When “Parasite” won the Oscar for best picture this year (as well as three others), many Americans were floored by this latest masterpiece of South Korean cinema’s new wave. Director Bong Joon-ho’s signature style of tonal shifts between goofy and gothic left the viewer unsure how to watch the film, yanking the rug out from decades of training in the language of traditional cinema. And everybody loved it. But “Parasite” wasn’t an anomaly; this kind of film is its own genre, and for those who liked “Parasite,” and who are stuck at home because of another parasite, there are a wealth of tonally similar films that you can stream.
More movies by Bong Joon-ho
“The Host” (R; for rent on Amazon Prime Video or free with ads on YouTube)
Bong’s 2006 monster movie was mega-popular in South Korea, where it broke box-office records, and gained a following in the U.S. In the vein of “Godzilla” or “Cloverfield” (which may or may not have cribbed its monster from “The Host,” you be the judge), the film features a gigantic, vaguely maritime creature attacking a major metropolitan area. But in true Bong fashion, the story ends up focusing less on the screaming destruction and more on the fumblings of a goofy group of survivors.
“Snowpiercer” (R; Netflix, YouTube)
Made in America, you wouldn’t know this was a Korean film because, well, the film is in English, the majority of the actors aren’t Korean — it’s actually fronted by Captain America himself, Chris Evans. But you’ll notice the loopy similarities in this 2013 post-apocalyptic sci-fi tale of a train containing the last remaining humans on an uninhabitably cold Earth; a train that, for reasons that make complete sense in the movie, must continuously circle the Earth on a single track, or perish.
Note: My favorite Bong film, the oddly funny serial killer/detective thriller “Memories of Murder” (2003), is not available for (legal) streaming on any platform in the U.S. at the moment, but given the success of “Parasite,” it will likely show up in the near future, so don’t sleep on it.
Movies by Park Chan-wook
South Korea’s other prominent auteur, Park is arguably the more artsy of the two directors. His films often center thematically around the concept of revenge (Korean Revenge Film is actually a genre, and I think that’s largely due to Park). Park’s films are also far more gory, the downright balletic scenes of violence offered up with a tangy sauce of dark humor and poetic writing. As Park once said, “Numerous times I lie in bed at night and imagine the cruelest torture. I imagine the most miserable ruining of that person’s life. After that, I can fall asleep with a smile on my face.” And by the way, his films are funny.
“Oldboy” (R; Amazon Prime Video with Shudder add-on, Vudu)
In my opinion, 2003’s “Oldboy” is still the best Korean film ever made (the Oscar for “Parasite” notwithstanding). The second film in Park’s “Vengeance” trilogy, “Oldboy’s” loopy, twisted plot and gorgeous art direction make it a masterpiece, along with a daisy chain of unforgettably weird moments (no spoilers, but there is a really upsetting scene with an octopus). Pro tip: Don’t bother with the American remake by Spike Lee. Without the subtle nuances of Park’s sense of humor, it completely misses the point.
“Thirst” (R; Google Play, Vudu, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video with Shudder add-on)
Park’s 2009 vampire film takes the genre and twists it into an unrecognizable parody of itself with this story about a Catholic priest who becomes a vampire from a blood transfusion and fumbles his way through his new life in a series of scenes that look like opera sets. But the biggest surprise? “Thirst” is really kind of a romantic comedy.
“The Handmaiden” (not rated, for mature audiences; Amazon Prime Video, Vudu)
This period piece is set in Korea during the Japanese occupation of World War II, and is one of the raunchiest films you’ll ever see. Based loosely on Sarah Waters’ novel “Fingersmith,” this gorgeous lesbian love story from 2016 features yet another twisty, unpredictable plot and some scenes that prove that simply reading classical literature can be far more titillating than porn. Pro tip: Don’t watch this one with your parents unless you want to spend the whole movie blushing so hard your face falls off. Also, points for the breathtaking costumes.