11 Best Korean Films Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors

The 2016 outing of South-Korean auteur director Park Chan-wook (maker of Oldboy and Stoker) once again shifts attention to the dark side of what makes us human: betrayal, violence, and transgression. Based on the 2002 novel Fingersmith by British author Sarah Waters, The Handmaiden revolves around the love of two women and the greedy men around them. Park shifts the novel's plot from Victorian London to 1930s Korea, where an orphaned pickpocket is used by a con man to defraud an old Japanese woman. Routinely called a masterpiece with comparisons made to the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, this is a stylish and meticulous psychological thriller that packs enough erotic tension to put a crack in your screen. If you love cinema, you can't miss this movie. You might even have to watch it twice.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Bae Il-hyuck, Cho Jin-woong, Choi Byung-mo, Choi Jong-ryul, Eun-hyung Jo, Ha Jung-woo, Ha Si-yeon, Hae-suk Kim, Han Ha-na, In-woo Kim, Jeong Ha-dam, Jeong In-kyeom, Jin-woong Jo, Jo Eun-Hyung, Jung In-gyeom, Jung-woo Ha, Kim Hae-sook, Kim Hae-suk, Kim In-woo, Kim Min-hee, Kim Si-eun, Kim Tae-ri, Kwak Eun-jin, Lee Dong-hwi, Lee Ji-ha, Lee Kyu-jung, Lee Yong-nyeo, Lim Han-bin, Min-hee Kim, Moon So-ri, O Man-seok, Oh Man-seok, Rina Takagi, So-ri Moon, Tae-ri Kim, Takashi Kakizawa, Tomomitsu Adachi

Director: Chan-wook Park, Park Chan-wook

Rating: Not Rated

, 2003

From Korean director Park Chan-wook, who also brought you the far quieter The Handmaiden, comes a movie that is positively terrifying. Its premise alone is enough for any sentient human being to shudder. On his daughter's birthday, the good-for-nothing Oh Dae-su (played by Choic Min-sik) gets drunk and is arrested by the police. A friend eventually bails him out and, while he is making a phone call, Oh Dae-su disappears. Not knowing why, he is held in the same room for 15 years for no apparent reason. Until, one day, he is released. That's all that can be revealed about this winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 2004 without giving away too much. All we can add here is the way we recommend Oldboy to people admitting to not having seen it yet: “Watch Oldboy. You're welcome. We're sorry.” A crazy, twisted film that goes to extremes. A cult classic and a statement.

Genre: Action, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Byeong-ok Kim, Choi Min-sik, Dae-han Ji, Dae-yeon Lee, Han Jae-duk, Hye-jeong Kang, Ji Dae-han, Ji-tae Yu, Jin-Seo Yoon, Jin-seo Yun, Kang Hye-jeong, Kang Hye-jung, Kim Byeong-Ok, Kim Byung-ok, Kim Su-hyun, Kwang-rok Oh, Lee Dae-yeon, Lee Seung-shin, Lee Young-hee, Min-sik Choi, Oh Dal-su, Oh Gwang-rok, Oh Kwang-rok, Oh Tae-kyung, Park Jae-Woong, Park Myung-shin, Seo Myeong-Seok, Seung-Shin Lee, Syd Lim, Yoo Il-han, Yoo Ji-tae, Yoo Yeon-seok, Yoon Jin-seo, Yoon Jin-yul

Director: Chan-wook Park, Park Chan-wook

Rating: R

This Park Chan-Wook classic is the third part of a trilogy of films around the theme of revenge, following Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy. While ultimately unique, Lady Vengeance is a thriller set in a prison, in the vein of films such as the Japanese action drama Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion. After being framed and wrongly convicted for murder, our protagonist seeks out the true perpetrator of the crime –– but more than anything else, she seeks vengeance. 

This film’s run time is 115 minutes and every second is essential. There is often gratuitous violence perpetrated by men against women in film, however Lady Vengeance takes back control and for that reason it remains one of my favorite revenge films.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Anne Cordiner, Bu-seon Kim, Byeong-ok Kim, Choe Hui-jin, Choi Hee-jin, Choi Jung-woo, Choi Min-sik, Go Su-hee, Ha-kyun Shin, Han Jae-duk, Hye-jeong Kang, Ji-tae Yu, Jin-Seo Yoon, Jin-seo Yun, Jun Sung-ae, Kang Hye-jeong, Kang Hye-jung, Kang-ho Song, Kim Bu-seon, Kim Byeong-Ok, Kim Byung-ok, Kim Jin-goo, Kim Keum-soon, Kim Shi-hoo, Kim Yoo-jung, Kim You-jung, Ko Chang-seok, Ko Su-hee, Koh Soo-hee, Kwon Yea-young, Lee Byung-joon, Lee Dae-yeon, Lee Seung-shin, Lee Yeong-ae, Lee Yong-nyeo, Lee Young-ae, Lim Su-gyeong, Min-sik Choi, Nam Il-woo, Oh Dal-su, Oh Gwang-rok, Oh Kwang-rok, Park Myung-shin, Ra Mi-ran, Ryoo Seung-wan, Seo Ji-hee, Seo Young-ju, Seung-Shin Lee, Seung-wan Ryoo, Shi-hoo Kim, Shin Ha-gyun, Shin Ha-kyun, Song Kang-ho, Su-hee Go, Toni Barry, Tony Barry, Won Mi-won, Yea-young Kwon, Yeong-ae Lee, Yoo Ji-tae, Yoon Jin-seo

Director: Chan-wook Park, Park Chan-wook

Rating: R

A zombie virus breaks out and catches up with a father as he is taking his daughter from Seoul to Busan, South Korea’s second-largest city. Watch them trying to survive to reach their destination, a purported safe zone.

The acting is spot-on; the set pieces are particularly well choreographed. You’ll care about the characters. You’ll feel for the father as he struggles to keep his humanity in the bleakest of scenarios.

It’s a refreshingly thrilling disaster movie, a perfect specimen of the genre.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Ahn So-hee, An So-hee, Baek Seung-hwan, Cha Chung-hwa, Chang-hwan Kim, Choi Gwi-hwa, Choi Woo-shik, Choi Woo-sung, Dong-seok Ma, Eui-sung Kim, Gong Yoo, Han Ji-eun, Han Sung-soo, Jang Hyuk-jin, Jeon Ye-eun, Jeong Seok-yong, Jung Seok-yong, Jung Young-ki, Jung Yu-mi, Kim Chang-hwan, Kim Eui-sung, Kim Jae-rok, Kim Joo-heon, Kim Joo-hun, Kim Ju-hun, Kim Keum-soon, Kim Soo-ahn, Kim Soo-an, Kim Su-an, Kim Won-Jin, Lee Joo-sil, Lee Joong-ok, Ma Dong-seok, Park Myung-shin, Sang-ho Yeon, Seok-yong Jeong, Shim Eun-kyung, Sohee, Soo-an Kim, Soo-jung Ye, Terri Doty, Woo Do-im, Woo-sik Choi, Ye Soo-jung, Ye Su-jeong, Yeon Sang-ho, Yoo Gong, Yu-mi Jeong, Yu-mi Jung

Director: Sang-ho Yeon, Yeon Sang-ho

Rating: Not Rated

Snowpiercer is an under-the-rader post-apocalyptic thriller that offers the grittiness that many times only Asian cinema may achieve. South Korean director Joon-ho Bong forces audiences to forget that Chris Evans was ever a Marvel superhero, as he leads a revolt of his fellow “low-class” citizens against the self-appointed gentry in a train that contains all remaining members of the planet. With immersive environments and a layered script, this film melds together social commentary and moral discourse in a visually arresting and vastly entertaining package.

Genre: Action, Drama, Mystery, Science Fiction

Actor: Adnan Haskovic, Alison Pill, Chris Evans, Clark Middleton, Dana Green, Ed Harris, Emma Levie, Ewen Bremner, Go A-sung, Go Ah-sung, Griffin Seymour, Jamie Bell, Jim High, John Hurt, Joseph Bertót, Kendrick Roger Ong, Kenny Doughty, Ko A-sung, Ko Asung, Luke Pasqualino, Luna Sophia Bar-Cohen, Magda Weigertová, Marcanthonee Reis, Octavia Spencer, Parry Shen, Paul Lazar, Peter Hallin, Robert Russell, Sean Connor Renwick, Seisuke Tsukahara, Song Kang-ho, Stephen Park, Steve Park, Tilda Swinton, Tomáš Dianiška, Tómas Lemarquis, Tyler John Williams, Vlad Ivanov

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Rating: R

There’s an intriguing meta appeal to this drama, the plot of which is a thinly veiled reference to the scandal that erupted around South Korean director Hong Sang-soo and star Kim Min-hee’s extramarital affair. Here, Kim plays an actress who flees to Germany amidst a media storm swirling around a similar relationship and then returns home to skirt prying questions from friends and — maybe — confront her now-distant lover.

But beyond its references to salacious real life, On the Beach at Night Alone is also a fascinating conversational movie, one that explores with gentleness all the messy feelings that Kim is having in her physical and professional exile (offers of acting roles having dried up because of the scandal). That tone isn’t permanent, though, because the film reaches a violently emotional crescendo with two extremely raw and strange outbursts at dinner parties — a strangeness echoed by the lightning bolts of surreality that break up what is otherwise a naturalistic film (and filmography, for Hong). This might make an unconventional entry point if you’ve never seen a Hong film before (he’s averaged two films a year since 2017, so there are plenty of other options), but it’s an illuminating introduction for newcomers all the same, and a fascinating evolution for confirmed fans.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ahn Jae-hong, Gong Min-jeung, Han Ja-i, Han Jae-yi, Jung Jae-young, Kang Tae-u, Kim Min-hee, Kwon Hae-hyo, Mark Peranson, Moon Sung-keun, Seo Young-hwa, Song Sun-mi

Director: Hong Sang-soo

This South Korean coming-of-age story, an award-winning debut from Lee Su-jin, is centered around a high school student named Han Gong-ju. There's a dark aura surrounding our teenage protagonist, as she avoids making new friends and closes herself off from the world. More than anything, she is afraid that people will discover the secret behind her shy persona, and the past events that changed her life forever. This is an intricate and truly devastating tale, sensitively told, and is likely to leave even the most hardened viewers filled with rage at those who have wronged Han Gong-ju.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Baek Ji-won, Baik Ji-won, Beom-taek Kwon, Chun Woo-hee, Dong Hyun-bae, In-seon Jeong, In-sun Jung, Ji Soo, Jo Dae-hee, Jung In-sun, Kim Hyun-joon, Kim Ji-soo, Kim Jung-pal, Kim So-young, Kimchoi Yong-Joon, Kwon Beom-taek, Kwon Bum-taek, Lee Young-lan, Min Kyung-jin, Oh Hee-joon, Oh Hee-jun, So-young Kim, Woo-hee Chun, Yeong-ran Lee, Yim Dong-seok, Yoo Seung-mok, Young-lan Lee

Director: Lee Su-jin, Su-jin Lee

Rating: R

The emotional sterility of modern life comes under the microscope of this understated Korean drama in which a young woman who has built self-preserving walls around her lonely existence begins to wonder if the trade-off is worth it. Outside of the soul-sucking call center job at which Jina (Gong Seung-Yeon) excels, her interactions with others are purely parasocial: she streams mukbangs on her phone as she eats alone, wakes up to the blare of her always-on TV, and checks in on her aging father via the security camera she’s surreptitiously installed in his home. When she reluctantly agrees to train the chatty, warm newbie (Jeong Da-eun) at work, Jina is confronted with a direct challenge to her aloofness, but the provocation is easily ignored until a similarly withdrawn neighbor is discovered long after his death.

This triggers a quarter-life crisis for Jina that’s predictably resolved, but Aloners transcends the neatness of this arc thanks to its quietly persistent challenging of the instinct to contort oneself to fit an inhumane world. Hong Sung-eun’s thoughtful first-time direction and Gong’s nuanced performance as a young woman waking up to the creeping dehumanization of herself make Aloners a genuinely thought-provoking reflection on 21st-century life.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ahn Jeong-bin, Geum Hae-na, Gong Seung-yeon, Jeong Da-eun, Ju Seok-tae, Kim Hae-na, Kwak Min-kyu, Park Jeong-hak, Seo Hyun-woo

Director: Hong Sung-eun

I Saw the Devil is a South Korean psychological thriller/horror film. IT IS NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART!!! It has a lot of blood and gore that could make even the strongest stomachs turn. A young woman is kidnapped from her car while waiting for a tow truck and the kidnapper murders her far from her car and scatters her body parts around. Her fiancé, a secret service agent of the National Intelligence Service, sets out to track down her murders and exact his revenge. If you're looking for a thrill ride, look no further- but don't say we didn't warn you.

Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Byung-hun Lee, Cheon Ho-jin, Choi Jin-ho, Choi Min-sik, Choi Moo-seong, Choi Moo-sung, Gook-hwan Jeon, Han Se-joo, Ho-jin Cheon, Ho-jin Chun, In-seo Kim, Jeon Kuk-hwan, Jo Deok-jae, Jo Myeong-yeon, Kim Dae-hye, Kim Gab-soo, Kim In-seo, Kim Jae-Geon, Kim Kang-il, Kim Kap-soo, Kim Yoon-seo, Lee Byung-hun, Lee Jun-hyuk, Lee Seol-gu, Lee Seol‑gu, Min-sik Choi, Moo-Seong Choi, Nam Bo-ra, Oh San-ha, Park Jeong-gi, Park Ji-yeon, Park Seo-Yeon, San-ha Oh, Seol Chang-hee, Son Young-soon, Uhm Tae-goo, Um Tae-goo, Yoon Byung-hee, Yoon Chae-yeong, Yoon-seo Kim

Director: Jee-Woon Kim, Kim Jee-woon

Rating: Not Rated

, 2023

Dream is a sports dramedy that is susceptible to a lot of the genre’s cliches. Yes, we follow Hong-dae’s journey from being an egomaniac lone wolf to an empathetic team player. Of course, we get to witness all the heartwrenching backstories of the homeless football members. And sure, we even see get to see ourselves in Lee So-min (IU), the hardworking filmmaker who puts her all into this documentary in the hopes that it could somehow pay off her student loan debt. These are plotlines you’ve heard of before, and there are holes in a lot of them (like how it criticizes documentaries for exploiting sob stories while doing the same in the film, for instance). But at the end of the day, Dream only wants to be an uplifting feel-good movie and in that regard, it succeeds immensely. Say what you want about Seo-joon and his exaggerated yell-all way of acting, but the man knows how to draw out a chuckle from even the most reserved viewer. And paired with IU, who brings with her a plucky charm, the two can command an audience any which way they want. If you’re looking for a serious deep dive into the world of sports, the deceit of documentaries, and the complex reality of homelessness, Dream touches on a bit of that but don’t expect it to fully deliver. However, if you’re looking for an easy watch filled with delightful performances and feel-good moments, then Dream is your film.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Baek Ji-won, Han Jun-woo, Han Sang-chul, Heo Joon-seok, Hong Wan-pyo, IU, Jeong Soon-won, Jeong Sun-won, Jo Woo-jong, Jun Suk-ho, Jung Seung-kil, Kang Ha-neul, Kim Il-jung, Kim Jong-soo, Kim Nam-woo, Ko Chang-seok, Lee Eun-jae, Lee Ha-nui, Lee Hae-woon, Lee Hyun-woo, Lee Ji-hyeon, Lee Seung-joon, Lee Yu-bi, Nam Min-woo, Park Hyeong-su, Park Hyoung-soo, Park Moon-sung, Park Myung-hoon, Park Seo-jun, Park Seong-jun, Song Yeong-sik, Yang Hyun-min, Yoon Ji-on, Yun Ji-on

Director: Lee Byeong-heon

Boon Joon-Ho's 'Memories of murder', which was recently re-released is not too dissimilar from many of the crime-dramas that have come out of South Korea over the past two decades. Two very different detectives have to come together to solve what is turning out to be a series of murders that are all linked. The movie is based on the true story of South Korea's first ever recorded serial murderer, who raped and then killed  young girls in the late 80's. In the hands of probably the foremost South Korean director after Park Chan-Wook, this movie takes you through all ranges of emotions.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Baek Bong-ki, Byun Hee-bong, Byun Heebong, Choi Jong-ryul, Go Seo-hee, Hae-il Park, Hie-bong Byeon, Jae-ho Song, Jeon Mi-seon, Jo Deok-jae, Jong-ryol Choi, Jung In-sun, Kang-ho Song, Kim Joo-ryoung, Kim Joo-ryung, Kim Roe-ha, Kim Roi-ha, Kim Sang-kyung, Ko Seo-hie, Kwon Byung-gil, Kwon Hyeok-Pung, Lee Dong-yong, Lee Jae-eung, Lee Kang-san, No-shik Park, Oh Yong, Park Hae-il, Park Hyun-young, Park Jin-woo, Park No-shik, Park Tae-kyeong, Roe-ha Kim, Ryu Tae-ho, Sang-kyung Kim, Seo Young-hwa, Seo-hie Ko, Shim Sung-bo, Shin Hyeon-jong, Shin Hyun-jong, Shin Woon-seob, Son Jin-ho, Son Jin-hwan, Son Kang-gook, Song Jae-ho, Song Kang-ho, Woo Go-na, Yeom Hye-ran, Yoo Seung-mok, Yoon Ga-hyun

Director: Bong Joon-ho, Joon-ho Bong

Rating: Not Rated