Knowing a Country through its Movies: South Korea

It was quite by accident that I first came across Korean movies on Youtube. Although the use of the word ‘Korean’ per se might be problematic because, like India, Korea too is a pluralistic concept. In fact, the fact that there are two Korea(s) ought to be kept in mind while talking about their cultural and intellectual agenda. The Korean war might have ended in 1953 but technically there’s hardly any cultural exchange between the two countries because of which both of them have developed their own cultural and social backgrounds and each of them has their own distinctive features. So, let me get this straight –  when I say I am a great admirer of Korean movies, I specifically mean South Korean movies.

I was searching for some run-of-the-mill Hollywood movies to watch in order to while away my time and I chanced to look at a video titled ‘200 Pound Beauty’ which had two girls on the screen – one a very stereotypical belle (you know, slim waist, long legs, shimmery skin…you get the drift, eh?) and the other an oversized, fluffy ball of a girl. I thought it’d be a lighthearted cinematic representation of an even more shallow chick lit book. I thought of watching it. And a whole new world of cinematic possibilities opened up in front of my eyes! Far from being shallow, the movie seemed to me to be a cerebral enterprise that pits the conventional notion of  ‘acceptable beauty’ against the beauty of the mind/heart. I was completely swept off my feet by the commendably strong acting of the lead actress and the overall execution of a sensitive and a socially relevant topic.

That was the beginning and suffice it to say that I never looked back. That was the day I started a cinematic marathon of Korean movies and it still continues. Till date I have watched about 57 Korean movies and still I crave for more. For all those whose curiosity I have been able to arouse in the as yet unknown territory of South East movies, I ‘d say that the South Korean movie industry straddles multiple genres with a natural ease. Be it comedy, romance or thrillers, they have got it all! But I think that South Korea does comedy like no one else and some of the comic set pieces would rip you apart with their humour!

I have learnt for the first time in my life that you can fall in love with a very different culture just by watching its movies! South Korea is not always about chopsticks and Samsung and the victim of the callow and misinformed western/ South Asian effort to constantly mistake it for Japan or Thailand. It is a small country with an immense amount of history behind it and a rich and varied culture. Its social structure and cultural nuances are very complex and and to appreciate them one needs to have a profound knowledge of its historical past and the global-recession hit present.


So that was, in a nutshell, my opinion of South Korean movies. I ‘d just like to mention the names of some South Korean actors and actresses who have captured my imagination with the sheer mount of talent they have. My favourite actresses are Kim Ha-neul, Kim Soo-mi and Ha- Ji-won and actors would include Kwon Sang-woo and Cha Tae-hyun.

A list of my top 10 South Korean movies would include the following (but not necessarily in that order):

1. My Little Bride

2. Unstoppable Marriage

3. Blind

4. Seducing Mr.Perfect

5. My Tutor Friend

6. He Was Cool

7. Lovers of Six Years

8. Ditto

9. She’s On Duty

10. Love So Divine

(I could not include so many other names. This list is by no means exhaustive.)

Happy watching!

Godhuli Goswami

"I should have been a pair of rugged claws Cluttering across the floors of silent seas... I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker In short I was afraid."

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