I don’t generally make lists (I don’t believe in them) but I’m going to half blame Daniel Waters & his excellent cinema-personship for my desire to list the things I saw this year (I read his list today & was like….yeah, there’s some shit I want people to know about) and the fact that I’m getting old & I forget titles of things & such.
Warning: you will definitely see a pattern to much of the content here. I like Korean film and TV. A LOT. Like, not just as a hobby, but like…9/10 things I watch on a daily/weekly/monthly basis are Korean. There’s many many many reasons for this: I love the actors, the political intrigue plots, the corruption angles, the action sequences and the absurd number of serial killers or extremely violent murderous villains with amazing hair and immaculate taste in clothing that are existing in Seoul at any given point in the Korean movie environment.
That said, these are the films I watched this year that blew my mind or just made me super happy to be sitting in a darkened theater with other folks. Or, in some cases, home with my cats.
Please note that this is a mix of new and older films. But all were new-to-me.
성난황소 Unstoppable (English title) / Angry Bull (literal title) – dir. Kim Min-Ho, 2018
Ma Dong-seok is one of my favorite actors ever & the villain in this- Kim Sung-oh is mindblowing. That burgundy suit he wears is 80,000 shades of YESSSSSSS. Also the action in this one was just superb. Flimsy narrative but if you just go: “Cool. Revenge story. Lots of action & badassery” this is great!
꼬방동네 사람들 People in the Slum / People of Kkobang Neighborhood– dir. Bae Chang-ho, 1982
The Korean Film Archive did a hellova job restoring this classic working class drama and it’s worth watching just to see that gorgeous work alone. But the film itself is also great. Mind you, it definitely gets dramatic– like OH GURL THAT MUSIC SWELL dramatic- but I loved this film. And the lead actress Kim Bo-yeon 김보연 is excellent. It’s available to watch here on YouTube for free. thanks to the Korean Film Archive. Also, this article is really great & talks a bit about Bae Chang-ho who was nicknamed the “Steven Spielberg of Korea.”
Amateurs (Amatörer) – dir. Gabriela Pichler, 2018
This very queer, very funny, very touching comedy made my AFIFest sooooo great this year. I’m a huge fan of movies about adolescent girls saying “fuck you, I’m going DIY you stupid adults” and this is that movie. I died of laughter, I cried a looot and I would see it many more times. There are at least 5 languages spoken in this film- Swedish, Tamil, Arabic, German and English. It is about filmmaking, classism, capitalism and tiny backwater towns with a lotta bureaucratic outdated ways. It is loving and punk as fuck.
Pig (Khook) – dir. Mani Haghighi, 2018
This movie is so funny my sides hurt from laughing. A serial killer is on the loose picking off film directors in the local Tehrani film scene one by one. It’s all at once a satire, a parody of filmmaking as an industry and creative pursuit and ridiculously self-aware. The main character has some amazing rock t-shirts that he wears throughout and the film is just a blast. Want to rewatch many times.
마의 계단 The Devil’s Staircase – dir. Lee Man-hee, 1964
It’s safe to say that this is one of my new favorite film noir/thrillers that has ever been made. If you know me, that’s saying a GREAT DEAL. I will now profess my new addiction to Lee Man-hee and his work, completely setting the groundwork in Korean cinema for the thrillers and horror work that everyone loves today. This film actually scared me at one point! Goddamn Exorcist does nothing to my fear tendrils. If you love Diabolique by Clouzot (1955), this film is just as terrifying in its paranoia and intensity. Again, for those interested, it is available to watch here for free thanks to the marvelous Korean Film Archive.
Cam – dir. Daniel Goldhaber, writer Isa Mazzei, 2018
This film is tits-out incredible. Having been connected with the sex worker world for most of my teen and adult life, I have watched it change drastically based on technology. While those things evolved, the misogyny and judgey-ness stayed exactly the fucking same. For Goldhaber & Mazzei to make this brutally brilliant and powerful film that stands alone as a great thriller/horror film but also functions as critical analysis of agency and identity in an online sexual universe. HFS. I’m alllllllllllllll in. This was my kind of movie. I cannot wait to see what they do next. Tickets already bought & paid for.
화녀 Woman of Fire- dir. Kim Ki-young, 1971
I worship at the film cans of Kim Ki-young. That’s why 2 of his films are on this list. For reference, popular modern Korean directors Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook both call this legendary director a huge influence on their work.
화녀 is a seriously dark and disturbing work. It’s erotic and powerful and troubling and visually fucking stunning. This film’s objective is to make you feel unsafe. Domestic bliss, familial calm, any home/hearth bullshit is tossed out the window to make room for psychosexual violence, lust and manipulation. I LOVE THIS MOVIE. Oh- and it’s also available for free here thanks to the Korean Film Archive! Have a stiff drink or some ice cream on hand. You might need it.
Akasha – dir. Hajooj Kuka, 2018
It may sound odd, but this is an incredible feminist rom-com about a small community set in the Sudan, against the backdrop of the Sudanese Civil War (which is a huge part of the narrative). If that sounds weird and crazy, it is. It has been so long since I’ve seen a film with the humor, feel and joy of 1930s screwball comedy (sans the overwhelming whiteness) that this almost put me into cardiac arrest at how divine it was. Find it. See it. Everything about this film is just amazing.
저는 영화를보고 있어요 Default / National Bankruptcy Day dir. Choi Kook-hee, 2018
Full transparency, I’m a nut for Kim Hye-soo. She’s a hellova actress. And Yoo Ah-in has been one of my main dudes since I watched him in Sungkyunkwan Scandal. Y’all loved in Lee Chang-dong’s Burning this year. You know you did (I did too, FTR). This is a pretty amazing film especially if you are not entirely well-acquainted with the HFS RAGING disaster that was the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Kim Hye-soo plays a financial analyst at the Bank of Korea who is beyond aware of the damages that the IMF will do and has to combat the Very Male industry that she’s in. The film doesn’t shy away from the overt sexism that businesswomen have to face in powerful positions. It’s infuriating and depressing but she is brilliant in this role.
The Night Comes for Us – dir. Timo Tjahjanto, 2018
This Indonesian blood ballet is so exceptionally choreographed and violently HELL YES that I can’t even think about how much I loved it without grinning and wanting to watch it again with other people.
Hold The Dark – dir. Jeremy Saulnier, 2018
It is extremely rare that the litany of horrors that indigenous communities have to handle on a day to day basis make appearances in what we might consider mainstream-esque (or at least a Netflix-sponsored) thriller. Hold the Dark is a difficult film to completely parse. I need to watch it again, for sure. But the fact that I can’t stop thinking about it certainly made me think: yeah, this is something I valued highly. The darknesses that this film explores are various: dying children, the inability of white folx to respect indigenous cultures and their rights, animal behavior, and more. Jeffrey Wright is incredible. And I stand by the statement I tweeted after I watched this: HTD is a Christmas movie.
이어도 Iodo – dir. Kim Ki-Young, 1977
Out of all the films I watched this year (Mandy included) this is the one that really blew my fucking mind. For all intents and purposes, it is a murder mystery and a genre film done by Kim Ki-young. The extremely pithy Wikipedia synopsis reads: “When a man from an island ruled by women disappears, the man suspected of killing him investigates his past.” But that’s like saying “yeah, people die during wars” or “Having the flu makes you feel crappy.” 이어도 is like if Ken Russell and Alejandro Jodorowsky were Korean, got REALLY HIGH and REALLY FEMINIST and were like: “Let’s make our version of The Wickerman, include prerequisite themes of sex, power, gender and erotics, and make a commentary on the erasure of shamanic culture in Korea.” Sound good? HAHHHHHHAHAHAHAH. It’s fucking mindbending and hot.
I love it when US films go strange places but honestly? We just don’t have the history to do it this well. Our history is racism, colonialism and fucked up power structures. Kim Ki-Young is the goddamn master of mindfuckery in cinema and I love it. But you don’t have to take my word for it. It used to be available on the amazing Korean Film Archive’s website but sadly it is no longer there. I would advise that you somehow find and watch this amazing film though.
There were plenty of other films-
도둑들 The Thieves – dir. Choi Dong-hoon, 2012
Wild Search – dir. Ringo Lam, 1989
Destroyer – dir. Karyn Kusama, 2018
Shoplifters – dir. Kore-Eda Hirokazu, 2018
버닝 Burning – dir. Lee Chang-dong, 2018
오아시스 Oasis – dir. Lee Chang-dong, 2002 (Yes, I like this film. No it doesn’t make me a monster. In fact, this is probably one of the most powerful and beautiful films I watched this year).
Sorry to Bother You – dir. Boots Riley, 2018
Skyscraper – dir. Rawson Marshall Thurber, 2018
The Ranger – dir. Jenn Wexler, 2018
And so many more.
These are the movies I can’t get out of my head and make me glad that I do what I do (watch & appreciate cinema & its interaction with human life and politics and whatnot).
I hope that maybe you’ll check out one or more of these. If you do, let me know what you think!