The list begins with the highly disturbing horror drama by Chul-soo Jang. Taking us from South Korea’s developed capital to a remote island, populated with creepy civilians who are isolated from modern society. Our main protagonist is Bok-nam, played by the beauty Yeong-hie Seo, a woman prone to abuse from her controlling and violent husband. She seeks help from her long lost teenage friend, Hae-won, who accepts an invitation to the island after tolerating just about enough of her job at a bank in Seoul. Instantly exposed to the horrific torture her friend and her daughter face, we hope for a miracle. But after a dramatic turn in the story, we soon begin to cheer Bok-nam on as she seeks brutal revenge on all those who mistreated her.
Bedevilled boasts a controversial plot with shockingly violent scenes, everything a thriller movie fan could hope for. This film is dark and dirty, successfully showing the viewers the true extent to a lack of both sanitation and modern awareness compared to a developed nation. To even see it on our television screens is an unpleasant experience.
4. The Housemaid, Im Sang-soo (2010)
This is Im Sang-soo’s masterpiece remake of Kim Ki-young‘s film of the same name. An erotic, revenge thriller focused around the secret relationship between a housemaid and the wealthy, sexually charged husband of the house. The maid is quickly tangled in a web of lies and is torn between the enjoyable job (and its benefits) or her morals. With the wife of the house expecting twins and their young daughter a primary focus in the maid’s duties, she attempts to suppress her guilt. But you know a Korean revenge thriller wouldn’t be a Korean revenge thriller without a huge plot twist, resulting in the maid taking out her own vengeance on the family.
Jeon Do-yeon blows the audience away with her outstanding performance as the au pair involved in this invigorating affair. She alone gives this film the energy and ferocity required for a successful thriller and plays the part brilliantly.
3. Oldboy, Park Chan-wook (2003)
Park Chan-wook’s highly successful Oldboy is undoubtedly the definitive South Korean thriller. A film that turned a struggling industry into a top-of-the-game competitor for Hollywood.
Min-Sik Choi plays the middled aged Dae-su Oh. A man fueled by ignorance and disregard, who is soon taught a valuable lesson. Kidnapped and locked away in a room for 15 years, reasons completely unknown, he is isolated from society with nothing but a television set to keep him company. After glimpses of Dae-su’s fading sanity, he is set free to embark on a self-fulfilled vengeance quest to find the person who did this to him. He has just five days to discover the truth, accompanied by Mi-do (Hye-jeong Kang), a cute young girl who finds a sympathetic side to this lost man. Oldboy displays some of the most horrific violence ever to be seen in cinema, especially one with such an enticing and flawless plot.
2. Bad Guy, Kim-ki Duk (2001)
Kim-Ki Duk blows out all expectations in this dramatic thriller set in a dingy Korean red-light district. When a supposedly innocent young girl is forcefully kissed in broad daylight by a thug, she publicly humiliates him. He then sets out to destroy her life by manipulating her into working in a brothel of his in order to pay her debts to him. Throughout the film, the girl is distraught at how her life has turned out and struggles to adapt to the expectations set for her new job. Deep sympathetic feelings are felt for her as she wants more than anything to escape this dark place she has been brought to.
Ki-duk is excellent at shocking his audience with an intense ambiance and a heartbreaking story. Won Seo is cast as the leading female role, playing an excellent part as the character transitions from a virtuous, squeaky-clean college graduate to a street-wise prostitute.
1. A Tale of Two Sisters, Kim Jee-Woon (2003)
The majority of Kim Jee-Woon’s directing catalog deserves to be featured in this list. The intelligent film-maker uses colour and music to transform already brutal visuals. Another horror drama, but nonetheless a thriller, focused around the feelings of intense fear and loss within a severely broken family. The two sisters, played by Moon Geun-Young and Lim Su-jeong have soon after this film progressed with their careers, but this is without a doubt their most challenging of roles as young actresses.
Upon their return from a mental institution, tension reprises between the two sisters and the stepmother, who is shown as unstable and erratic. The story can be somewhat difficult to follow and is quite intense, without sometimes a clear distinction between dream and reality. The two sisters who are practically inseparable have to learn to adapt to life at home after being away for so long, and difficulty is regularly expressed for the entire family. A series of horrifying and jumpy moments add to the unpredictable and eerie atmosphere that Jee-woon is highly skilled at setting.