South Korea, for being such a small country geographically, is awfully big on action movies. Their movies have a distinct style to them, setting them apart from pretty much every other type of cinema on the planet. With generally beautiful direction and cinematography, not to mention some excellent actors, South Korea has produced a number of great films. The six pictures on this list represent the best movies in the action genre ever to come out of the Pacific Ocean.
Perhaps the best-known action movie to come out of South Korea in the last few decades, "Oldboy" is a disturbing and confronting action movie. It may not be full of pulse-pounding chase sequences, but the context in which the action scenes take place lends so much gravity to the action that you can forgive the deliberate pacing. The tale of a man imprisoned over the course of fifteen years for reasons that he doesn't learn until the film's grim climax will leave you breathless, and its iconic "hallway fight" is one of the finest long-shot action sequences ever, from any country.
"Sympathy For Lady Vengeance"
Part of Chan-wook Park's "Vegeance" trilogy (of which "Oldboy" is also a part), "Lady Vengeance" is the brutal tale of a wrongly imprisoned woman's quest to kill the person who really committed the murder for which she was jailed. She was coerced into a confession by the real killer, who had kidnapped her baby and threatened to kill it. While violence against children in cinema is generally taboo in the West, in this movie its used to horrify the audience. And it works really, really well. This movie is disturbing on a number of levels, and the bittersweet revenge does little to alleviate the suffering.
"Shiri" owes quite a debt to the over-the-top '80s action movies that Hollywood produced, not to mention the work of directors like John Woo. But, since it's so good and features the phenomenal Min-sik Choi as one of the leads (who also starred in "Oldboy" and "Lady Vengeance") the movie can be forgiven for treading so heavily on the action stereotypes of the past. It also deals with the technically ongoing conflict between North and South Korea, using national pride to inspire its audiences. Just like movies do here in America!
"Tae Guk Gi"
For people who though that "Saving Private Ryan" was too cutesy for their tastes, we present "Taegukgi", or "Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War" as its called in the West. This movie is perhaps the most graphic and bare-knuckle depiction of war, short of an actual documentary. The ghosts of the Korean War are dug up in this movie that tells the story of a war that many in America have likely never fully understood. This film has become one of the highest-grossing movies in modern South Korean history.
Boys fight over girls. It's a fact. South Korean boys are no different, and this movie shows just how brutal those love-struck melees can be. Initially, a young man forms a group called The Tigers, a soccer club at school. But after he falls for the girlfriend of a tough gang's leader, it's not long before war ensues. The battle in a pool hall, wherein three people are killed and many more are maimed, is terribly brutal, and the protagonist of the story ends up in prison. All this over a girl, and pride.
Set in 1375, "Musa" tells the story of a small group of Korean soldiers and political figures battling against the Chinese and the Mongols in an effort to protect their land during the Ming Dynasty. But more important than that is the make-up of the group itself. It's a group full of people from different walks of life, and the internal conflicts and bonds are the heart of the picture. That doesn't detract from the fact that the film is truly epic in scope and that its battles are frequent and graphic.