As an industry, K-pop wears its global influence on its sleeves. This year’s biggest hits from South Korea find their roots in anything from hip-hop to Afrobeat, city pop to R&B – and the crop of music videos reflect this far-reaching inspiration. Videos on this list appear to pull from films made in Hong Kong to Hollywood, with genres running the gamut from brooding romance and neo-noir to intergalactic sci-fi and horror. These references make clear the impact film can have on the stories we tell – even across oceans and artforms.
While we may view them on smaller screens, these music videos are undeniably cinematic in their own right. Here are just a few moments from 2021 where K-pop and film collide.
Days Of Being Wild (1990) in TXT’s ‘0X1=LOVESONG (I Know I Love You)’
Before Hong Kong heartthrob and Cantopop star Leslie Cheung had solidified his place in the annals of queer history, he was dancing alone in Wong Kar-wai’s 1990 film Days Of Being Wild. Cheung’s character, Yuddy, is a libertine who sees himself as a legless bird that has to fly and fly, unable to land – hence, his solo mambo.
While Cheung winds his hips staring reverently into the mirror, TXT’s Yeonjun imitates the dance in front of the other four members of the quintet. It isn’t until the end of the music video that we discover this audience isn’t real – rather, something Yeonjun dreams up as a reprieve from his own loneliness.
Chungking Express (1994) in Mingyu and Wonwoo’s ‘Bittersweet’
Like canned pineapples, time and memory in Chungking Express are fleeting. Wong Kar-wai (this list has room for his stars and his style) bends the two to his will in service of his lush, melancholy romance.
In ‘Bittersweet’, SEVENTEEN rappers Mingyu and Wonwoo are twentysomethings entangled in a love triangle. “How did love become love,” Wonwoo breathes over the beginnings of the bluesy bossa nova track, setting the scene for the vignettes to follow. Lit by languid greens and reds, the trio tear through midnight streets in slow motion, digitally replicating Wong’s blurry step printing technique.
Oldboy (2003) in IU’s ‘LILAC’
Oldboy’s single-take corridor scene is notoriously grisly, visceral and ultra-violent – everything K-pop deity IU isn’t. And that, perhaps, is exactly the point of recreating the scene in the music video for ‘LILAC’, the title track meant to send off the soloist’s twenties.
In the video, IU traverses the compartments of a train, trying on and shedding personalities until she finally reaches her destination. Still, all along this journey, even while she kicks ass or licks wounds, the singer maintains her lightness and signature grace. Like Choi Min-sik’s ghostly Dae-su, IU clashes with a string of goons; this time, though, it’s sans claw hammer as she breaks through with just her balletic martial arts.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) in BamBam’s ‘riBBon’
Watching a Wes Anderson film is like taking a peek inside a dollhouse. Staged with giant chess sets and sword fights, the video for GOT7 member BamBam’s solo debut ‘riBBon’ walks that Andersonian line between whimsy and artifice.
Over the bouncy trap beat, he kept his bravado and “skrrt skrrt’s, but dipped his toes into softer aesthetics: silks and knits, suits of watercolour and tartan, cotton candy hair. The most direct nod to the film is its recreation of the iconic pink pâtisserie boxes seen in The Grand Budapest Hotel, swapping the lettering on the parcels for the Thai-born idol’s name.
Wes Anderson is not an uncommon muse in the K-pop landscape, where pastel colour palettes reign supreme – girl groups STAYC, EXID and GWSN have likewise referenced the 2014 film by gracing kitschy hotel sets and donning purple concierge uniforms.
The Star Wars series in EVERGLOW’s “FIRST”
EVERGLOW are always geared up for battle, but perhaps never more so than in ‘FIRST’. The styling draws from that galaxy far, far away, where women helm the resistance and siphon power from the cosmos. Onda rocks space buns and a thigh holster (hello, Leia and Jyn Erso). Sihyeon, who previously cosplayed as sequel trilogy star Rey for a special stage, slipped on an earthy woven halter, complete with chunky boots fit for stomping the desert sands of Jakku.
The intergalactic girls layer o-ring harnesses over both blood orange – the color of Rebel flight suits – and androgynous all-black more reminiscent of emo-baddie Kylo Ren. In this sweeping space opera, EVERGLOW are poised as both heroines and villains, caught in the struggle between light and dark.
The Mummy (2017) in Dreamcatcher’s “Odd Eye”
The 2017 film The Mummy was enough of a flop to single-handedly sink Universal Studios’ attempt to kick-start their ‘Dark Universe’: an intended reboot of classic monster movies, inspired by the many superhero shared universes of the 2010s. Its impact on cultural consciousness is correspondingly small – that is, apart from the memorable runic facial markings of villain Ahmanet, Sofia Boutella’s Egyptian princess rising from the dead.
Enter Dreamcatcher, a witchy septet (there’s a lot of lore to unpack), musically influenced by J-rock and metal, with a visual horror-fantasy edge. ‘Odd Eye’ is the conclusion to their cyberpunk Dystopia trilogy, which looks at language’s power to wound and corrupt. In the video, SuA bears the titular mummy’s warpaint, swinging around a lightsaber-eqsue beam of light.
While Boutella’s makeup in the film drew upon ancient funerary texts, the meaning and linguistic origins of SuA’s is left to speculation. “I have the names of our makeup artists here,” she joked in a behind-the-scenes clip for the music video.
Batman Returns (1992) in Sunmi’s “TAIL”
Michelle Pfeiffer’s Selina Kyle (aka DC villainess Catwoman) is camp with claws. Initially a skittish but well-meaning secretary, Kyle is pushed out of a window and into the cat-infested alleyway below, where the feral animals work their magic to revive her. She returns home with a newfound feline temperament and a craving for lowfat milk.
Sunmi’s metamorphosis in ‘TAIL’ mirrors this classic storyline: woman scorned becomes femme fatale. “Wagging my tail for your last words,” Sunmi croons on the sultry track, accompanied by sleek choreography. Nails whetted and ready to pounce, the singer prowls around in vinyl thigh highs and opera gloves, conjuring Pfeiffer’s infamously skintight latex catsuit.