13 Movies Like A Bittersweet Life (2005)

Staff & contributors

The 2016 outing of South-Korean auteur director Park Chan-wook (maker of Oldboy and Stoker) once again shifts attention to the dark side of what makes us human: betrayal, violence, and transgression. Based on the 2002 novel Fingersmith by British author Sarah Waters, The Handmaiden revolves around the love of two women and the greedy men around them. Park shifts the novel's plot from Victorian London to 1930s Korea, where an orphaned pickpocket is used by a con man to defraud an old Japanese woman. Routinely called a masterpiece with comparisons made to the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, this is a stylish and meticulous psychological thriller that packs enough erotic tension to put a crack in your screen. If you love cinema, you can't miss this movie. You might even have to watch it twice.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Bae Il-hyuck, Cho Jin-woong, Choi Byung-mo, Choi Jong-ryul, Eun-hyung Jo, Ha Jung-woo, Ha Si-yeon, Hae-suk Kim, Han Ha-na, In-woo Kim, Jeong Ha-dam, Jeong In-kyeom, Jin-woong Jo, Jo Eun-Hyung, Jung In-gyeom, Jung-woo Ha, Kim Hae-sook, Kim Hae-suk, Kim In-woo, Kim Min-hee, Kim Si-eun, Kim Tae-ri, Kwak Eun-jin, Lee Dong-hwi, Lee Ji-ha, Lee Kyu-jung, Lee Yong-nyeo, Lim Han-bin, Min-hee Kim, Moon So-ri, O Man-seok, Oh Man-seok, Rina Takagi, So-ri Moon, Tae-ri Kim, Takashi Kakizawa, Tomomitsu Adachi

Director: Chan-wook Park, Park Chan-wook

Rating: Not Rated

In 2009, Departures surprised everybody by winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, instead of everyone's favourite, Ari Folman's Waltz of Bashir. This is even more surprising since this Japanese comedy almost never saw the light of day because many distributors refused to release it at first for its humorous treatment of a very human, but weirdly taboo subject: what happens when you die. Daigo Kobayashi (played by former boyband member Masahiro Motoki) just bought an expensive cello when he learns that his Tokyo-based symphony orchestra is going bankrupt. Daigo and his wife Mika, played by Ryôko Hirosue, decide to move back to his hometown, where he applies for an opening at what he thinks is a travel agency, hence the departures. You might have guessed by now that what he was applying for was, in fact, the job of an undertaker—a profession considered unclean in Japan. It's one of those rare movies that will make you laugh, to making you cry, and laugh again. It's dead-on!

Genre: Drama

Actor: Justin Lukach, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Kimiko Yo, Maisie Williams, Masahiro Motoki, Nina Dobrev, Ryoko Hirosue, Ryosuke Otani, Sanae Miyata, Scott Wilson, Takashi Sasano, Taro Ishida, Tatsuo Yamada, Tetta Sugimoto, Tōru Minegishi, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Tyler Hoechlin, Yukari Tachibana

Director: Yōjirō Takita

Rating: PG-13

, 2009

A thirst for love, a thirst for recognition, a thirst for sympathy, a thirst for meaning, a thirst for life, and a thirst for blood. Director Park Chan-wook and actor Song Kang-ho, two of the biggest names in South Korean cinema, join forces for the first time in a modern take on the supernatural. In present day South Korea, Catholic priest Sang-hyun (Song) volunteers himself as a human experiment during the formulation of a vaccine against a deadly virus. When the experiment fails and he is thought to be dead, he resurrects as a conflicted vampire, one whose moral code continually goes against his intrinsic desires. Along with Song and long-time collaborator cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon, Park creates a riveting atmosphere that is both very scary and sad. By blending elements of horror and drama, he also achieves putting a fresh and unique spin on the time-honored vampire film.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller

Actor: Choi Hee-jin, Choi Hui-jin, Choi Jong-ryul, Ériq Ebouaney, Hwang Woo-seul-hye, Jo Deok-jae, Jo Moon-ee, Kang-ho Song, Kim Hae-sook, Kim Hae-suk, Kim Ok-vin, Lee Hwa-ryong, Mercedes Cabral, Natallia Bulynia, Oh Dal-su, Park In-hwan, Ra Mi-ran, Seo Dong-soo, Shin Ha-gyun, Shin Ha-kyun, Son Jong-hak, Song Kang-ho, Song Young-chang

Director: Chan-wook Park, Park Chan-wook

Rating: R

Oscar, his wife Teresa, and their young children move from the rural Philippines to the city, hoping for a better life. Immediately, they struggle to survive in the harsh and unforgiving Metro Manila. Through shaky close-ups, shifting moods, and shots of bustling streets, the film captures the poverty, violence, and desperation in the daily of the city. Actors Jake Macapagal and Althea Vega excellently portray the subtleties of constant suffering, leading the tumultuous journey through a cutthroat metropolis. As the drama shifts to a crime thriller, it never loses its footing highlighting the severe link between poverty and crime. 

Genre: Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Althea Vega, Ana Abad-Santos, Jake Macapagal, John Arcilla, Mailes Kanapi, Reuben Uy

Director: Sean Ellis

This Park Chan-Wook classic is the third part of a trilogy of films around the theme of revenge, following Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy. While ultimately unique, Lady Vengeance is a thriller set in a prison, in the vein of films such as the Japanese action drama Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion. After being framed and wrongly convicted for murder, our protagonist seeks out the true perpetrator of the crime –– but more than anything else, she seeks vengeance. 

This film’s run time is 115 minutes and every second is essential. There is often gratuitous violence perpetrated by men against women in film, however Lady Vengeance takes back control and for that reason it remains one of my favorite revenge films.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Anne Cordiner, Bu-seon Kim, Byeong-ok Kim, Cha Soon-bae, Choe Hui-jin, Choi Hee-jin, Choi Jung-woo, Choi Min-sik, Go Su-hee, Ha-kyun Shin, Han Jae-duk, Hye-jeong Kang, Ji-tae Yu, Jin-Seo Yoon, Jin-seo Yun, Jun Sung-ae, Kang Hye-jeong, Kang Hye-jung, Kang-ho Song, Kim Bu-seon, Kim Byeong-Ok, Kim Byung-ok, Kim Ik-tae, Kim Jin-goo, Kim Keum-soon, Kim Shi-hoo, Kim Si-hoo, Kim Yoo-jung, Kim You-jung, Ko Chang-seok, Ko Su-hee, Koh Soo-hee, Kwon Yea-young, Lee Byung-joon, Lee Dae-yeon, Lee Seung-shin, Lee Yeong-ae, Lee Yong-nyeo, Lee Young-ae, Lim Su-gyeong, Min-sik Choi, Nam Il-woo, Oh Dal-su, Oh Gwang-rok, Oh Kwang-rok, Park Myung-shin, Ra Mi-ran, Ryoo Seung-wan, Seo Ji-hee, Seo Young-ju, Seung-Shin Lee, Seung-wan Ryoo, Shi-hoo Kim, Shin Ha-gyun, Shin Ha-kyun, Song Kang-ho, Su-hee Go, Toni Barry, Tony Barry, Won Mi-won, Yea-young Kwon, Yeong-ae Lee, Yoo Ji-tae, Yoon Jin-seo

Director: Chan-wook Park, Park Chan-wook

Rating: R

This gorgeous Scandinavian movie is based on a true story and stars the ever-reliable Stellan Skarsgard.

He plays the governor of a strict youth correctional facility in Norway in 1915. The arrival of a feared kid kickstarts events that are very famous in Norway but little-known elsewhere: an uprising within the facility that will eventually require the army to get involved. A strong movie with stellar (Stellan) performances.

Genre: Action, Drama

Actor: Benjamin Helstad, Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Frank-Thomas Andersen, Kimmo Rajala, Kristoffer Joner, Magnar Botten, Martin Slaatto, Per Gørvell, Stellan Skarsgård, Trond Nilssen

Director: Marius Holst

Rating: Not Rated

A very touching film about Japanese children who are abandoned by their mother in their apartment and left on their own. It's movie that perfectly encapsulates the world of kids and its alignment with this story is both heartbreaking and joyful. Their innocence will make you smile from ear to ear until moments come where you will shed tears. This is a film everyone should have watched, it breaks my heart how little-known it is.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ayu Kitaura, Hanae Kan, Hiei Kimura, Kazuyoshi Kushida, Ken'ichi Endô, Momoko Shimizu, Ryō Kase, Sei Hiraizumi, Susumu Terajima, You, Yuichi Kimura, Yukiko Okamoto, Yûya Yagira

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda, Hirokazu Koreeda

Rating: PG-13

In rural Korea a policeman starts to investigate peculiar and violent events that most of the people in his village attribute to the arrival of a new Japanese resident. As the occurrences keep multiplying, and different perspectives in the film are shown, you start to lose touch with reality in the face of what can only be described as genius film-making. As critic Jada Yuan puts it, the film operates on a level “that makes most American cinema seem clunky and unimaginative”. For this reason, and while The Wailing is a true horror flick with a great premise, it’s also more than just that: it boosts a mind-boggling, interesting plot that will have you thinking about it long after the credits roll. Protip: grab the person next to you and make them watch this movie with you so you can have someone to discuss it with after!

Genre: Horror, Mystery

Actor: Bae Yong-geun, Cho Han-cheul, Chun Woo-hee, Do-won Kwak, Han-Cheol Jo, Heo Jin, Hur Jin, Hwang Jung-min, Hwang Seok-jeong, Hwang Suk-jung, Jang So-yeon, Jeon Bae-soo, Jeong-min Hwang, Jo Han-chul, Jo Yeon-hee, Jun Kunimura, Jung-min Hwang, Kim Do-yoon, Kim Hwan-hee, Kim Ki-cheon, Kim Ki-chun, Kwak Do-won, Lee Jung-eun, Lee Seon-hee, Lee Sun-hee, Lee Yong-nyeo, Moon Chang-gil, Park Seong-yeon, Park Sung-yeon, So-yeon Jang, Son Kang-gook, Sung-yeon Park, Woo-hee Chun, Yoo Soon-woong, 赵汉哲

Director: Hong-jin Na, Na Hong-jin

Rating: Not Rated, TV-MA

I Saw the Devil is a South Korean psychological thriller/horror film. IT IS NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART!!! It has a lot of blood and gore that could make even the strongest stomachs turn. A young woman is kidnapped from her car while waiting for a tow truck and the kidnapper murders her far from her car and scatters her body parts around. Her fiancé, a secret service agent of the National Intelligence Service, sets out to track down her murders and exact his revenge. If you're looking for a thrill ride, look no further- but don't say we didn't warn you.

Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Byung-hun Lee, Cheon Ho-jin, Choi Jin-ho, Choi Min-sik, Choi Moo-seong, Choi Moo-sung, Gook-hwan Jeon, Han Se-joo, Ho-jin Cheon, Ho-jin Chun, In-seo Kim, Jeon Kuk-hwan, Jo Deok-jae, Jo Myeong-yeon, Kim Dae-hye, Kim Gab-soo, Kim In-seo, Kim Jae-Geon, Kim Kang-il, Kim Kap-soo, Kim Yoon-seo, Lee Byung-hun, Lee Jun-hyuk, Lee Seol-gu, Lee Seol‑gu, Min-sik Choi, Moo-Seong Choi, Nam Bo-ra, Oh San-ha, Park Jeong-gi, Park Ji-yeon, Park Seo-Yeon, San-ha Oh, Seol Chang-hee, Son Young-soon, Uhm Tae-goo, Um Tae-goo, Yoon Byung-hee, Yoon Chae-yeong, Yoon-seo Kim

Director: Jee-Woon Kim, Kim Jee-woon

Rating: Not Rated

I didn't know anything about the movie before watching it (this was my husband's pick for 'one of us picks something that the other knows nothing about' night). It is Korean, sweet, funny, touching, unique, odd, poignant. I think the fact I knew nothing about the movie when I watched made it even more enjoyable so I hesitate to write more details in this review! Since watching it I have read that an American remake may be in the works, so I would recommend watching it before there is too much info out there about what is destined to be a less charming and successful version

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Jae-yeong Jeong, Jae-young Jeong, Jang Nam-yeol, Jang So-yeon, Jung Jae-young, Jung Ryeo-won, Koo Kyo-hwan, Lee Kyoo-hyung, Lee Kyung-joon, Lee Sang-hun, Mi-kyeong Yang, Min Kyung-jin, Park Young-seo, Ryeowon Jung, Yang Mi-kyung, Yeong-seo Park

Director: Hae-jun Lee, Lee Hae-jun

Rating: PG-13, Unrated

If this South Korean cult favorite relies a little too much on jump scares and twisty plot developments, its relatively emotionally distant story is nevertheless given a welcome boost in character thanks to an impressive overall look and feel. Shadowy and foreboding from beginning to end, A Tale of Two Sisters seems to be designed for group viewings where friends can spook each other out without losing track of the film's momentum. But it's far from shallow: patient horror fans should enjoy unpacking the movie's densely layered character dynamics, which become all the more disturbing and sorrowful after learning all of the film's secrets.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery

Actor: Kim Gap-soo, Kim Kap-soo, Lee Dae-yeon, Lee Seung-bi, Lim Soo-jung, Moon Geun-young, Park Mi-hyun, Seung-bi Lee, Woo Ki-hong, Yum Jung-ah

Director: Kim Jee-woon

Rating: R

Boon Joon-Ho's 'Memories of murder', which was recently re-released is not too dissimilar from many of the crime-dramas that have come out of South Korea over the past two decades. Two very different detectives have to come together to solve what is turning out to be a series of murders that are all linked. The movie is based on the true story of South Korea's first ever recorded serial murderer, who raped and then killed  young girls in the late 80's. In the hands of probably the foremost South Korean director after Park Chan-Wook, this movie takes you through all ranges of emotions.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Baek Bong-ki, Byun Hee-bong, Byun Heebong, Choi Jong-ryul, Go Seo-hee, Hae-il Park, Hie-bong Byeon, Jae-ho Song, Jeon Mi-seon, Jo Deok-jae, Jo Moon-ee, Jong-ryol Choi, Jung In-sun, Kang-ho Song, Kim Joo-ryoung, Kim Joo-ryung, Kim Roe-ha, Kim Roi-ha, Kim Sang-kyung, Ko Seo-hie, Kwon Byung-gil, Kwon Hyeok-Pung, Lee Da-il, Lee Dong-yong, Lee Jae-eung, Lee Kang-san, No-shik Park, Oh Yong, Park Hae-il, Park Hyun-young, Park Jin-woo, Park No-shik, Park Tae-kyeong, Roe-ha Kim, Ryu Tae-ho, Sang-kyung Kim, Seo Young-hwa, Seo-hie Ko, Shim Sung-bo, Shin Hyeon-jong, Shin Hyun-jong, Shin Un-seop, Shin Woon-seob, Son Jin-ho, Son Jin-hwan, Son Kang-gook, Song Jae-ho, Song Kang-ho, Woo Go-na, Yeom Hye-ran, Yoo Seung-mok, Yoon Ga-hyun

Director: Bong Joon-ho, Joon-ho Bong

Rating: Not Rated

A cynical down-on-his-luck Seoul taxi driver is hired by a German journalist to go to another town called Gwangju. What seemed like an easy and overcompensated journey at first takes him into the heart of a city under siege by the military. This is in fact the student uprising that will be a very important event in South Korean history, known as 1980 Guangju Democratic Uprising. Both the journalist and the taxi driver confront life-threatening situations as they find themselves at the center of the movement. A true-story-based movie, it's a heartfelt and entertaining political drama about one of the bleakest chapters of modern Korean history. In 2018 it was the country's official submission to the Oscars.

Genre: Action, Drama, History

Actor: Cha Soon-bae, Choi Guy-hwa, Choi Gwi-hwa, Daniel Joey Albright, Hae-jin Yoo, Han Sa-myeong, Han Sa-myung, Han Yi-jin, Heo Jeong-do, Heo Jung-do, Jeon Hye-jin, Jeong Seok-yong, Jin-young Jung, Joey Albright, Jun-yeol Ryu, Jung Jin-young, Kang-ho Song, Ko Chang-seok, Kyul Hwi, Lee Bong-ryeon, Lee Ho-chul, Lee Jung-eun, Lee Sae-byeol, Lee Yong-i, Lee Yong-yi, Park Hyeok-kwon, Park Hyuk-kwon, Ryu Jun-yeol, Ryu Sung-hyun, Ryu Tae-ho, Seo Hyun-woo, Seok-yong Jeong, Song Kang-ho, Thomas Kretschmann, Uhm Tae-goo, Um Tae-goo, Yoo Hae-jin, Yoo Hai-jin, 许政度

Director: Hun Jang, Jang Hoon, Jang Hun

Rating: Not Rated