This was a good year for Korean cinema, certainly compared to 2013. There are numerous high quality films to choose from, whatever your genre is. This year was also the year of a major milestone for Korean box office where admission records were shattered and the economics of Korean movie making was taken to another level. Who says the cinema is dying?
Well, with many movies to choose from, it is quite tough to pick the best five movies of this year. But using an absolutely unscientific judgement criteria, here are the best K-movies of the year 2014:
Warning: Yes, there will be spoilers.
Award for Best Popcorn Movie — Hot Young Bloods
Hot Young Bloods is a classic example of a simple story done well. It tells a story of how two opposite attractions, Lee Jong-suk “the Playboy” and Park Bo-young “the Delinquent,” came to love each other. More than that though, the movie is about living your youth with insecurities, heartbreaks, rage, fearlessness, stupidity and naivety. Basically, all the things that we love about our salad days. Hot Young Blood perfectly encapsulates the nostalgia of our youth with endearing but far-from-perfect characters that we can all relate to. After all, none of us are perfect in our teens, right? And that is exactly the charm of this movie. It is not perfect because it isn’t trying to be. What the movie does best, though, is telling a simple story with sincerity. The story just flows and flows like a mother telling her teenage daughter about how she came to love her husband at high school. The movie is light, fluffy and crunchy. Just like a bowl of popcorn, you can just enjoy it without any pretentious or any prejudice whatsoever. Simply relax and have fun reliving those teenage days of yours once again.
Award for Best Hepburn Makeover — Miss Granny
Who doesn’t love their grandmothers? Many of us wouldn’t dare to say otherwise. But what happened if one day she decides to quit her role as a grandma and be selfish for her own sake? Miss Granny is a feelgood family drama about a cranky old lady named Oh Mal-soon (Na Moon-hee) given the second chance to live her youth once again through her disguise as Oh Doo-ri (Shim Eun-kyung). Undoubtedly, the star of the movie is Shim Eun-kyung with her almost perfect and hilarious enactment of the young Doo-ri. Her antics and quirkiness really shines through Oh Doo-ri’s character pretty well. And hilarious acting most of the time equals hilarious scenes. Miss Granny is no exception. Her self-styled Audrey Hepburn makeover just does it for me. How can you not fall in love to watching a 73-year old grandma, trapped in her teenage body, letting herself go for once? You will not find many movie scenes ironically funnier than that.
Award for Most Touching Living-Your-Life Scenes — My Brilliant Life
This movie is criminally underrated. For all its quality, My Brilliant Life went below the radar to many Korean cinema-goers as it premiered at the same week as the much hyped Tazza 2 a.k.a Tazza: The Hidden Card. It’s a shame that not even the big names of Song Hye-kyo and Kang Dong-won could save this movie from being overlooked both by critics and audiences alike. Despite that, My Brilliant Life is one of those rare film that manages to bring out the laughs in melodramatic circumstances. Watching My Brilliant Life is like riding a roller coaster of emotions — any minute you could laugh your socks off and weep to sudden tears. The movie has a heart to picture a Progeria syndrome suffering as a source of strength rather than celebrating it as a tragedy. And in the end, the lovely thing about this movie is about teaching us how to find joy in every little moment you have left in this world.
Award for Excellence in Historic Lesson — The Admiral: Roaring Currents
The Admiral is simply a sensation. The movie takes the all-time Korean box office record with 17 million audiences and it is the first Korean movie to ever reap more than US$ 100 million in gross revenue. But this big budget blockbuster isn’t just bells and whistles, it is more than that. Character-wise, Choi Min-sik‘s portrayal of Admiral Yi Soon-shin and his chillingly feared counterpart Japanese commander Kurushima — played by Ryu Seung-ryeong — are every bit as good as acting could be. Both actors manage to flesh out their respective character to the fullest. The war choreography is great too. The naval battles scenes are brutal, epic, realistic and thrillingly staged. The special effects within the movie are generous and apt. All in all, The Admiral is an amazing piece of work, building the perfect combinations of heroism and an epic tactical battle, one that encompasses the very embodiment of Admiral Yi Soon-shin himself.
Award for Most Innovative Deaths and Best Oh Sh*t Moments — A Hard Day
2014 has been a year commemorated with many good action movies. But in terms of sheer adrenaline rush and fist pumping madness, nothing can beat A Hard Day. The movie is fast-paced but focused, spooky but funny, bone crunching but rewarding. Hands down, it is one of the best action thriller movie that ever come out from the Korean cinema in recent years. I could go as far as to say that A Hard Day could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the original Die Hard film, which probably until now is still THE movie for any action junkies out there. But while John McClane has to go through his unfortunately bad day by kicking ass and saving a bunch of people, A Hard Day protagonist Go Geon-soo (Lee Sun-kyun) is busy saving his own ass off by tainting his mother’s death in the most disrespectful way you could imagine.
Lee Sun-kyun is not an accidental hero, he is just a crooked cop having a bad day by crossing an even more crooked villain than he is. The best party piece from the film, though, isn’t really a superb plot nor complicated characters. No, the best thing about A Hard Day is how it delivers its climatic punch in those “oh sh*t” moments. Those moments are all that you wanted from a proper good action flick. In this case, A Hard Day certainly delivers. It is just a testament of how good are the directing and editing in this movie. Director Kim Seoung-hun in his only sophomore attempt behind the camera has clearly set the bar high for K-action movies in the future.
Tazza: The Hidden Card
Shin Se-kyung playing strip go-stop. Oh yeah, it’s epic.