South Korea is home to a vibrant cinema scene, filled with brilliantly creative home-grown directors, actors and cinematographers. Korean films have a tendency to mix emotions, tones and genres in a way uncommon to western audiences. The mood of a movie can often switch from comedy to tragedy in the space of a scene. Yet, due to the superbly crafted story-telling and artistic, poetic photography, these shifts in mood only add the magic of South Korean cinema.
To investigate the phenomenon of South Korea's love affair with the silver screen further, let's take a look at the biggest grossing movies in the nation's history.
1. The Admiral (Roaring Currents), Released: 2014, Admissions: 17,607,820.
The biggest film in the history of South Korean cinema was released in 2014 – Kim Man Min's extraordinary The Admiral. This telling of the true story behind the legendary Battle of Myeongnyang in 1597, during which 12 Korean ships managed to fight off more than 330 invading Japanese ships, struck a nerve with audiences in a way few could have predicted. On its very first day of release it grossed around $4.8 million, with 682,882 admissions. Though it has only received a limited release in English speaking territories, it has still managed to find an international audience, grossing a very respectable $2.5 million in the US and $135.9 million international overall. That makes The Admiral a true phenomenon.
2. The Host, Released: 2006, Admission: 13,019,740
Before The Admiral, there was The Host, a very different take on military activity in South Korea. Ostensibly a monster movie, director Bong Joon Ho's tale of a gigantic sea mutant's attack on Seoul is actually a crisp critique of the government's collusion with the American military during the latter's ‘War on Terror.' Upon release it quickly set a new box office record, selling 10 million tickets in three weeks, and finding its way to scores of top ten lists for the year from critics all over the world. It also cemented the reputation of its director, who had impressed global audiences with his chilling debut Memories of Murder three years previously, as one of cinema's most intelligent and maverick voices. Inevitably, awards were many for The Host, including Best Film at the Asian Film Awards and Best Film at the Blue Dragon Awards.
3. The Thieves, Released: 2012, Admissions: 12,983,330
Choi Dong-hoon's serpentine crime comedy was always going to be a winner. As well as being helmed by one of the country's leading directors, it boasted an all-star ensemble cast, bringing together many of Korea's most popular actors. The ever-twisting plot revolves around the heist of a previous diamond necklace from a fortress-like casino in Macau. As the story unfolds, involving double and triple crosses aplenty, the action is always kept at the highest pitch, while all the stars enjoy their over-the-top comedy performances. The audiences enjoyed it just as much, with over 12.9 million tickets sold and plethora of prizes at the Blue Dragon Awards, the Buil Awards, the Grand Bell Awards and the Korean Association of Film Critics' Awards.