If Parasite has whetted your appetite for Asian films but you aren’t sure where to start, check out these five turn-of-the-century classics picked out by Tracey Sinclair and you won’t go far wrong.
Memories of Murder (Salinui chueok) 2003
Based on the true story of Korea’s first serial murders, Bong Joon-Ho’s breakout film features a standout performance by Parasite’s Song Kang-ho, who became a regular collaborator with the director.
A lushly filmed character study, it was a hit with domestic and international audiences and critics (it’s a Quentin Tarantino fave) and has had a clear influence on Western films and TV shows, especially True Detective.
A Tale of Two Sisters (Janghwa, Hongryeon), 2003
The highest grossing Korean horror film ever, this splendidly spooky Kim Jee-woon film is based on an old folktale that was filmed a number of times before this version became a hit.
With their father remarrying, two sisters return from the psychiatric institution they went to after their mother died – but events soon take a disturbing turn…
Remade for the American market as the lacklustre The Uninvited, the far superior original is worth checking out.
Oldboy (Oldeuboi), 2002
Speaking of lacklustre remakes… forget the overbaked American version, the original Oldboy is where it’s at, with Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) released after 15 years held in captivity by… well, who?
Part of visionary director Park Chan-Wook’s Vengeance Trilogy (the other films are the interesting but inferior Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and Lady Vengeance), this is a gory, brutal delight with an utterly compelling central performance by Choi.
Anyone who has watched the Marvel Netflix shows – or, indeed, any action film of the last 10 years – will immediately recognise the influential “fight a bunch of people in a corridor” scene. You might never want to eat squid again, mind.
Infernal Affairs (Mou gaan dou), 2002
While you might be familiar with its thoughtful US remake, the film that inspired The Departed is a much slicker beast.
So popular it spawned both a prequel and a sequel, this Hong Kong thriller featured career-best performances from Asian superstars Andy Lau and Tony Leung (also known as Tony Leung Chiu-wai, soon to be seen in the upcoming Marvel Shang-Chi film).
A tense, neon soaked, character driven action piece, this is a must for any fan of police thrillers.
In the Mood for Love (Faa yeung nin wa), 2000
More Tony Leung and I’m not even sorry. To be fair, you could pick pretty much any Wong Kar-Wai film and not go wrong (Chunking Express is particularly fun, and Happy Together was ground-breaking in its tender depiction of a gay relationship – still a taboo in many of the Asian markets), but In the Mood For Love is a masterpiece.
It’s a swooning romance between the dashingly handsome Leung (who won a Palme D’Or for the role – the first Hong Kong actor to do so) and a radiant (and resplendently costumed) Maggie Leung, who become close when they discover their spouses are having an affair.
The film is glorious to look at (featuring cinematography by legendary cinematographer and long-time Wong collaborator Christopher Doyle, who shared a credit with the equally renowned Mark Lee Ping-Bin, who took over on the production when Doyle had to leave).
The sequel of sorts, 2046, is a much stranger beast, but fans did at least get a Cheung-Leung reunion in the epic Chinese feature Hero a couple of years later.