Already, 2019 has been a historic year for South Korean film. This year marked the 100-year anniversary of the country’s illustrious film industry, which in recent decades has rapidly risen to be the pinnacle of world cinema. And of course, there’s the Cannes Palme D’Or win for Bong Joon-ho’s critically acclaimed film Parasite, the first ever time South Korea has won the honor. But despite South Korean film’s current standing on the global stage, its film history beyond the past two decades is still little-known to much of the world. But that can easily be remedied thanks to the official Korean Film Archive’s YouTube channel, which offers nearly 200 classic Korean films streaming for free.
We may have to wait four more months until we can see Bong Joon-ho’s Palme D’Or-winning black comedy Parasite, but that gives us plenty of time to dig into the official Korean Film Archive’s 200-film deep YouTube channel Korean Classic Film.
Over 100 feature-length classic Korean films are available to stream on the Korean Classic Film YouTube channel, which range from erotic dramas like the 1984 film Between the Knees (which currently holds the channel’s most views at 10 million), to works by Korean auteur Im Kwon-taek, an essential New Korean Cinema figure who helped bring international attention to the country with titles like the lavish period films Sopyonje and Chunhyang and 2002’s Painted Fire, which earned him Korea’s first Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival. Viewership is probably not a barometer for the quality of the film — there’s a reason that an erotic drama has the most views on YouTube — so I can’t recommend where to start, as I sadly have little knowledge of Korean movies released before the past two decades.
The Guardian first spotlighted the abundance of free classic Korean films available to watch at the click of a mouse, reminding us that we haven’t seen any Korean movies before 2000. Which is a shame, considering South Korea continues to deliver some of the best and most challenging movies — international or not — each year. Movies like Oldboy, The Host, and last year’s achingly mesmerizing Burning have become widely accepted as all-time cinema classics, and Korea’s profile will likely continue to rise. I personally can’t wait to dig into Korean film history and see how they got to producing some of today’s best movies in the world.
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