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15 Must-See Korean and Japanese Films on Netflix Instant Queue — Summer 2015

While we do our best to stay current with our ’10 Must-See’ Netflix lists, it looks as though Netflix has recently removed a massive amount of Korean films from their selection. Sadly, most of those removed were included in our recent Winter/Spring selection. While we are certainly disappointed in this development, which we assume was due to unrenewed licenses, it doesn’t mean there aren’t still great features to choose from.

So in order to continue providing diverse and current suggestions, we’ve decided to combine both Japanese and Korean features into one condensed list, including a few new suggestions and some previously suggested that are still available.

Departures (おくりびと) [Japanese | 2008]

Newly unemployed cellist Kobayashi Daigo migrates back to his hometown and to the childhood home his mother left for him. While job hunting, Daigo comes across an ad for “assisting departures” and interviews for the position he believes to be a travel agent. But after learning it’s actually a position in which he prepares bodies for cremation, desperate Daigo reluctantly decides to take the job.

Like Father, Like Son (そして父になる) [Japanese | 2013]

Workaholic Ryota regularly neglects his familial life in lieu of his thirst for wealth and success. But upon learning that his son was switched at birth, Ryota now must decide if he should continue raising the son he has known, or his biological son.

War of the Arrows (최종병기 활) [Korean | 2011]

Set during the Manchu invasion, this historic action epic follows renowned archer, Nam-yi, as he takes on the Qing Dynasty to save his sister.

I Wish (奇跡) [Japanese | 2011]

Separated by a divorce and nearly the length of Japan, two young brothers hatch a plan to reunite by way of the new bullet train line and the superstition that its maiden voyage will grant a wish.

Hide and Seek (숨바꼭질) [Korean | 2013]

After receiving a call stating that his estranged brother has gone missing, obsessive compulsive business man Sung-soo decides to investigate his brother’s home. Upon arrival, Sung-soo finds strange markings at each apartment’s entrance, a frantic mother and daughter convinced his brother is watching them, and a bizarre trend of disappearing tenants. Shortly after returning home, Sung-soo discovers that the same markings have been made at his upscale apartment complex and indicate who live inside.

Previously Listed:

Oldboy (올드보이) [Korean | 2003]

Assuredly, we can say you’ve at least heard of Oldboy, and that’s certainly not without good reason. Oldboy was unarguably the catalyst for Korea’s new found film notoriety. With more than a decade passed since its release and the movie world still abuzz over the film’s unparalleled story, acting, and action sequences, Oldboy has firmly solidified itself as an iconic classic.

It’s been 15 years since Oh Dae-su was kidnapped and locked away in solitary confinement. No human contact, no light, no reason; only a small TV, dumplings at each meal, and a thirst for vengeance against the unknown person who has done this to him. Drugged and dumped on a rooftop, Oh Dae-su can now seek his vengeance against those responsible, more concerned with the who rather than the why.

Please note: while it may seem tempting to watch the American remake directed by Spike Lee, we can decisively say that you should not. In fact, it would probably be in all our best interest if we act as though it was never made.

New World (신세계) [Korean | 2013]

As the first in a planned trilogy, writer / director Park Hoon-jung tackles the seedy underworld of organized crime through the eyes of undercover officer Ja-sung. After being tasked with infiltrating the biggest crime syndicate in Korea, what was supposed to be a short-term operation is now nearing a decade.

Now, as the right-hand to the syndicate’s second most powerful head, Ja-sung finds the lines beginning to blur between his life as an officer then and an important gangster. But as his undercover life begins to further climb the ladder, Ja-sung finds that there might be no end in sight.

Insanely popular among Korean action and crime fans, New World topped many ‘best of’ lists for foreign films in 2013. With an all-star cast, fast-paced and immersing story, and more intense shoot-outs than you can shake a stick at, it’s easy to understand why. Not to mention an older looking Choi Min-sik (of Oldboy fame) proves, once again, that any film billing his name will be an enjoyable one.

The Host (괴물) [Korean | 2006]

Nothing brings a family together like a giant river monster eating a family member.

Starring some of the greatest acting talent South Korea has to offer — Bae Doona, Song Kang-ho, Park Hae-ilThe Host became the all-time highest grossing movie in South Korea in 2006, surpassed by 2014’s The Admiral. Easily the best monster movie since Godzilla, The Host differentiates itself from the standard giant monster fare by keeping its sense of humor, without going as far as making itself the punchline, alongside intense action and a captivating story.

Poetry (시) [Korean | 2010]

When a seasoned, extraordinary actress like Yoon Jeong-hee comes out of a 15-year retirement for a film, the public pays close attention to her next move. For an actress with the caliber of Yoon’s, who’s married to a Julliard-trained pianist and has been living in Paris since the mid-90s, it’s rare to see them ever return to the big screen — let alone with their frequent co-star at their side. However, when a filmmaker like Lee Chang-dong (Secret Sunshine, Peppermint Candy) comes knocking on your door, you answer.

Poetry tells the story of grandmother Yang Mi-ja, a 66-year-old woman who has decided to take up poetry amid her struggle to make ends meet, care for her disrespectful grandson, Jong-wook, and learning she has Alzheimer’s. But when a recent tragedy hits home, Yang is forced to grapple with her sense of morality while battling her disease.

Poetry is an absolutely remarkable, riveting, and human film. Rarely ever do pictures come along that linger and affect you so deeply as this does, leaving the viewer feeling they’ve just experienced something profound. Arguably, the film’s greatest asset comes way by Yoon Jeong-hee’s flawless acting ability and astounding range. An actress who so poignantly conveys her emotional turmoil while debating her morality in complete silence impeccably. Yoon is a remarkably gifted actress who so perfectly utilizes her entire body to act that she ultimately leaves the viewer completely captivated and focused on her, and almost completely her, throughout the entire performance.

However, it would do the film a great disservice if we didn’t commend each performance, giving the film a natural and relatable tone due to nearly every actor’s outstanding ability. Not often are films as superbly cast as this, and it’s remarkable to witness. In the end, performances like these don’t come from a bland script or talentless director, compelling us to give a great deal of repute to Poetry‘s writer / director, Lee Chang-dong, who has really quite outdone himself.

Kundo: Age of the Rampant (군도: 민란의 시대) [Korean | 2014]

Sometimes you just don’t care about “emotional”, “uplifting”, or “powerful” movies. Sometimes you just want to turn your brain off and watch a really awesome action flick. Although Kundo might not be the most awe-inspiring film on this list, it maintains solid action entertainment all the way through — and sometimes that’s absolutely the best.

Set during the Joseon period, the darling era used most often in historic Korean TV and film, Kundo follows the impoverished butcher, an occupation that was the lowest of the low, Dolmuchi. After making a deal with the illegitimate son of a corrupt governor, Dolmuchi decides he can’t go through with his end and ultimately pays a steep price for his viewed betrayal. In a clichéd nothing-left-to-lose move, Dolmuchi joins forces with Kundo, a band of oppressed fighters, in an attempt to suppress an abhorrent and all-too-common group of tyrannous government officials — think Korean Robin Hood.

This heavily Taratino-influenced, pseudo-spaghetti-western might not be the most memorable feature on the list, but it does deliver an exhilarating and engaging story on top of some of the most thrilling action sequences made in a long time.

13 Assassins (十三人の刺客) [Japanese | 2010]

At the end of the Tokugawa period, politics are beyond corrupt, allowing for rape, murder, and torture from key political figures with no retribution. After one exceedingly gruesome occurrence a plan is put into action to stop the sadistic daimyo behind the worst of the attacks. 13 samurai are assembled in an attempt to assassinate the ruthless daimyo — quickly realizing they’re on a suicide mission.

Traditionally, remakes of classic films rarely hold a candle to their predecessor — not the case for 13 Assassins. As legendary filmmaker Takashi Miike gained more notoriety as Japan’s shock-horror master with such work as Ichi: The Killer, Audition, Visitor Q, and The Happiness of the Katakuris, so did his paychecks and big studio requests. These days Miike’s strayed away from the work that made him famous, and is instead focusing on video game live-action adaptations, big-budget action, and classic remakes — including Zatoichi and Hara-Kiri.

Nobody Knows (誰も知らない) [Japanese | 2004]

After their mother abandons them in their Tokyo apartment, 12-year-old Akira does his best at caring for his 3 younger siblings. But as the weeks drag into months, Akira struggles to provide and the situation continues to grow more and more grim.

Agonizing and deeply human, Nobody Knows isn’t a film you will soon forget. To make matters worse, the film is based on a true event from the early 90’s. Unfortunately, this is one of those rare occasions where the real-life events were actually much, much worse. Definitely have your tissue box handy for this one.

Sonatine (ソナチネ) [Japanese | 1993]

Despite reservations, yakuza enforcer Murakawa is ordered to travel to Okinawa to end a war between clans. After meeting with the clan to discuss a settlement, Murakawa finds that his instincts were correct. Soon Murakawa learns that it isn’t the rival clan that want him dead but his own.

“Beat” Takeshi Kitano is the actor most synonymous with yakuza films worldwide and Sonatine is the film that gave him his notoriety. Intense, violent, and all-around general bad-a**ery, Sonatine is an absolute must-watch Japanese classic equivalent to Godfather — or any other classic mob movie, really — in America.

I Saw the Devil (악마를 보았다) [Korean | 2010]

Since 2003, psychological thriller filmmakers, particularly those in South Korea, aim to be compared to Oldboy. Unfortunately for most, they nowhere near hit their mark. However, that’s certainly not the case for 2010’s I Saw the Devil.

After his pregnant fiancé is mercilessly tortured and murdered, secret service agent Soo-hyun obsessively hunts down her killer. But after finding Kyung-chul, her murderer, and unraveling further gruesome deaths, Soo-hyun begins to blur the line between justice and sadistic vengeance.

Often regarded by many as being on the same level as Oldboy, I Saw the Devil garnished its admiration for more reasons than just both films’ star, Choi Min-sik. I Saw the Devil is a stomach-turning, wince-filled, jump-inducing horror / thriller from New World writer, Park Hoon-jung and The Good, The Bad, and The Weird director, Kim Jee-woon.

Although I Saw the Devil is brutally gruesome, the film’s truly stay-with-you moments come from its intelligent story-telling and psychological terror, not simply relying on shock value to keep you awake at night.

Bedevilled (김복남 살인사건의 전말) [Korean | 2010]

Uptight, insensitive, and overwhelmed, Hae-won finds herself in trouble at work and decides to take up a childhood friend’s offer to visit the island they grew up on. Upon arrival, Hae-won’s childhood friend, Bok-nam, showers her with affection and attention, while Hae-won remains cold and indifferent, planning a week of solitary relaxation instead of a warm reunion. Treated as little more than a slave and influenced by Hae-won’s life in Seoul, Bok-nam plans an escape with her daughter.

Unlike most horror films, Bedevilled focuses mainly on the horrors of humanity — well, at least for the first half. A film that certainly doesn’t hold back any punches, Bedevilled runs like an emotional rollercoaster from beginning to end, leaving the viewer feeling rather drained and depressed. Easily one of the best horror films to come out of Asia in recent years, Bedevilled steps away from stagnant horror / thriller tropes and delivers a surprisingly memorable dramatic thriller / horror blend.

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Categories: Japanese Films/TV, Korean Films, Lists and Editorials

Author:Jen

Founder, Editor-in-Chief at Another Castle | Twitter: @ComradeJen

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4 Comments on “15 Must-See Korean and Japanese Films on Netflix Instant Queue — Summer 2015”

  1. 05/30/2015 at 3:29 PM #

    Reblogged this on Rice Cakes.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 5 Must-See Korean Films on Netflix Instant Queue — Winter / Spring 2015 | Another Castle - 06/02/2015

    […] In turn, only Poetry and Kundo are still available, as of late May 2015. We have published an updated list for Summer 2015 that includes Japanese films, as […]

  2. 10 Must-See Japanese Films on Netflix Instant Queue | Another Castle - 06/02/2015

    […] 15 Must-See Korean and Japanese Films on Netflix Instant Queue — Summer 2015 (Another Castle) […]

  3. 5 Must-See Asian Movies on Netflix Instant Queue — Winter 2015 | Another Castle - 12/07/2015

    […] we’ve had to say “goodbye” to several outstanding Asian films in the last several months, Netflix continues to replace those we’ve lost with some real gems. This Winter, […]

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