Lee Chang-dong is a renowned South Korean filmmaker who has directed several critically acclaimed films. He is known for his ability to craft thought-provoking stories that explore complex themes and challenge audiences’ perceptions of the world. In this introduction, we will take a look at some of Lee Chang-dong’s best films.

One of Lee Chang-dong’s most celebrated films is “Peppermint Candy” (1999). The film tells the story of a man named Yong-ho, played by Sol Kyung-gu, who revisits the pivotal moments of his life in reverse chronological order.

Through this structure, the film explores the impact of historical events on individual lives, as well as the psychological toll of personal trauma.

Another notable film by Lee Chang-dong is “Secret Sunshine” (2007). The film stars Jeon Do-yeon as a grieving mother who moves to a small town to start a new life. The film explores themes such as grief, faith, and forgiveness, and features powerful performances from its cast.

Lee Chang-dong’s most recent film, “Burning” (2018), is also widely regarded as one of his best. Based on a short story by Haruki Murakami, the film tells the story of a young man named Jong-su, played by Yoo Ah-in, who becomes entangled in a complicated relationship with a mysterious woman named Hae-mi, played by Jeon Jong-seo.

The film explores themes such as class, desire, and obsession, and features stunning cinematography and a haunting score.

Best Lee Chang-dong Films

Overall, Lee Chang-dong’s films are known for their emotional depth, complex characters, and powerful storytelling. His works have earned critical acclaim and have cemented his place as one of South Korea’s most important and influential filmmakers.

1. Peppermint Candy (1999)

“Peppermint Candy” is a 1999 South Korean film directed by Lee Chang-dong. The film tells the story of a man named Yong-ho, played by Sol Kyung-gu, and his life over the course of two decades.

The film is structured in reverse chronological order, starting with Yong-ho’s suicide and then moving backwards through his life to reveal the events that led to his tragic end.

Through Yong-ho’s story, the film explores the tumultuous history of South Korea from the 1980s to the 1990s, including the Gwangju Uprising in 1980, the Chun Doo-hwan dictatorship, and the economic boom of the 1990s.

It also examines the personal struggles of its characters, including Yong-ho’s disillusionment with his life and the choices he has made.

“Peppermint Candy” is praised for its innovative storytelling, powerful performances, and incisive social commentary.

It is regarded as a masterpiece of Korean cinema and has won numerous awards and accolades, including the FIPRESCI Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2000.

The film’s exploration of the societal and political changes that transformed South Korea in the late 20th century resonates with audiences both in Korea and around the world.

   

Peppermint Candy
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Sol Kyung-gu, Moon So-ri, Kim Yeo-jin (Actors)
  • Lee Chang-dong (Director) - Lee Chang-dong (Writer) - Keiko Iino (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

2. Poetry (2010)

Poetry” is a South Korean drama film released in 2010, directed by Lee Chang-dong.

The film tells the story of Mija, a grandmother who lives with her grandson and works as a caregiver for an elderly man.

Mija discovers that she has early onset Alzheimer’s disease, and begins to attend a poetry class as a way of coping with her illness.

As Mija struggles to come to terms with her diagnosis, she is forced to confront difficult truths about her past and her relationships with those around her.

The film explores themes of memory, creativity, and the power of language, as Mija tries to find meaning and purpose in her life despite the challenges she faces.

“Poetry” was highly acclaimed by critics, and won numerous awards at film festivals around the world.

It is widely regarded as one of the best films of the decade, and is noted for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of a complex and difficult subject matter.

The film has been praised for its masterful direction, its powerful performances, and its deeply moving story, and is a must-see for anyone interested in contemporary Korean cinema.

Poetry
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Yun Jeong-hie, Lee Da-wit, Ahn Nae-sang (Actors)
  • Lee Chang-dong (Director) - Lee Chang-dong (Writer) - Jun-Dong Lee (Producer)
  • (Playback Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

3. Oasis (2002)

“Oasis” is a South Korean film directed by Lee Chang-dong and released in 2002. The film is a romantic drama about a young man named Jong-du who has just been released from prison and who becomes involved with a woman named Gong-ju who has cerebral palsy.

Here are three key themes or elements associated with “Oasis”:

Social marginalization: The film explores the lives of two characters who are marginalized in Korean society.

Jong-du is a social outcast who has just been released from prison and struggles to find a place for himself in the world, while Gong-ju is a woman with cerebral palsy who faces discrimination and isolation because of her disability.

Intense emotional depth: “Oasis” is known for its intense emotional impact, with both Jong-du and Gong-ju experiencing a range of powerful emotions throughout the film.

The relationship between the two characters is complex and often difficult, with moments of tenderness and moments of violence.

Realism and poetic imagery: The film combines a gritty realism with moments of poetic imagery and surrealism. The camera work and visual style are often dreamlike, creating a sense of intimacy and empathy with the characters, while also highlighting the harsh realities of their lives.

Oasis
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Lee Chang Dong (Actor)
  • Chang-dong Lee (Director) - Chang-dong Lee (Writer) - Min-cheul Cho (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

4. Secret Sunshine (2007)

“Secret Sunshine” is a South Korean film directed by Lee Chang-dong and released in 2007. The film tells the story of a young widow named Shin-ae who moves with her young son to the small town of Miryang in order to start a new life.

Shin-ae struggles to adjust to her new surroundings, but eventually finds solace in the local church and the kindness of the community.

However, tragedy strikes when Shin-ae’s son is kidnapped and murdered, sending her on a downward spiral of grief and anger. As she grapples with her loss and tries to come to terms with her pain, Shin-ae finds herself questioning her faith and the meaning of her life.

The film explores themes of loss, grief, and redemption, and offers a powerful and emotionally resonant portrait of a woman struggling to find her way in the face of unimaginable tragedy.

   

It is renowned for its powerful performances, particularly by Jeon Do-yeon, who won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for her portrayal of Shin-ae.

“Secret Sunshine” is also notable for its exploration of Christianity in Korea, and for its portrayal of the tensions and conflicts that can arise when traditional religious beliefs clash with the realities of modern life.

The film is widely regarded as a masterpiece of Korean cinema, and has been praised for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of complex emotional themes.

Secret Sunshine (English Subtitled)
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Do-yeon Jeon, Kang-ho Song (Actors)
  • Lee Chang-Dong (Director) - Lee Chang-Dong (Writer) - Hanna Lee (Producer)
  • (Playback Language)
  • Audience Rating: PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned)

5. Burning (2018)

“Burning” is a South Korean psychological drama film directed by Lee Chang-dong, released in 2018. It is based on the short story “Barn Burning” by Haruki Murakami. The film stars Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun, and Jeon Jong-seo in the lead roles.

The story follows Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in), a young aspiring writer who becomes involved in a mysterious relationship with Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), a free-spirited girl he knew from his childhood.

However, when Hae-mi disappears without a trace, Jong-su becomes increasingly obsessed with finding out the truth behind her disappearance. Along the way, he encounters Ben (Steven Yeun), a wealthy and enigmatic man who may hold the key to the mystery.

“Burning” is known for its atmospheric and slow-burning storytelling, delving into the complexities of human relationships, class struggles, and the search for meaning and identity.

The film masterfully creates a sense of tension and unease as the plot unfolds, leaving the audience with lingering questions and interpretations.

One of the highlights of “Burning” is the standout performances of the cast, particularly Yoo Ah-in and Steven Yeun. Yoo Ah-in delivers a powerful portrayal of Jong-su, capturing the character’s internal struggles and uncertainties with authenticity.

Steven Yeun’s performance as Ben is also notable, exuding charisma and enigma, leaving viewers guessing about his true intentions.

Lee Chang-dong’s direction in “Burning” is lauded for its meticulous attention to detail, thought-provoking symbolism, and immersive storytelling.

The film’s cinematography and score also contribute to its haunting and captivating atmosphere.

“Burning” received widespread critical acclaim upon its release, winning numerous awards and nominations, including the prestigious FIPRESCI Prize at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.

It has been hailed as a thought-provoking masterpiece that challenges the conventional boundaries of genre and storytelling.

Burning
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Ah-in YOO, Steven YEUN, Jong-seo JUN (Actors)
  • Lee Chang-dong (Director) - Lee Chang-dong (Writer) - Lee Chang-dong (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

3 Characteristics of Lee Chang-dong Films

Complex characters: Lee Chang-dong’s films are known for their deep exploration of characters’ inner lives and motivations. His characters are often flawed and multidimensional, with their actions and decisions driven by complex emotions and desires.

Social commentary: Lee Chang-dong’s films frequently examine social issues and inequalities, particularly those faced by South Koreans. He is known for his ability to explore these issues in a nuanced and thought-provoking way, offering insights into the complexities of contemporary society.

Poetic realism: Lee Chang-dong’s films often blend elements of realism and poetry, creating a unique cinematic style that is both grounded in reality and dreamlike in its imagery. His films frequently use natural settings and simple, everyday moments to create a sense of intimacy and emotional resonance.

3 Reasons To Watch Lee Chang-dong Films

Social Commentary: Lee Chang-dong’s films are known for their powerful social commentary, exploring issues such as inequality, class, and gender in Korean society. His films often depict the struggles of marginalized individuals, and examine the ways in which society shapes their experiences.

His films are a powerful critique of contemporary Korean society and offer insightful commentary on issues that are relevant not just in Korea, but around the world.

Innovative Storytelling: Lee Chang-dong is known for his innovative and unconventional storytelling techniques.

In films such as “Peppermint Candy” and “Secret Sunshine,” he uses non-linear narrative structures and complex characterizations to tell stories that are both compelling and thought-provoking.

His films challenge the viewer to engage with the story in new and unexpected ways, and offer a unique perspective on the human experience.

Exceptional Performances: Lee Chang-dong’s films are known for their exceptional performances, with many of his actors winning awards and critical acclaim for their work.

His films often explore complex emotions and psychological states, and require actors to deliver nuanced and powerful performances.

The actors in his films bring a depth and authenticity to their roles that make the characters and their struggles feel real and relatable to the viewer.

Best Lee Chang-dong Films – Wrap Up

Lee Chang-dong is a renowned South Korean film director and screenwriter, known for his powerful and thought-provoking dramas that explore the complexities of human relationships and societal issues. Some of his best films include:

“Poetry” (2010) – This film tells the story of an elderly woman who discovers she has Alzheimer’s disease and begins to attend a poetry class as a way of coping. It won numerous awards at film festivals around the world and is widely regarded as one of Lee Chang-dong’s best works.

“Burning” (2018) – This psychological thriller follows a young man who becomes embroiled in a mysterious love triangle with a wealthy businessman and a free-spirited woman. The film was highly acclaimed by critics and won numerous awards, including the Best Foreign Language Film award at the National Society of Film Critics Awards.

“Secret Sunshine” (2007) – This film follows a grieving mother who moves to a small town to start a new life, but is forced to confront her personal demons when tragedy strikes again. The film was widely acclaimed by critics and won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival.

“Oasis” (2002) – This controversial film explores the relationship between a man with cerebral palsy and a woman with a troubled past. It won the Best Director award at the Venice Film Festival and is noted for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of disability and social isolation.

Lee Chang-dong’s films are noted for their powerful themes, nuanced characters, and striking visuals. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest living directors in South Korea, and his work has had a significant impact on the country’s film industry and culture.