If you’ve embraced the good bits of the Hallyu wave, then you’ll have noticed that all the critically acclaimed Korean movies have some… similarities. We’re not just talking about impressive production values or memorable plots. We’re talking about one particular character archetype that turns up in films like Default.

The corrupt official.

It seems like good Korean movies have that in common – a villainous corrupt official. Some of them might have a change of heart, some might not even be in the government, or some of them might get their just deserts. Regardless, it seems like the Koreans really like inserting corrupt official characters into their films. Perhaps it’s a secret inner desire to want to see justice done. Or maybe it’s a critique on authority and hierarchy. Regardless, we’re betting that the next great Korean movie you go to see will have a major character that’s a corrupt official. Let’s take a look at how this trope has played itself out over the years.

 

1. The Age of Shadows (2016)

The Age of Shadows. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

The Age of Shadows. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

This period thriller saw turncoat police captain Lee Jung-chool (Song Kang-ho) and freedom fighter Kim Woo-jin (Gong Yoo) engaged in a battle of wits in a tense era when the Japanese controlled Korea. It opened with a pretty impressive battle scene, which set the stage for Lee Jung-chool’s eventual redemption.

As you might have guessed, the corrupt official in the movie is Lee Jung-chool – because he would sell out his fellow Koreans to the Japanese. But The Age of Shadows took a different spin on the corrupt official trope and redeemed Lee Jung-chool in the end, paying off the opening set piece that you thought was just there to hook you into the drama.

 

2. The Battleship Island (2017)

Lee Kyoung-young. Credit: Wiki Drama

Lee Kyoung-young. Credit: Wiki Drama

Famous for its star-studded cast and massive scope, The Battleship Island was about the liberation of enslaved Koreans on Hashima, the titular Battleship Island (so named because it looked like a battleship). In the film, the Korean slave miners are led by the limping Yoon Hak-chul (Lee Kyoung-young), who conveys the orders of the Japanese leaders on the island to the other Koreans, and sometimes negotiates for better working conditions.

As the film progresses, a special ops soldier (Song Joong-ki) is sent to infiltrate the island – only to discover that the Korean leader Yoon Hak-chul is in cahoots with the Japanese! Although Hak-chul is not technically an “official”, he’s as good as one because he leads the Koreans on Hashima. This twist comes late in the film, but Hak-chul gets what he deserves in the end.

 

3. Rampant (2018)

Rampant. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

Rampant. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

Last year’s period zombie flick Rampant was a lavishly produced film that saw Lee Chung (Hyun Bin) mowing down hordes of zombies, all while being decked in flowing period robes. While we’re not going to debate the practicalities of Lee Chung’s clothes when it comes to battling zombies, we are going to point out that the corrupt official in this film is, in fact, a Minister. The Minister of War, to be specific.

Kim Ja-joon (Jang Dong-gun) is the Minister of War, and at first he plots to use the zombie attack as an opportunity to stage a coup. However, he gets bitten (surprise!) and through sheer force of will, manages to retain his sentience and intelligence. He turns into a creature with the physical prowess of a zombie and the intellectual capabilities of a human – making him a corrupt zombie official that Lee Chung has to defeat in the climax of the movie.

 

4. The Wrath (2018)

Choi Hong-il. Credit: KoreanDrama.org

Choi Hong-il. Credit: KoreanDrama.org

Horror flick The Wrath is actually a remake of Woman’s Wail, which debuted in 1986. In this gory film, the gwisin Wol-a (Park Min-ji) plagues the household of Lady Shin (Seo Young-hee), determined to murder every male in the family.

However, as the film recounts the events that led to Wol-a’s genesis, we discover that she was actually a comfort woman for Lady Shin’s husband, nobleman Lee Kyung-jin (Choi Hong-il). When Wol-a was human, her pillow talk with Lee Kyung-jin revealed his secret plot against the Emperor. The nobleman was corrupted all along! She used that to try and blackmail him, but the nobleman murdered her in a bloody and agonising way. This led to her placing a curse on her family, and rising again as a gwisin.

 

5. Default (2019)

Deputy Minister of Finance (Jo Woo-jin) in Default. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

Deputy Minister of Finance (Jo Woo-jin) in Default. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

This year’s Default is a dramatisation of 1997’s Asian financial crisis and how it hit Korea (raise your hands if you’re old enough to remember that!). In the film, the Korean government is shown to mismanage the crisis, resulting in them having to take a loan from the IMF and suffering under its strict regulations thereafter.

Han Si-hyun (Kim Hye-soo) plays the Chief of Monetary Policy at the Bank of Korea in the film, and seeks to warn the Koreans of the impending financial crisis (and to stop depending on promissory notes from banks) and minimise the damage it’ll cause.

Unfortunately, she’s opposed by the Deputy Minister of Finance (Jo Woo-jin), who secretly wants the financial crisis to take place and wipe clean the country’s economic slate. While he’s not technically corrupted, he works against the common man and seeks only to preserve the self interests of the rich – which includes himself.

Default. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

Default. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

Default is the first ever Korean film that covers the Asian financial crisis. If you’re wondering why that’s such a significant event for the Koreans, it’s because it worsened the social divide in Korea and the ramifications are still felt today. GV Exclusive Default also stars Yoo Ah-in as an opportunistic fellow who plans to short the market with the impending crisis, and Huh Joon-ho as the Korean Everyman who has to suffer the effects of the crisis.

Are you ready to see how Default changed the lives of Koreans – forever?

 

Love Korean movies? Then you should check out these other articles!

 

Credits: Golden Village Cinemas, Wiki Drama, KoreanDrama.org

 

 

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