The Handmaiden and 5 other low-budget box office hits of Korean cinema

High-budget films can still end up being box office bombs, and vice versa. 

Movies with huge investment do not equal high-grossing movies. The following low-budget Korean films all achieve success beyond expectations. 

1. The Handmaiden (2016): $8.8 million

Taking film critics by surprise with its gritty, erotic and daring plot, director Park Chan Wook’s “The Handmaiden” also became a massive hit among viewers. Notably, it only took the crew of “The Handmaiden” 8.8 million USD to create a masterpiece of Korean cinema.

Low-budget box office hits of Korean cinema

Every camera angle, scene, and character’s dialogue can make any viewer of “The Handmaiden” get goosebumps because of how realistic and vivid they are. The storyline revolves around the dark life of a Japanese noble family in Korea. Sook Hee (Kim Tae Ri) seems like an ordinary maid, but gradually gets sucked into the schemes of competition for power between Lady Hideko (Kim Min Hee) and her uncle Kouzuki (Cho Jin Woong). 

2. Confidential Assignment (2017): $8.52 million

Known for his roles in hit television series, few people know that Confidential Assignment is the first action theatrical film of actor Hyun Bin. No longer having the usual dreamy look like in romantic dramas, in Confidential Assignment, Hyun Bin captures the hearts of viewers with his edgy and tough image of a true spy.  

Low-budget box office hits of Korean cinema

Confidential Assignment portrays the mission to catch a defector of a police duo with special backgrounds – one from South Korea, and the other from North Korea. The difference in personality and ideology causes them to enter countless debates and one-of-a-kind situations. Although they do not like each other, they have to put up with each other to complete the mission. 

3. Midnight Runners (2017): 7 million USD

Although it is a low-budget film, Midnight Runners stars famous actors Kang Ha Neul and Park Seo Joon. When it was released, Midnight Runners received plenty of good reviews thanks to its fun and compelling plot, not only entertaining but also meaningful.

Low-budget box office hits of Korean cinema

Midnight Runners revolves around the undanny, hilarious friendship between two rookies in a police academy Gi Jun (Park Seo Joon) and Hee Yeol (Kang Ha Neul). Although they have different goals and join the university with different purposes, after working on a case together, the two realize they compliment each other well. 

4. Dongju: The Portrait of a Poet (2016): 2.5 million USD

Actor Kang Ha Neul often gets lucky with low-budget but high-quality films when Dongju: The Portrait of a Poet has become a box office phenomenon upon its release.

Low-budget box office hits of Korean cinema

Besides, this work content recreates Yoon Dong Ju’s life in a very realistic, cinematic narrative.  Yoon Dong Ju was a great Korean poet when he devoted his life to art but was imprisoned by the Japanese fascists because he was related to the anti-Japanese movement in Korea at that time.

5. Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum(2018): 2.2 million USD

Few people believe that, with only $2.2 million, Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum becomes the scariest low-budget Korean film of all time.  Effects, sound, camera angle all gave viewers goosebumps.

Low-budget box office hits of Korean cinema

Set at the Gonjiam mental hospital in Gwangju, the audience will follow a group of young people to explore this scary area.  Each character’s panic and anxiety expression was displayed directly on the screen, making us mistakenly think we were entering a real adventure.

6. Re Encounter (2010): 182 million USD

The final candidate that shocked the audience when it only needed 182,000 USD to create that hit was Re Encounter. The budget is limited, the scenes, the costumes are as minimalist as possible, but that still can’t stop it from becoming one of the top works in the movie industry. 

The film tells the sad, tearful love story between Hye Hwa (Da In) and Han Soo (Yoo Yeon Seok).  The two, who fall in love but lose contact when the girl becomes pregnant and the boy leaves her to go to Canada; they meet again after five years to look for their child, who they believe has been adopted.

A work with a big budget is not necessarily a big hit;  a work with a low budget can still achieve success. After all, a work that leaves an effect on the audience’s emotions must bring together a variety of aspects, including the attractive script, good acting talent, and even the time of premiere.

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