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13 Best Movies to Watch From South Korea

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From Park Chan-wook (maker of Oldboy) comes The Handmaiden, a great movie in line with his now mastered style of portraying the beautifully weird. A rich Japanese lady isolated from the world accepts a new handmaiden, a shrewd young Korean girl with hidden motives. The men around them, full of greed and lust, complete the grand Victorian tale of deception, romance or lack thereof, and dark humor. You will find yourself at times screaming "what?", and at times bewildered by the general aesthetic of the film including clothes, traditions, and the stunning nature of both Korea and Japan. If you love cinema, you can't miss this movie. It's just too big of an achievement.

9.2

In the grand tradition of the ethnographic world tours like Mondo Cane, Samsara hits you in the face with the diversity and wonder of human life on earth. Unlike many of its predecessors, which often descended into colonialist gawping, Samara maintains a non judgmental gaze. This film uses no words or narration to travel the world showing you the breathtaking beauty of various countries, cultures, religions, cities, industries and nature. Shot on 70mm film, the definition and clarity has to be seen to be believed.

9.0

A zombie virus breaks out and catches up with a father as he is taking his daughter from Seoul to Busan, South Korea’s second-largest city. Watch them trying to survive to reach their destination, a purported safe zone.The acting is spot-on; the set pieces are particularly well choreographed. You’ll care about the characters. You’ll feel for the father as he struggles to keep his humanity in the bleakest of scenarios.It’s a refreshingly thrilling disaster movie, a perfect specimen of the genre.

8.0

Director Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer) does something quite amazing with the $50 million budget Netflix gave him: he makes a simplistic movie. But man, is it good. Okja tells the story of a “super pig” experiment that sends genetically modified pigs to top farmers around the world. In Korea, a farmer’s granddaughter forms a special relationship with one of these super pigs (Okja). When the company who originally ran the experiment want their pig back (performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton) – the two find an ally in an animal advocacy group led by Jay (Paul Dano). This is a straightforward movie, but nevertheless it is entertaining and full of thought-provoking themes and performances from an excellent cast.

8.0

Snowpiercer is an under-the-rader post-apocalyptic thriller that offers the grittiness that many times only Asian cinema may achieve. South Korean director Joon-ho Bong forces audiences to forget that Chris Evans was ever a Marvel superhero, as he leads a revolt of his fellow “low-class” citizens against the self-appointed gentry in a train that contains all remaining members of the planet. With immersive environments and a layered script, this film melds together social commentary and moral discourse in a visually arresting and vastly entertaining package.

7.9

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Vague statement alert: Burning is not a movie that you “get”; it’s a movie you experience. Based on a short story by Murakami, it’s dark and bleak in a way that comes out more in the atmosphere of the movie rather than what happens in the story. Working in the capital Seoul, a young guy from a poor town near the North Korean border runs into a girl from his village. As he starts falling for her, she makes an unlikely acquaintance with one of Seoul’s wealthy youth (played by Korean-American actor Steven Yeun, pictured above.) This new character is mysterious in a way that’s all-too-common in South Korea: young people who have access to money no one knows where it came from, and who are difficult to predict or go against. Two worlds clash, poor and rich, in a movie that’s really three movies combined into one - a character-study, a romance, and a revenge thriller.

7.7

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In the West, South Korean film is largely defined by the ingenious (oft violent) bombast of directors like Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) and Bong Joon-ho (Parasite), but there is a quieter tradition championed by director Hong Sang-soo that is just as imaginative and worthy of your time. This fascinating film serves as a perfect entry point to a director whose filmography is full of similar riches.A film director arrives in town to deliver a lecture, and having some time to kill, ends up sharing a day with a stranger. This simple set-up recalling Before Sunrise leads down a charming and quietly romantic route that would be delightful on its own, but Right Now, Wrong Then is about much more than just a chance encounter. It’s a film more concerned with how little moments here and there can change everything, and how much our lives are governed as much by chance and timing as the choices we make.

7.7

Twinsters is a documentary about a young Asian American actress, Samantha Futerman (also co-director), who is contacted over the internet by a young French-Asian woman, Anaïs Bordier, who has been shown a video of Samantha on the internet — and cannot believe their remarkably similar physical appearance. After initial perplexity and uncertainty, Samantha and Anaïs are soon embroiled in excited correspondence and travel to meet one another in their respective countries — eventually confirming via DNA testing that they are in fact long-lost twin sisters given up for adoption 25 years earlier in South Korea. A remarkable true story with a wonderfully beating heart, Twinsters does a lovely job of not just spelling out the amazing story of the sisters’ unlikely connection, but also finding and exploring the growing love and affection between both the two girls, as well as their extended families and groups of friends. A truly touching and humanistic film-viewing experience.

7.5

In rural Korea a policeman starts to investigate peculiar and violent events that most of the people in his village attribute to the arrival of a new Japanese resident. As the occurrences keep multiplying, and different perspectives in the film are shown, you start to lose touch with reality in the face of what can only be described as genius film-making. As critic Jada Yuan puts it, the film operates on a level “that makes most American cinema seem clunky and unimaginative”. For this reason, and while The Wailing is a true horror flick with a great premise, it’s also more than just that: it boosts a mind-boggling, interesting plot that will have you thinking about it long after the credits roll. Protip: grab the person next to you and make them watch this movie with you so you can have someone to discuss it with after!

7.5
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