into flat characterization, making him both engaging and intriguing to watch.  Lee Byun-hun as “The Bad” spends most of his time being incredibly badass and looking sharp.  Jung Woo-sung as “The Good” is a bit bland, and it doesn’t help that there isn’t much attention paid to his character.  He has impressive firearms and his mustache looks silly.

There is very little about this movie to criticize (except perhaps the under-utilization of The Good’s character).  With its oft-frenetic pace, out-there stunts, and silly, exuberant atmosphere, it had the audience laughing out loud and gasping at crazy moments in equal measure.  The final chase scene at the end is guaranteed to have everyone riveted, while the film itself leaves viewers instinctively smiling from ear-to-ear. I believe the technical critical term is “a rip-roarin’ good time.”


“It’s a live-action comic book. More good than bad, and with a liberal sprinkling of weird, it’s got a rock ’em, sock ’em energy that knocks the dust off a dying breed of storytelling.” –Michael O’Sullivan, Washington Post (contemporaneous)

NOTE: This review is published in slightly different form at Film Forager.