A new generation of South Korean filmmakers released wild, imaginative, and unique films in 2003, which marked a turning point for the country’s cinema.
We select the top 10 Korean movies of that year, including Son Ye-star-making jin’s performance, Jun Ji-ground-breaking hyun’s performance in The Uninvited, and Park Chan-Oldboy. wook’s
South Korean cinema has been having a moment since Parasite’s historic victory at the Academy Awards in 2020.
But for many, the industry’s zenith occurred 20 years ago, in a significant year that saw the release of many renowned Korean directors’ perhaps best works.
Korean cinema was experiencing a renaissance in 2003. A new generation of filmmakers who had witnessed the nation’s transition from a military dictatorship to a modern democracy in the late 1980s were coming into their own. It was only the second year that locally produced films accounted for more than half of box office sales in South Korea (the first was 2001).
When film studios were new and inexperienced and unsure of themselves, they trusted these filmmakers and their trailblazing producers. This was before they became into all-powerful media empires. The end result was an abundance of unconventional and creative filmmaking that may have never been seen before.
The best Korean movies that were released in 2003, in our opinion, are these ten fiercely creative works.
1. The Uninvited
In the dark psychological horror film The Uninvited, which she starred in two years after her renowned performance in My Sassy Girl, Jun Ji-hyun revealed an entirely different side of herself.
One of the first female directors of a genre film in Korea, Lee Soo-film yeon’s depicts a soon-to-be-married interior decorator who starts seeing two young girls in his dark, ruby-red apartment. He seeks counselling and meets Jun’s character, a curious fellow patient.
What comes next is a perilous plummet into the depths of the psyche, where trauma and memory combine to create vivid waking nightmares.
2. The Typical
Director Kwak Jae-follow-up yong’s to My Sassy Girl, the evocative romance The Classic, featured Son Ye-jin of Crash Landing on You in a star-making role.
Son portrays mother and daughter in two epic love stories, one set in the past and the other in the present as the daughter battles with her own flirtations at school and learns of her mother’s old love letters.
The movie is a classic melodrama, full of innocent, youthful love and cuddling under umbrellas amid unexpected summer showers.
3. Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn
The legacy of the late director Kim Ki-duk was ruined after numerous claims of abuse against him came to light. Fans of Korean cinema were left to consider the difficult decision of what to do with his collection of work.
Regardless of who he was, his critically praised drama Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring should not be overlooked or forgotten. For a decade, it even retained the record for the most profitable Korean film in the US.
This tale of a young monk’s training at a stunning lake temple is still a spellbinding work of cinema.
The heartbreaking Repatriation is considered by many to be the best documentary produced in Korea by Kim Dong-won.
The film by Kim focuses on the numerous political detainees from North Korea who are being held in South Korea under the latter country’s military dictatorships on spurious spying allegations.
A harrowing account of the lives and minds lost to the internal conflicts of a fractured peninsula was created after hundreds of hours of candid personal interviews were trimmed down.
5. Unknown Scandal
Untold Scandal, the daring, erotic period drama from filmmaker E J-yong, gave Dangerous Liaisons a beautiful and thrilling twist.
Bae Yong-joon, the biggest K-drama star of his era (Winter Sonata), and a mesmerising performance by Jeon Do-yeon, currently on screens in Crash Course in Romance and Kill Boksoon, star in this Korean adaptation of French author Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ 18th century tale of two lascivious cousins who engage in a bet to seduce a virtuous young woman.
6. A Story of Two Sisters
Kim Jee-lavish woon’s and terrifying version of a folktale stretched the boundaries of what Korean cinema could accomplish, making it a strong candidate for the title of best K-horror of all time.
The film pulls us into its macabre story of two sisters moving in with their father and new mother-in-law in a house in the country thanks to gorgeous sets and costumes, rich and dynamic camerawork, and skilled sound design.
A Tale of Two Sisters elevated the standard for Korean horror to a level that few have been able to approach, much less surpass. It was vivid and intensely unnerving.
7. A Devoted Attorney’s Wife
Im Sang-edgy soo’s and captivating drama stars Moon So-ri as the wife of a household full of adulterers who considers having her own affair.
In a tale that examines the explosively at odds forces of emasculation and female empowerment in a culture experiencing rapid and unsettling change, the modern Korean family is shattered to pieces.
A Good Lawyer’s Wife is a particularly rich and intriguing affair drama that is funny, erotic, and superbly played.
Korean cinema was already well-known internationally by 2003, but Oldboy, the second film in Park Chan-acclaimed wook’s “Vengeance Trilogy” (between 2002’s Sympathy For Mr Vengeance and 2005’s Lady Vengeance), is what really made Westerners sit up and pay attention.
During the Cannes Film Festival, it won the Grand Prix, the second-place prise, and there are rumours that Quentin Tarantino, the head of the jury, intended to give it the Palme d’Or, which ultimately went to the political documentary Fahrenheit 9/11.
Choi Min-sik portrays a regular salaryman who spends 15 years locked up in a mysterious room before being freed and attempts to discover out who put him there in this legendary masterclass in style.
9. Protect the environment!
2003 saw the release of a number of daring Korean movies, none more so than Jang Joon-perplexing hwan’s directorial debut Save the Green Planet, a box office disaster that would later become one of the nation’s most cherished cult masterpieces.
Shin Ha-kyun, star of Beyond Evil, plays a disturbed young man who kidnaps a corporate Executive and misidentifies him as an Andromedan prince.
What comes next is an exhilarating and unforgettable blend of science fiction, comedy, romance, horror, procedural mystery, torture porn, and social commentary, complete with punk renditions of Over the Rainbow and cocktail umbrellas.
10. Murderous Recollections
When it comes to Korean cinema in 2003, there can be only one at the top: Bong Joon-spectacular ho’s Memories of Murder is the quintessential serial killer thriller.
The plot of Bong’s film, which is loosely based on a notorious unsolved case of serial killings in Korea in the 1980s (the killer was finally identified in 2019), follows the collaboration of Song Kang-ho, a country bumpkin investigator, and Kim Sang-kyung, a city slicker detective, to find a killer in the countryside.
Memories of Murder, which came out four years before Zodiac, completely altered the serial killer subgenre. The movie is sometimes referred to as the best Korean movie of all time because it is brimming with dark humour, a pervasive feeling of dread, and an abundance of the fears of a pre-democratic Korea.