Early last year, I was asked by one of my friends on Facebook to create a list of 15 films that still affect me to this day. I simply listed 30 to 35 favorites that I can name immediately off the top of my head and obviously dug myself a hole into the pain of needing to cut more than half of those films to make my final 15. The following is such a list of films – in no particular order – that had an impact on me in terms of my philosophy and general perspective on life; they motivated me to think in a certain way and to think about certain topics. I definitely have another list of different 15 films that I’d like to share in the near future. But for now, here we go with this one.
The Dark Knight (2008) – To be completely honest, I am not a huge comic book fan–I’m rather a fan of realism. However, the world that Nolan creates for this superhero is so rich with reality yet filled with the perfect amount of darkness and suspense. Batman/Wayne was the hero that felt incredibly human; Joker was the villain much too thrilling to watch thanks to the genius of Ledger; and Dent/Two-Face was the tragic protagonist that threw out the impossible question of good and evil in my face yet again. Under the meticulous direction of Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight became a contemporary proof that no matter how fantastical or unreal the story and the characters may be, they still tackle the fundamental ideas of humanity: internal conflict of self vs. self, manipulation of human psyche, and good vs. evil.
Dead Poets Society (1989) – In my young teenage years fresh out of jr. high, the captain grabbed my attention as he said, “Carpe diem, seize the day.” He got me smiling at the thought of life when he said that poetry, beauty, romance, and love are what we stay alive for. He put me in awe when he encouraged a timid young student to elaborate on the truth that is like a blanket that always leaves our feet cold. He taught me to dream and to never forget who we can become and who we want to become. He stirred up my troubled teenage years simply with his magical delivery of the written word. He was Robin Williams.
Leon: the Professional (1994) – The little girl stopped growing up and was waiting to just get older. The man was old enough but needed to grow up. This pair of polar opposites that had one common denominator of loneliness brought me to tears as I witnessed, for the first time every in my life, the death of the hero in a film. People say Jack and Rose in Titanic had only each other; Leon and Mathilda had only each other, too. And of course, never forget the superb Gary Oldman with his calm little moments before the storm… this man gave me the first definition of what causes fear, freak, and insanity.
Joint Security Area (2000) – Korea is the only divided country in the world today. When I first saw this film sometime in middle school, I obviously was not mature enough to understand the meaning and emotional depth behind this film. All I remembered for a while was how painful my heart felt when I saw the photo with the four main characters in the end: two from the North Korean army, and two from the South Korean army. Of course I watched it again later with a sufficient level of maturity and understanding—and it left a hole in my heart. Again. The tragic victims and countless innocent people of North Korea are still our family under what was once one whole nation. They – the innocent, the oblivious, and the ignorant of truth – can be our friends. Will they ever be? I am not so sure – especially now.
500 Days of Summer (2009) – I admit I don’t really know what it is like to be in a serious relationship, or I’ll be completely honest, a relationship at all. But I do know that love is tough, real, and worthy of all the troubles it demands. This film told me that while we all hope and fantasize like Gatsby for the perfect love filled with fun and laughter and endless affection, most stories that we get ourselves involved in will probably not end that way. But somehow, we’ll always end up dreaming again, searching for the ending that won’t promise itself, discovering autumn after summer.
Forrest Gump (1994) – The moment that brings me to tears – other than when Forrest finds out that the precious little boy in front of him is actually his son and asks if he is smart – is when he says something more intelligent that what any other person would say or even take the sincere mindset and heart to ponder upon: “I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.” And it’s Tom Hanks saying that. Tom Hanks.
Love Letter (1995) – A Japanese film about love and its memories. From beginning to end, it is so beautifully serene that to some people, it’ll be a test of patience. I can never ever get over the ending of this film, though. It hit me in the guts so hard the first time I watched it, and it won’t fail to hit me again the second, third, and the fourth time. Then I wonder… what kind of a person am I in other people’s memories?
Bleak Night (2010) – This is one of the first South Korean independent films that I watched, and it left me speechless. Today’s young Korean teenagers have troubles that are many, and some of them become victims to those troubles, burying each of their stories deep within their hearts never to be told. I didn’t see the young actors on screen as actors but purely as their characters; the characters felt so real and their stories so painful; and the young director Yoon’s confidence and strength in storytelling were clearly visible. The more I thought about this film, the more I wondered how my life would have been like if I had stayed in Korea and finished the rest of elementary school, went to middle school and high school and on to college.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) – Why do we pick people who treat us like we’re nothing? I ask myself that same question. How can my self-esteem be so low that I allow myself to get hurt by those who don’t even think about me? Wallflower taught me the importance and necessity of belonging and wanting to belong, but also the significance of being oneself and becoming a self-respected individual striving for true happiness. We accept the love we think we deserve. Once we accept the love we truly do deserve, I am sure that we too will then be infinite.
Good Will Hunting (1997) – Another film where I get to call Robin Williams my teacher in cinema. “The question is whether or not you’re perfect for each other. You can know everything in the world, but the only way you’re finding that one is by giving it a shot.” I’m so bad at that. But I know that it takes two hands to clap to make a sound. It takes two people to try to make one relationship work. And it takes one initiative to build a road towards endless possibilities. Embracing or even at least accepting the past and the imperfections is a pretty great start. Listening to the other’s stories and sharing your own can be the next step. This is what life and intimacy are all about.
Black Swan (2010) – Ironically, while the film I listed above is about embracing the imperfections, this film is about the girl who just could not and ended up allowing her obsession over perfection take her breath away. Nevertheless, when Natalie Portman whispers those last words with a smile that clearly shows no regrets, I got chills down my spine and I never would have imagined that the long road towards self-decimation could be so beautiful if it wasn’t for Aronofsky. Perfect. Nina was perfect.
The Pianist (2002) – The Pianist is an odyssey. In the very last scene with Szpilman playing the piano for the one German officer, I completely forgot to breathe. For some crazy and inexplicable reason, this scene alone makes me think that no matter what the circumstance, art, music, and the will to live are the universal language that transcends all limitations to eventually reach those with morality.
Oldboy (2003) – Simply put, this film is so beautiful, so dark, so disturbing, so tragic, and yet so mind-blowing. It is impossible to put this film into words and even more impossible to put my feeling after watching the film into words.
Mother (2009) – The South Korean film that depicts how insane a mother can become for the survival of her one and only beloved child. Just like in his biggest hit film, The Host (2006) – also a magnificent film that is undoubtedly one of my favorites – Director Bong’s genius in storytelling, direction, and detail are to die for, and the theme of motherhood in this disturbingly thrilling and suspenseful film is constantly up to debate. What is even more in question is obviously the stupid son. Is he stupid? Bong often leaves his audience with an unanswered question, but it is somehow always enjoyable for me to savor it.
Memories of Murder (2003) – Finally, here is the last one: my first director-Bong-film depicting the true story of a serial murder case in 1986 that lasted for five years but, to this day, has not been solved (and most likely never will be). Surprisingly, though, this film can be very funny at some parts – that’s right, I said funny – which is the magical ability of Bong, being able to infuse humor for the audience to take a breather in the midst of suspense but not let it be an element of strict dark humor. What strikes me the most is undoubtedly the ending. So who was it? Damn these questions.