Korea’s top films and directors of the decade: the definitive list?

by Philip Gowman on 5 September, 2010

in Film reviews and comment

Bong Joon-ho

Bong Joon-ho

Over the course of this year various people have published their list of top 10 Korean films of the last decade. Here at LKL, we’ve collected those lists, analysed them and come up with a poll of polls – if you like, the definitive list: at least, that is, until another critic weighs in with an additional selection to include. [Which has now happened, and I’ve written an addendum to this article here]

Some talking points:

  • Memories of Murder is definitively the top film of the decade (So much for Time Out saying that Mother is Bong Joon-ho’s first masterpiece). It secured more top-place rankings than any other film, and also had more appearances in critics’ top 10 lists than any other film.
  • Bong Joon-ho is the top ranked director, narrowly beating Park Chan-wook, who almost caught up because of the consistently high scores given to films in the Vengeance Trilogy. Other high-scoring directors are Lee Chang-dong, Hong Sang-soo and Im Sang-soo. Perhaps surprisingly, given the buzz caused by some of his films, Kim Ji-woon only comes in at #7
  • The one-hit wonder of the decade is Jang Jun-hwan. His film Save the Green Planet is #3 on the list, and the popularity of that single film earned him a #6 ranking on the top directors list. Other directors who leap-frogged him with better scores had their rankings boosted because they have made more films.
  • Another honourable mention goes to Jeong Jae-eun for Take Care of My Cat, though unlike Jang Jun-hwan she has made more than one film
  • Kim Ki-duk has slipped from being the name on every K-film fan’s lips to being almost an also-ran at #10 on the list. His top ranked film, Spring Summer Autumn Winter only comes in at #19.
  • Lee Yoon-ki merits a mention for two quiet films which didn’t create much of a stir on first release but seem to have stood the test of time: This Charming Girl and My Dear Enemy
  • Peppermint Candy appears on the list despite being a 1999 film. I’m sure more people would have included it, and it would be higher on the list, if it had been made in 2000.
  • The list probably reminds you of some of the films you have already watched and forgot you enjoyed so much. Hur Jin-ho’s One Fine Spring Day, for example, was not on my own long list but should have been. I now remember thinking at the time what a pleasurable experience it was to watch – more so than Hur’s debut Christmas in August.
  • Of course, it would be a dedicated film follower who has seen all the films on the list. I’m going to make sure I watch Lee Yoon-ki’s as soon as I can, together with Paju and Invisible Light. Then I’m going to re-watch Take Care of My Cat and Treeless Mountain.

11 critics voted on 62 films and 42 directors. Here are the top 31 films (not a round number, but three films tied at #29)…

Top Korean Films 2000-2009

Top Korean Films 2000-2009

…and the top 20 directors:

Top Korean Film Directors 2000-2009

Top Korean Film Directors 2000-2009

For those who are interested, the list of voters included, and the methodology used, is attached here. If anyone knows of any top 10 lists that I should have considered, let me know and I might provide an update on this poll. Or suggest your own list below. This isn’t a scientific exercise: it’s just a bit of fun. But I think it’s generated some interesting results.

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