If you’ve kept up even casually international viewing habits over the past fifteen years, you’ve watched a Korean movie or two. Maybe you’ve enjoyed the unusual tonal mixture of Bong Joon-ho’s political satire/monster extravaganza The Host, the elaborate grotesqueness of Park Chan-wook’s revenge thriller Oldboy, or the slick Hollywood pastiche of Kang Je-gyu’s North-versus-South heap of spy-versus-spy action Shiri. But look just beyond those high-profile international Korean blockbusters and you’ll find the most vibrant, adventurous cinematic culture active today. Upon discovering it, I personally got excited enough to move to a Korean neighborhood, study the Korean language, and dig deep for knowledge about the Korean filmmakers whose names even cinephiles rarely bring up outside Asia. You’ll find it rather easier to immerse yourself, now that the Korean Film Archive has come to Youtube. (NOTE: To activate English subtitles, make sure to hit the “CC” button on the lower right of the player.)
The Archive has uploaded many a notable film, including Im Kwon-taek’s Sopyonje, which surprised the country by both rekindling interest in the traditional music of pansori and by breaking box-office records despite playing on only three screens. The Korean Film Archive offers three more films by Im, one of Korean cinema’s most respected elder statesmen, and nine other films from the nineties. You can also watch selections from the eighties, seventies, sixties, fifties and forties, as well as several from other Korean auteurs like the transgressive Kim Ki-young and the prolific Shin Sang-ok. It particularly thrilled me to find The Day the Pig Fell Into a Well, the very first picture from Hong Sangsoo, a director acclaimed by critics worldwide as a comedic formal experimenter, in essence Korea’s Woody Allen. If you don’t know quite what to feel thrilled by here, read Korean film specialist Darcy Paquet’s “Short History of Korean Film,” then listen to my interview with him about his book Korean Cinema: Breaking the Waves. If you love film, you’ll certainly find films to love from Korea.