Korean Movies Reviews Vol. Better than Ok- The Kim Ja Ok Memorial Marathon


Note: Sorry this is posted much later than intended.  It took me far too long to get to the last film I wanted to see for this post.

When I belatedly heard the news of Kim Ja Ok passing, it hit me pretty hard — like Maya Angelou and Robin Williams hard.  At was puzzling at first.  Perhaps because as a K-Dramas devotee for around a year now, this is the first time where where a Korean actor passed whose work I knew so well.

Often when I see peoples work at an influential time in my life, it sticks with you in ways even “better” work’s can’t.  Well, considering the beginning of my drama watching included My Name is Kim Sam Soon and Coffee Prince, she will always be K-Drama Mama #1 in my book.

Which isn’t to say that’s how she will only be remembered.  Looking at KJO filmography she a major part of 70-80’s Korean cinema, and after a 25 year absence came roaring back in dramas and films.

Though I am much more attune to her work on television, the following will be reviews/odes to some of her cinematic achievements in the ladder stage of her long and distinguish career.  I hope to one day visit her earlier work as well, especially to see the characters she portrayed when she wasn’t excelling in playing the quirky Korean mom types like…

My Tutor Friend (2003)

Rating: 5/10 average as a Costco pumpkin pie

My Tutor FriendDescription: Working college student (Kim Ha-Neul) tutors a rebellious high school hottie (Kwon Sang-Woo).  Rom-Commy things ensue (this time with extra punching!)

Watched it, like it, can’t remember much else.  Twas a harmlessly fine film, but that’s about it.  This was my first exposure to Sang-Woo, so if nothing else it’s worth it for him, Ja-Ok, and young adorkableGong Yoo!

My tutor friend Gong Yoo


This whole movie is fuzzy, but I remember her entrance scene being quite, well, memorable.  Sadly, I don’t had much else to do…

Kim ja ok my tutor friendKim Ja Ok - My tutor friend

The Righteous Thief (The Descendants of Hon Gil Dong) – 2009

Description: The somehow plausible love child of Robin Hood, The Incredibles, and The Thieves #Ocean’s Eleven

The righteous thief hong gil dong

Okay, look at image above. Now look back here. Now look up; are you a horse yet? Sorry, couldn’t help myself

Seriously though, when I saw the movie poster I was psyching myself up for a Korean superhero movie. Because as much as I am SO OVER Marvel’s hijacking of hollywood blockbusters with their entire back catalogue, I still love the basic concept of superpowers, magic, the ode to the fantastical.  Unfortunately, any superhuman abilities  are decidedly N/A, but we are still left with a fun little picture with classic Korean genre mixing and engaging characters.

The cast is key, as it’s filled with actors (Lee Beom-Soo, Lee Shi-Young,Song Dong Il) who have great comic sensibilities, energy to spare, and commit to the ensemble.  Totally worth the watch.

KJO scale of awesome: 4/5  A smallish part but every scene she graced was golden and hilarious.

The righteous thief kim ja ok

Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (2013)

Film Rating: 7.5/10

Description: The daughter in questions deals with relationship fallout: in forms both romantic and familial.

Nobodys daughter hae wonThis guy [Director Hong Sang-Soo] could be the most repetitive directors I’ve ever come across: from themes, to actors, to specific beats. But damn if I dont get sucked in every time.* Honestly this would have worked better as a short film (perhaps focussed on the mother daughter relationship) but his consistency in filmmaking will leave you feeling satisfied, if not a tad nonplussed.

*Sang-soo has a very obvious facination with France and French cinema.  An obvious example in this film includes an amazing cameo by Jane Birkin(namesake of the Birkin bag and Charlotte Gainsbourg‘s mother).  So, I am now revisiting Charlotte’s live album and remembered how effing great it is.  That families got a wee bit of talent me think.


I don’t think it was a coincidence that my favorite part of the film was any scene featuring KJO.  As much as I adore Lee Sun Kyun, I found myself much more taken with the walk and talk of the mother and daughter then the on and off relationship shenanigans of Haewon and her professor.  Her role as the mother proved far more then comic relief, providing her character with such brightness, introspection, and depth not unlike herself.  A perfect role for her (sadly) last film.

Nobodys Daughter Hae Won 2014-11-28 11.18.14Kim Ja ok nobodys daughter hae won  Kim Ja Ok Nobodys daughter Hae won 2014-11-28 11.18.35

Though she was fabulous in basically every role I’ve seen of her, I think the real reason for my state of melancholy, is from watching her play her best character, herself.

Noona over Flowers was the first variety show I watched (before I even knew what variety was).  And though I came for Lee Seung Gi, Ja Ok quickly became a favorite.  In hindsight tis sad how they discussed her triumph over cancer and yet at the tail end of the trip she was often absent… not like that shouldn’t stop anyone from watching the show.


I don’t know how someone can remain whimsically vivacious while also one who doesn’t give two F*&&^ about image and trivial matters, but it was so refreshing to witness.  RIP Kim Ja Ok, you were certainly more than okay, and will certainly missed.

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