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Unveiling the Best of K-Cinema 2023, What’s Next for 2024?

As we bid farewell to a year filled with psychologically menacing villains, revenge-driven storylines, and dystopian thrillers (that hit too close to home); it's refreshing to welcome the return of romance in Korean cinema.

We’ve seen the likes of All Your Wishes Will Come True, featuring the mighty Bae Suzy and Kim Woo-bin, grace our screens. Let’s not forget: Carry Sun Jae and Run, Captivating the King, DNA Lover, Doctor Slump (what a drama this is!) and Marry my Husband just to name a few!

For the past 12 months, audiences have been captivated by dark narratives, but now it's time to embrace the heartfelt and emotional stories that define the essence of love.

I'm excited to share my top 3 picks from the plethora of releases in the past year. 

(Yes, the choices were tough considering the abundance of films and dramas that graced our screens. But after careful consideration, I've narrowed it down… somehow.)

These dramas and movies not only challenged my subconscious perspective of sympathy and vengeance but also addressed real-life personal and technological concerns. Through compelling storytelling, they made me realise that K-Cinema is light years ahead of anything I've ever watched.

Let’s begin!

The Glory (2022-2023) - Trailer

Image Credit: The Glory promotional poster by Netflix.

It would be an utter disservice to withhold accolades from Song Hye-kyo for her remarkable portrayal of Dong-Eun in this absolute masterpiece!

'The Glory,' based on a true story, unfolds the riveting tale of Dong-Eun's relentless quest for revenge against her high school bullies, with escalating stakes for each target in her path.

This drama's phenomenal success, securing the top spot on Netflix’s non-English TV Series chart with a staggering 48 million viewing hours and maintaining a presence on the global chart for eight consecutive weeks, can be attributed to its raw depiction of reality. 'The Glory' fearlessly tackles issues such as poor adult figures, domestic abuse and school bullying.

Split into two parts, the audience becomes avid supporters of Dong-Eun's cause, fuelled by the glaring lack of protection offered by parents, teachers and law enforcement. The drama sheds light on the harsh reality of school bullying, magnifying its severity, consequences and, at times, leaving the audience yearning for Dong-Eun to take even more drastic measures. Importantly, this gripping narrative underscores the notion that authority does not always equate to protection - an assertion rooted in the authenticity of a true story.

Domestic abuse, another taboo subject, is sensitively portrayed through the character of Hyun-Nam (Yeom Hye-ran), a housemaid entangled in Dong-Eun's revenge plot. Hyun-Nam unveils the struggles of motherhood and wifehood, capturing the essence of enduring abusive relationships in the pursuit of survival and happiness. The unlikely alliance between Dong-Eun and Hyun-Nam will surely bring a few warm smiles and heartfelt chuckles! 

While avoiding major spoilers, it's safe to say that 'The Glory,' as a revenge drama grounded in real events, stands out as an unparalleled experience. Boasting impeccable casting and acting, a riveting narrative structure, and clinching three Baeksang Arts Awards, 'The Glory' has undoubtedly set the standard for 2023 releases.

Jung-E (2023) - Trailer

Image Credit: Jung-E promotional poster by Netflix.

It's truly surprising that this dystopian thriller hasn't garnered the attention it deserves, especially considering that its director, Yeon Sang-ho, is the genius behind the acclaimed Train to Busan (2016) and Peninsula (2020).

Now, fate has led me to bring this remarkable film to your attention!

Set in the 22nd century, the visionary director presents a world rendered uninhabitable by humans and ravaged by the devastating impacts of climate change. Man-made shelters serve as the last refuge for fragmented factions of society, but soon, a civil war erupts.

The premise may sound somewhat reminiscent of Hunger Games, doesn't it?

In the year 2194, consciousness becomes downloadable, leading to the creation of the ultimate Artificially Intelligent combat warrior, Yun Jung-E (played by Kim Hyun-joo). 

By blending science fiction with the tangible fear of Earth's destruction at our own hands, Jung-E's attempt to escape the research lab raises philosophical questions that the film explores:

- What does it truly mean to be human?

- Is there an end to bio-tech?

Addressing topics ranging from climate change to cloning, this movie unveils a chilling near-future reality. It suggests that we're inevitably headed toward a desperate reliance on biotech for our very survival. As the narrative unfolds, the film prompts us to contemplate the ethical and existential implications of our evolving relationship with technology and nature.

Kill Bok-Soon (2023) - Trailer

Image Credit: Kill Bok-Soon promotional poster by Netflix.

Immersed in the gripping dilemma of 'to kill or be killed,' this action thriller had me absolutely hooked, hooked I say, from start to finish!

The storyline unfolds around Bok-Soon, portrayed by the talented Jeon Do-yeon, navigating the unseen challenges of single-handedly raising her teenage daughter while juggling her role in a professional conglomerate of assassins known as MK Ent. (Surprising, right?).

The film delves into the struggles faced by Bok-Soon as she attempts to balance the demands of her life as a revered assassin with motherhood. This presents a gripping depiction of the challenges many women grapple with in our contemporary world. Beyond the complexities of her job, Bok-Soon also wrestles with the inherent difficulties of opening up and nurturing a normal mother-daughter relationship, considering the cold-hearted nature of her profession.

However, the narrative doesn't solely focus on Bok-Soon; it intricately weaves in her daughter, Jae-Young (played by Kim Shi-ah). Jae-Young covertly contends with societal stigma and the fear of exposure in her same-sex relationship with her best friend. This secret vulnerability opens the door to potential blackmail, putting her mother's career with MK Ent. at risk if others discover the truth.

'Kill Bok-Soon' compellingly portrays the sacrifices mothers and daughters make.

It highlights their shared needs for protection, reassurance and guidance, while also seeking stability and a safe space for confiding in one another.

Amidst the insanely choreographed fight scenes, the film's core sentiment truly resonated with me. It provides a unique perspective on mother-daughter relationships, showcasing a raw intensity rarely seen in cinema.

Ending Ment

I know, I know.

There are several films that could fit into this category that I haven’t mentioned but trust me, the shortlisting process was brutal!

2023 truly stood out as a phenomenal year with remarkable releases, back-to-back!

It appears that K-Cinema, or perhaps the viewers, has taken a step back from intense and meandering storylines, as well as the love-to-hate-and-hate-to-love villains.

Instead, there's a noticeable shift towards Romance and even elements of Comedy making a return to our screens.

However, if there's one genre blend that K-Cinema excels in like no other, it's Dystopian-Action-Psycho-Thrillers.

As we bid farewell to the incredible offerings of 2023, I'm impatiently anticipating what 2024 has in store for me!

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