Watch More Than 400 Classic Korean Films Free Online Thanks to the Korean Film Archive

Even if you don’t know much about Korea, or indeed about film, it’s safe to say that you know at least one Kore­an film: Bong Joon-ho’s Par­a­site, which has cir­cled the world gath­er­ing acclaim and awards since its release last spring. First it won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, becom­ing the first Kore­an pro­duc­tion to do so; more recent­ly, it made film his­to­ry even more dra­mat­i­cal­ly at the Acad­e­my Awards. There it won Oscars not just for Best Inter­na­tion­al Fea­ture Film, Best Orig­i­nal Screen­play, and Best Direc­tor, but also Best Pic­ture, becom­ing the first non-Eng­lish-lan­guage film to do so. For many view­ers, Par­a­site and its direc­tor seem to have come out of nowhere, but lovers of Kore­an cin­e­ma know full well that they come out of a rich tra­di­tion — and a robust indus­try.

Maybe you thrilled to Bong’s sus­pense­ful, fun­ny, and vio­lent tale of class war­fare as much as the Acad­e­my did. Maybe you’ve even seen the work of Bong’s con­tem­po­raries: Park Chan-wook, he of the con­tro­ver­sial hit Old­boy; the even more trans­gres­sive Kim Ki-duk; the pro­lif­ic Hong Sang­soo, with his Woody Allen-meets-Éric Rohmer sen­si­bil­i­ty.

But do you know their son­saeng­n­imthe gen­er­a­tions of Kore­an film­mak­ers who went before them? Now you can, no mat­ter where in the world you are, on the Kore­an Film Archive’s Youtube chan­nel. There, at no charge, you can expe­ri­ence decades of Kore­an cin­e­ma and hun­dreds of works of Kore­an cin­e­mat­ic art, includ­ing but not lim­it­ed to those of mid-20th-cen­tu­ry mas­ters like Kim Ki-young, Im Kwon-taek, and my per­son­al favorite Kim Soo-yong, direc­tor of haunt­ing, even brazen pic­tures of the 1960s and 70s like Mist and Night Jour­ney.

I actu­al­ly met the then-octo­ge­nar­i­an Kim Soo-yong a few years ago, when he called me over to his table out of curios­i­ty about what a for­eign­er was doing at a screen­ing of Mist. It hap­pened at the Kore­an Film Archive’s cin­e­math­eque (known as Cin­e­math­eque KOFA) here in Seoul, where I’ve lived for the past few years. Dur­ing that time I’ve also been writ­ing a Korea Blog for the Los Ange­les Review of Books, which occa­sion­al­ly fea­tures essays on the clas­sic Kore­an films made avail­able online by the Kore­an Film Archive. I began the series with Night Jour­ney, and more recent­ly have writ­ten up pic­tures like the 1960s neo­re­al­ist cry of agony Aim­less Bul­let, the 1970s col­lege-under-dic­ta­tor­ship com­e­dy The March of Fools, the 1980s West­ern­iza­tion com­e­dy Chil-su and Man-su, the 1990s food-sex-hor­ror satir­i­cal mix­ture 301, 302, and oth­ers.

If you need more sug­ges­tions as to where to start with the KOFA’s more than 400 free films online, pay a vis­it to the Kore­an Movie Data­base (KMDb), where KOFA reg­u­lar­ly post selec­tions from their cat­a­log. This mon­th’s picks are “spy thriller films from the 1950s to 1970s infused with the anti-com­mu­nist ide­ol­o­gy dur­ing the time.” Pre­vi­ous months have round­ed up “melo­dra­mas that are filled with women’s desire and crav­ing for love,” films about “indi­vid­ual or fam­i­ly tragedies lead­ing to his­tor­i­cal tragedies,” and “heart-warm­ing clas­si­cal movies all the fam­i­ly mem­bers can enjoy togeth­er.” You can watch all these films either on the KMDb (which requires free reg­is­tra­tion) or on KOFA’s ever-grow­ing Youtube chan­nel. Either way, as we say here in Korea, 재미있게 보세요.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Secret of the “Per­fect Mon­tage” at the Heart of Par­a­site, the Kore­an Film Now Sweep­ing World Cin­e­ma

Mar­tin Scors­ese Intro­duces Film­mak­er Hong Sang­soo, “The Woody Allen of Korea”

The Five Best North Kore­an Movies: Watch Them Free Online

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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