Whenever I meet someone Korean, I speak to them in Korean. Inevitably, they respond by asking how I could possibly have found interest enough in their country to study its language, which I have for seven years and counting. They expect me to say I got into it through Korean television dramas or K-pop — two of the acknowledged "normal" answers, given the current "Korean wave" of pop culture now sweeping across Asia and parts of the West. But no. Apart from fascination about the language itself, Korean movies did it for me. And, more shocking still to my new friends, not the most recent ones.
Back when I started learning Korean, I couldn't always find new Korean movies easily, let alone classic ones. We've got it considerably easier today, now that the Korean Film Archive has a Youtube channel offering half a century of Korean cinema all viewable for free. And you don't have to speak or read Korean: many include subtitles.
The movies are organized into playlists by decade — 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s — as well as sections dedicated to such Korean auteurs as Kim Ki-young, Shin Sang-ok, and Im Kwon-taek.
If you'd like to get into the work of one of those old masters of Korean film, allow me to suggest Kim Ki-young's Iodo, a haunting spiritual detective story that vividly illustrates how far back Korea's reputation for boundary-pushing cinema extends before the likes of Oldboy.
Among the more recent pictures in the archive, you can also find The Day a Pig Fell Into a Well, the first film from Hong Sangsoo, the now international well-known comedy-of-manners experimentalist who has risen to prominence in step with Korean film itself.
These and others of the dozens and dozens of selections available — Marriage Story, Kim Eui-suk's examination of the travails of matrimony in a culture that expects much of that institution; 301/302, Park Chul-soo's cannibalistic, satirical psychodrama of high-rise life — reveal the pleasure of Korean film, which, like Korean food, involve tasting as many flavors as possible at once.
Korean Film Archive [YouTube.com]