It’s Lee Byung-hun’s birthday! An actor who has featured in a number of western releases like The Magnificent Seven and Red 2, here are five of his best Korean films. Check some of these out!
I Saw the Devil (2010)
I Saw the Devil is a tale of bitter revenge and a look at the lengths one man will go to in order to dish out retribution. After his fiance is brutally murdered by a psychopathic serial killer, Kim (Byung-hun) sets out to seek justice. The story takes a number of twists and the final scene, where Lee Byung-hun eventually releases his pent up emotions is breathtaking. A film that features lush visuals and stylish cinematography, it also has lots of violence and gore so it’s not for the faint of heart. If you can stomach it, I Saw The Devil is a Korean masterpiece.
The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008)
Set in 1930s’ Manchuria, The Good, the Bad, the Weird is a wacky Korean take on the spaghetti western formula. It follows three main characters each with vastly different personalities, as they get caught up in the hunt for a map that leads to a mysterious treasure. Lee Byung-hun makes a rare appearance as an antagonist as he plays ‘The Bad’ of the trio. He is an evil hitman being hunted down by ‘The Good’ and comes across like an evil character from a 90s Japanese video game (that’s a compliment by the way). The film features great action, spectacular set pieces and is simply fantastic entertainment from start to finish.
Joint Security Area (2000)
JSA focuses on the investigation into a fatal shooting that occurs in the Korean demilitarized zone and is a tense affair throughout. A member of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission is enlisted to find out who is responsible for the shooting and due to the delicate situation and possibility of an all-out war being initiated, everything rests on a knife-edge. Lee Byung-hun’s character is at the centre of the story as he attempts to flee to South Korea after the disaster. We hear different accounts of what happened and eventually go back to explore how a close bond formed between a group of guards from both North and South Korea. A great example depicting how the horrors of war don’t always happen on the battlefield, with everything pivoting around a fantastic performance from Byung-hun.
A Bittersweet Life (2005)
One of the first Korean films I experienced, A Bittersweet Life will always hold a special place in my heart. The set up is pretty simple. After refusing to obey one of his bosses orders, Sun-woo’s life goes from bad to worse. We witness a superb game of cat and mouse as he seeks revenge, while at the same time tries to escape with his own life intact. A number of the other films I’ve mentioned feature ensemble casts or a number of leads but in A Bittersweet Life Byung-hun truly takes centre stage and shows us he is easily capable of leading a film all by himself.
The Age of Shadows (2016)
A change of gear when compared to my other recommendations, The Age of Shadows is a period action thriller set in 1920s Shanghai and Seoul. Featuring an all-round stellar cast, the plot revolves around the Japanese government as they try to root out members of the countries secret resistance. Spies, turncoats and underground movements all feature heavily as the psychological dance plays out. Although Lee Byung-hun doesn’t have the biggest part (it’s more of a cameo really), it’s still a great excuse to recommend this movie.
What are some of your favorite films to feature birthday boy Lee Byung-hun?