Whether you’ve been raving about Parasite since it hit U.S. theaters in October or its Best Picture Oscar win has just compelled you to check it out, we have some good news for you: Bong Joon Ho’s masterpiece is a gateway to the wild and wonderful world of South Korean cinema, and the director’s compatriots are similarly gifted at combining artful filmmaking with first-rate entertainment. If you’re looking to dive deeper, here are some recommendations to get you started. (Plus, check out our guide to Bong’s pre-Parasite movies.)
Bong’s friend Park Chan-wook tends to skew darker and more violent than the Parasite director, but Park’s films boast a similar command of tonal shifts, genre blending, and twisty storytelling. Case in point: Oldboy, which tells the tale of Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik), who’s suddenly, inexplicably kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years before being released just as suddenly and inexplicably. Dae-su sets out to get revenge on his captor, leading to a zig-zagging thriller that only gets darker the deeper it goes. Not for the faint of heart, Oldboy boasts an all-time great hand-to-hand-combat sequence and one of the most emotionally devastating endings in film history, and its striking critique of toxic masculinity has only grown more resonant with the passing years. (Also, be sure not to confuse this film with Spike Lee’s misbegotten 2013 remake.)
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring (2003)
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring, a work of stirring beauty and poignance from writer-director Kim Ki-duk. Set at a Buddhist monastery that floats on a lake, the film follows the life of a novice monk (played at different ages by Seo Jae-kyeong, Kim Young-min, and director Kim Ki-duk) and his master (Oh Yeong-su) as the apprentice learns the ways of the world, growing and struggling through the seasons of life as he slowly but surely progresses toward maturity. The film requires patience, to be sure, but it possesses a spiritual transcendence rare for any movie to achieve, and its emotional journey is as much of a rollercoaster ride, in its own way, as the rollicking plotting of Parasite.
The Handmaiden (2016)
We return to Park’s filmography for The Handmaiden, whose brilliant puzzle-box storytelling architecture is but one of its many pleasures. A Korean woman named Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) is drawn into an elaborate con operation to seduce a Japanese heiress, Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), then commit her to an asylum and claim her inheritance — and that’s about all that should be revealed. Suffice it to say, this is a twisted, multilayered tale that conceals a strangely heartening queer story within its twists and turns, and a period piece as gorgeously shot and designed as any Oscar contender of recent memory.
Burning is a trickier film to parse than those mentioned above, but it rewards patience with a (sorry) slow-burn narrative that (figuratively and quite literally) bursts into raging flame by its end. Based on a short story by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, Burning follows a young man, Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in), who reconnects with an old classmate, Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), just before she departs for a long trip. When she returns, she does so alongside Ben (Steven Yeun), a strange, apparently rich man who immediately arouses Jong-su’s suspicions. Things only get stranger from there, as Jong-su becomes inescapably entangled in what’s either a sinister plot or a phantasm of escalating paranoia. This is another film where it’s best not to reveal too much, but here’s what we will say: Yeun’s exquisite smirk alone should have earned him every conceivable acting award.