Best Lee Chang-dong Movies, Ranked

south korean director Lee Changdong has been a tour de force in world cinema for decades. Born in Daegu, known as one of South Korea’s most conservative cities, he began his creative career as an undergraduate student. He focused heavily on acting as a student, but after graduating he became a teacher and novelist. It wasn’t until the 1990s, when he was approached by director Park Kwang-su to write the script for one of his next films, that he officially began a career in the film industry. Lee had never taken a film class or been involved in the industry before, but this pivotal moment proved critical for Korean cinema despite Lee being blacklisted by the government.



Lee made his directorial debut in 1997 with green fish. Using his literary background, he created a story that critiqued Korean society through the lens of an outsider to what is seen as the status quo. In green fish, that is, a young adult who accidentally gets caught up in the crime. His follow-up, Peppermint candies, continues this unique take on plot and character, spotlighting another person left behind by mainstream society. At the same time, Lee’s films began to attract more attention, eventually leading to his most recent release, Burning, which became the first Korean film to land the Academy Award list for Best International Feature Film. These are his best ranked films.

6 green fish

green fish was Lee’s first film as a director with a feature, and it established the themes and concepts he would delve deeper into with his later films. green fishThe protagonist of is Mak-dong, a recent discharged from the Korean army. He returns home after his shift but does not want to return home – he sees his hometown of Ilsan as a dull place that has rapidly modernized and gentrified in his absence. When he crosses paths with a young woman being harassed at a train station, his life is forever turned upside down and embroiled in organized crime, whether he likes it or not.

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5 Oasis

Released in 2002, Oasis won Lee and his cast several awards on the international film festival circuit. What is revolutionary in this film is that it depicts a relationship between a mentally handicapped man, fresh out of a brief stay in prison, and a woman with cerebral palsy. While both suffer from their conditions in the eyes of society and their families, their relationship serves as a form of understanding, even if it is fleeting and not meant to last long.

4 Peppermint candies

Peppermint candies opens with a tragedy: its main character, Kim Yong-ho, climbs to the top of the train tracks and stands in front of an oncoming train, wishing he could turn back time. And the film does just that, telling his story backwards to explain why he became so discouraged about the future that he chose suicide over life. Not only is Peppermint candies a powerful story with deep characterization involved, but it also provides critical context for an entire generation of contemporary Koreans. Having lived through several brutal dictatorships, the Gwangju massacre and the Asian financial crisis in 1997, many, like Yong-ho, were simply left behind.


3 secret sun

Song Kang-ho and Jeon Do-yeon star in secret sun, which won Jeon the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for her performance. Lee Shin-ae (Jeon) recently lost her husband in an accident and decides to start over with her son in a new city. One evening, as she returns home from a party, she discovers that her son has disappeared, triggering a new wave of tragedy in her life. secret sun is hard to watch, like several of Lee’s other films, but it’s thoroughly rewarding in its final arc and beautifully acted.

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2 Burning

Considered one of the best South Korean releases in its contemporary history, Burning swept audiences internationally. With a cast of Yoo Ah-in, Jeon Jong-seo, and Steven Yeun, this visually lush film takes a short story by Haruki Murakami and develops it philosophically to interrogate youth, reality, and life. When a young man (Yoo) meets an old childhood friend he doesn’t recognize (Jeon), it triggers a chain of events where they both encounter a man who talks and acts strangely (Yeun). But when one of them disappears, it twists into a psychological thriller.


1 Poetry

What do you do when you start forgetting basic words like “apple”? Will the pursuit of an art form and the mastery of language, as one does in poetry, save fundamental memories? This is the question that Poetry linger on. A 66-year-old woman shows early signs of dementia, so she decides to enroll in a poetry class. However, she is caring for her 16-year-old grandson, who along with a group of friends sexually assaulted a classmate who later committed suicide. As Mi-ja becomes entangled in a plot to pay off the dead girl’s parents, the film, like poetry, finds beauty in sadness.

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