Catch up on Korean cinema from your couch

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Saturday, March 2, 2024

Catch up on Korean cinema from your couch
The Throne. Director: Lee Joon-ik.

by Thessaly La Force

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- The international success of Bong Joon Ho’s 2019 thriller “Parasite” — which won last year’s Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival as well as four Academy Awards in March — was a reminder of the vast cinematic wealth of South Korea. Now, as most of us have cycled through our options with Netflix and other streaming services, the Korean Cultural Center of New York is offering a selection of 10 recent titles available to stream on its website for free (with English subtitles) through the end of June.

Of note is director Eom Yu-na’s 2018 comedic drama, “Secret Mission.” Set in 1941, when Korea was occupied by Japan, it stars the gruff but lovable Yoo Hae-jin, who plays an illiterate criminal named Kim Pan-soo. Kim falls in with the bookish Korean Language Society, which, against the colonialist demands of the Japanese military, is dedicated to documenting and preserving the Korean language — even if it costs them their lives. “Words contain a nation’s soul,” one of the society’s members explains to Kim. The film is a touching depiction of Korea’s cultural pride and a crucial reminder of the violence wrought by Japanese occupation.

For those interested in something a little more romantic, Lee Jang-hoon’s remake of the 2018 Japanese film “Be With You” — adapted from the 2003 manga novel of the same name by best-selling Japanese writer Takuji Ichikawa — is both dreamily melancholic and lightheartedly funny. Starring megahunk So Ji-sub and pensive Son Ye-jin, “Be With You” tells a tragic tale of a young boy who loses his mother (played by Son). Before she dies, she promises her child that she will return to see him and his father (played by So) during Korea’s rainy season. When she does, a deeper mystery about the couple and their love is revealed.

Another captivating film, specifically for the young adult audience, is Um Tae-hwa’s “Vanishing Time: A Boy Who Returned” from 2016. A teenage girl named Su-rin (played by Shin Eun-soo) and her friends explore a spooky cave, where they discover a magical egg that upends both time and reality. When several of the children go missing, Su-rin’s account of what happened is called into question. Beautifully set on a remote island, “Vanishing Time” is eerie and transporting. It captures, with poetic sensibility, how misunderstood a teenager can feel.

Lastly, for those obsessed with Korea’s legendary Joseon dynasty — which spanned five centuries — is Lee Joon-ik’s 2015 Oscar-nominated “The Throne.” The film zeros in on one of the most dramatic moments in the nation’s history, when, in 1762, King Yeongjo (played by Song Kang Ho of “Parasite”) was compelled to condemn his son Prince Sado (played by Yu Ah-in) to death after Sado attempts to assassinate him. The crown prince is ultimately locked in a rice chest and left to die. The period costumes and court spectacle are transporting, and the masterful Song is able to convey the complex decisions that a man who is both a ruler and a father must face.

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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