It might be common to see a K-Drama written by a woman, occasionally directed by one. On the other hand, it sometimes seems even more rare to see a Korean film directed by a woman, at least in the cinema. It’s no secret that the entertainment industry is male-dominated, especially in South Korea. Over the last few years, none of the Korean feature films that played at the Cannes Film Festival were directed by women. Despite this, we’re slowly seeing some progress. At the 2019 Busan International Film Festival, 27% of the films played were directed by women. Compared to years before, that was huge progress.
There’s still a lot to improve, but I feel that it is still incrementally improving, in a way, and because I feel like there’s a lot of good young female directors that are up-and-coming, I still feel like there’s cause to be optimistic, but it’s one step at a time.
— Director Yim Soon Rye
One way that we can all do our part in progressing inclusivity for women directors in the film industry is by supporting their movies! We have selected six great women directed movies to watch.
1. The Running Actress
The Running Actress is a unique comedy-drama film written, directed by, and starring Moon So Ri. It is made up from three individual short-films that Moon made during her enrollment at Chung-Ang University. Having been an accomplished actress for years, she made her directorial debut with this film. The film is based around a fictionalized version of herself that explores all of the discomforts of show business, particularly as an aging actress who is constantly judged.
Moon So Ri is an accomplished actress, film director and screenwriter. She’s best known for starring in Oasis and A Good Lawyer’s Wife.
2. Little Forest
Little Forest is a therauputic movie amidst the gritty blockbusters found in Korean cinemas. Hye Won (Kim Tae Ri) becomes weary of the busy, lackluster city life. She returns to her home in the country after she has failed her teacher’s exam. Her childhood friends Run Sook (Jin Ki Joo) and Jae Ha (Ryu Jun Yeol) are surprised to see her return but welcome her back with open arms. While she initially claimed to only be visiting for a few days, seasons come and go. During this period of uncertainty, she discovers ways to sustain herself while also wrestling with memories from her complicated relationship with her mother.
It is based on the Japanese film duology adaptation of the Little Forest slice-of-life manga. While Director Yim Soon Rye said that she hoped that the movie could “heal and soothe the young generation of Korea,” we believe that the film’s message is one for the world.
Yim Soon Rye is in the list of Korean New Wave Cinema auteurs along with Bong Joon Ho and Park Chan Wook. She’s not only a renowned movie director but also a producer, screenwriter, and activist. Her activism often finds its way in her movies, which are known to include commentary on societal issues of Korean society.
3. The House of Us
The House of Us tells the story of three girls’ summer. 12-year-old Hana (Kim Na Yeon) is worrying about her bickering parents when she meets two younger girls, Yoomi (Kim Shia) and Yoo Jin (Joo Ye Rim). The trio attempt to deal with their struggles in life by confiding in each other and going on playful adventures.
Yoon Ga Eun has been named by Bong Joon Ho to be a director to watch. Her films explore youth with authenticity and care. Her debut feature films are The World of Us and The House of Us, both of which received international acclaim and have even earned her multiple awards, including Best New Director at the 37th Blue Dragon Film Awards.
4. Kim Ji-young: Born 1982
Kim Ji-young: Born 1982 is based on the bestselling novel of the same name. It follows the life of an average woman in her 30s who suddenly gets possessed by others, including her late mother and older sister. Through her, their stories are told. The film explores topics of patriarchy and gender discrimination. The film stars Gong Yoo and Jung Yu Mi, who had previously worked together on Silenced and Train to Busan, as husband and wife. The actors received backlash from anti-feminists for their participation in the film, but they stayed committed to doing the film justice. Despite criticism, the film went on to be a box office success and win multiple awards.
While she is herself an experienced actress, this was the directorial debut for Kim Do Young. Having read the Kim Ji-young: Born 1982 novel before, she empathized with the story a lot and was happy to adapt it.
5. House of Hummingbird
House of Hummingbird is a critically acclaimed and award-winning coming-of-age drama. This partially autobiographical film focuses on the 14-year-old Eun Hee (Ji Hu Park). Set in 1994 in Seoul, this is the year the Seongsu Bridge collapsed. Struggling in her personal life, she looks for meaning of life throughout the city and in love. This film highlights a period of rapid modernization in South Korea.
House of Hummingbird marks Kim Bora‘s directorial debut. She also wrote the script, partially inspired by her own childhood and has described it as a “fictional film based on very personal experiences.” The film serves as a sequel to her short-film The Recorder Exam, which was also about a girl named Eun Hee.
Helpless is a psychological mystery/thriller based on the bestselling Japanese novel All She Was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe. Set in 2009 South Korea, veterinarian Jang Mun Ho’s (Lee Sun Kyun) fiancee (Kim Min Hee) disappears a few days before their wedding. Throughout his search for her, he begins to learn more about her dark past. The film’s story explores deeper in contemporary issues.
Founding member of the women’s feminist film collective Bariteo, Byun Young Joo explores human rights through filmmaking. As writer and director, Helpless is Byun Young Joo’s most recent and most successful film. It achieved box-office success with 2.4 million tickets sold and also won her Best Director at both the 2012 Baeksang Arts Awards and Women in Film Korea Awards.