I never expected to enjoy watching Korean movie thrillers, but when I started I couldn't stop, they are just unusual.
Personally most of these movies have some off putting factors like the sex and gore; the lack of dialogue; and the unnecessary details as in taking a long piss or slurping noodles noisily, but at least they are able to redeem themselves by the end. The acting and story telling is usually steady and consistent, but aside from those there are some traits that are personally enjoyable to look out for. Without them I don't think I'd be able to put up with the 2+ hours, considering the pacing.
So with all the odds against them, what gets me through these movies?
HERO OR NOT?
Main Characters that are questionable in character and actions. It's really just a depiction of human beings at their most base nature, riddled with selfish emotions and desires that most might be able to to identify with, though these characters are extreme with them on crazy levels. They are the villains of their own story and it's deeper and more interesting for me to watch events unfold from their perspective. A good example would be:
The MC, a school teacher has to watch as a pretty, well connected, newbie swoops in and not only steals a job position that was supposed to be hers, but also manages to gain the love of fellow colleagues and students while at it. But it's the fact that she manages to become the benefactor to a problematic student that she has been reaching out to that drives our MC to the edge. So when she gets her hands on the poor girl's weakness...
From here on, as the story progresses the MC is on a downward spiral till it all "boils" down to that crazy and disturbing climax.
A CLIFF OR A BEND?
Unexpected turn of events, plot twist. Korean movies seem to have a penchant for them and they execute them well, purposely leading us to misinterpret events until we get to a point where we see things as they really are. For me, the best example would be:
Sook Hee probably thought that living a hard life as a lowlife pickpocket would have made her sharper to every underhanded trick in the book and just as deadened to conscience. So stealing from the pampered rich should have been as easy snatching sweets from a baby's grasp, should have been...
This was an interesting case of a twist in a twist, very well thought out and engaging. A close second for me is Forgotten.
With the characters being so unpredictable and still a lot to be revealed, the element of suspense is not left out in these movies. Whether it's a hot cat and mouse chase or the sense of danger lurking when the MC is doing something crazy, it keeps things engaging till the end. A good example would be:
A man is kidnapped and locked in a hotel room by people he never sees and who never speak to him. After 15 years of several suicide attempts and mental torture, he is set free. And of course the first thing on his mind is to find his kidnapper...
Well this movie was very disturbing, but there was no denying the suspense. Watching the MC run around trying to catch his kidnapper, when in truth he is only moving on the prints of his rivals palm, just intensifies the need to learn the truth and to see who wins in the end.
DING DONG... CULMINATION
This should be where everything boils over and all unanswered questions are answered. Personally, the climax is the most important part of these movies. I refuse to imagine that after all the tension that accompanied me to this point, it will end up being underwhelmingly flat. Thankfully, most of these movies don't disappoint and are usually intense. A good example would be:
A poor family infiltrates a rich home as domestic staff under the alias of individual reputable workers after managing to get rid of their predecessors by craftily discrediting them. But then their new found jobs are threatened as new and unanticipated complications arise...
My goodness, that one came out of nowhere. What started out as a light and hilarious affair took a very sharp unexpected turn in the end. Other good ones for me were A Frozen Flower and The Chronicles Of Evil, they were not of the same nature but were at a suspenseful and emotional high.
Some movies have very vague endings or events in general, the type that forces you open forums just to understand what happened. It might be interesting to read meaning into them but it's not always a good thing. Sometimes it can create an air of mystery and thousands of possibilities or other times it can just be "what in God's name did I just watch" which is not engaging at all. But in general I enjoy it, just as long as they know their limits.
Old Boy is also a good example here. Along with Burning and Parasite.
Thanks for reading my article, if you have any others to add or more movie examples, please do share in the comments section.