I’ve now been back home for nearly three months (welp).But some part of me is still stuck in Korea, I suppose. Korea left a lasting impression on me, so I’ve been trying to keep up with it at least a little bit. To be honest, I went into Korea knowing almost nothing about it beyond the typical stereotypes (Gangnam Style! Starcraft! North Korea madness!). After I’ve returned, I’ve been trying to read up and immerse myself in Korean culture a bit, largely in an (mostly unsuccessful) attempt to deal with my Fernweh. Anyways, I have tried to keep up with Korea using a bunch of different media, so I’ll give you a quick overview here. I won’t be able to cover everything here, so I’ll split this up into at least two parts.
Korean movies: My experience with Korean cinema is quite limited. I watched Oldboy early in my teens (arguably too early) and it left a lasting impression. I remember being absolutely blown away by it, but I somehow never got around to watching the rest of Park Chan-wook’s Revenge trilogy or even rewatching Oldboy. That is high on my to do list. I’m not much of a cinephile and much prefer tv shows, so this list will be embarrassingly short. At least, I managed to watch 2016’s big hit Train to Busan recently. It was released about four weeks after I left Korea, so I was not able to witness it there, but I still noticed the massive hype it garnered. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s a really fun and surprisingly emotional Korean take on the classic Zombie Apocalypse theme that adds enough novel ideas so that it feels unique and compelling. I’m sure it helps your enjoyment a bit if you have actually taken said train to Busan yourself, but it’s a really fun movie in any case.
I also watched 2006’s The Host, which was a big hit both domestically and internationally. It’s a pretty interesting mix of genres. While it’s a monster movie first and foremost, it’s also quite comedic at times and feels like a family drama or adventure, as it all centers on how one particular family deals with the sea creature wreaking havoc along the Han river. Mix in a bit of satire, and you’re in for a hell of a ride. It’s a really entertaining watch. Much like Train to Busan, I’m sure it enhances your enjoyment a bit if you’ve spent as much time hanging out at Hangang as I have over my time in Korea. I certainly felt the need to pause the movie multiple times to confirm whether I ever went to the location currently displayed. And sure enough, one of the scenes is filmed at Dongjak bridge, part of my regular walks alongside the river. A real throwback.
Finally, 2008’s The Chaser is an excellent thriller. Much of the plot sounds pretty cliché – a former cop turned pimp antihero who starts the movie acting like a total asshole and then rediscovers his humanity, a damsel in distress, a deranged serial killer, and so on. However, the movie feels pretty fresh and unique regardless – the action feels real and gritty, the plot takes a few unexpected but believable turns, and the main actors are fantastic. Most of the film takes place in one specific Seoul neighborhood, and you start to get a pretty good feel for the area as the film progresses, which is pretty neat. Really good, but be warned that this movie – and Korean cinema in general, as far as I can tell – does not pull any punches and can get pretty brutal at times. So bear that in mind.
Korean dramas: Sorry, can’t help you there. I know that K-dramas are very popular, but I have never managed to get into them. I’m sure there are tons of resources out there if that’s what you’re looking for.
Podcasts: I’m a huge podcast fan, so of course I also looked for stuff on Korea. Podcasts are a very intimate medium that you can consume on the go or while doing chores, which makes them ideal to get into a new topic. I quite like Andre Goulet’s The Korea File podcast. The episodes are quite short and feature conversations with guests on a large variety of topics such as Korean music, society, and history. Unfortunately, many of the older episodes are mixed poorly and are barely audible, at least on my phone. Nonetheless, there is a lot of interesting stuff to check out there. I particularly enjoyed the two episodes on Korean cults, which is not something you’ll hear about every day.
Fighting: I was fortunate enough to attend UFC Hamburg and do some interviews. And since there was a Korean fighter, Tae Hyun Bang, on the card, I obviously had to talk to him. I couldn’t really show off my Korean skills since I don’t have any, but it was still a lovely and surreal experience to be able to interview him and chat a bit about Korea. You can listen to the interview here. And I’ll second his recommendation: If you want to check out some Korean MMA, give Top FC a chance. They regularly run shows in Seoul’s Olympic Hall.
Korean Englishman: Finally, if you want to see entertaining, bite-sized looks into Korea, there is no better source than the Korean Englishman. It’s a hugely popular Youtube channel made by Englishmen fluent in Korean language and culture, who have released years worth of videos introducing you to Korean culture. The videos are bilingual and massively popular in South Korea, but also very much worth a watch for non-Koreans, as they can serve as an introduction to some of the more absurd and entertaining aspects of Korean culture. Of course these videos are often far from representative as their primary objective is to entertain, so there is sometimes an emphasis on ‘extreme’ topics like food so spicy it might put you in the hospital. But there also a lot of more ‘normal’ videos like the long-running ‘English people try $KoreanThing’ series or just looks into aspects of everyday Korean life, such as Korean barbecue. Informative and supremely entertaining. Highly recommended!
(Don’t worry: While super-spicy food like that does exist, you kind of have to seek it out specifically, at least in my experience. Same with gross stuff like living octopus. It exists, but it’s not really representative of Korean cuisine, so don’t let that scare you off!)