16 Best Korean Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors

While more people are familiar with its US adaptation, Il Mare is far more striking and emotionally resonant. The Korean romance, separated by timelines, depicts two lonely people who lived in the same seaside residence. They form a bond through the titular house’s mailbox, by sharing letters, voice recorders, and suggestions to deal with loneliness. As they receive each other’s messages, the film slowly reveals the reason for their loneliness– that they’ve been left behind. Matched with shots of creeping urbanization, migration, and the Y2K scare, Il Mare understands modern isolation, but it also underscores how solitude helps us connect with other people.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Cho Seung-yeon, Hong So-yeong, Ji-hyun Jun, Jun Ji-hyun, Jung-jae Lee, Kim Moo-saeng, Kim Mu-saeng, Lee Jung-jae, Mu-saeng Kim, Seung-yeon Jo

Director: Hyun-seung Lee, Lee Hyeon-seung, Lee Hyun-seung

Rating: N/A

Vague statement alert: Burning is not a movie that you “get”; it’s a movie you experience. Based on a short story by Murakami, it’s dark and bleak in a way that comes out more in the atmosphere of the movie rather than what happens in the story. Working in the capital Seoul, a young guy from a poor town near the North Korean border runs into a girl from his village. As he starts falling for her, she makes an unlikely acquaintance with one of Seoul’s wealthy youth (played by Korean-American actor Steven Yeun, pictured above.) This new character is mysterious in a way that’s all-too-common in South Korea: young people who have access to money no one knows where it came from, and who are difficult to predict or go against. Two worlds clash, poor and rich, in a movie that’s really three movies combined into one - a character-study, a romance, and a revenge thriller.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Ah-in Yoo, Ban Hye-ra, Cha Mi-Kyung, ChoI Seung-ho, Jang Won-hyung, Jeon Jong-seo, Jeon Seok-chan, Jeong Da-yi, Jong-seo Jun, Jun Jong-seo, Kim Shin-rock, Kim Shin-rok, Kim Sin-rock, Kim Soo-kyung, Lee Bong-ryeon, Lee Joong-ok, Lee Soo-jeong, Min Bok-gi, Moon Sung-keun, Ok Ja-yeon, Song Duk-ho, Soo-Kyung Kim, Steven Yeun, Yoo Ah-in

Director: Chang-dong Lee, Lee Chang-dong

Rating: Not Rated

Before her triumphant Oscar win for her role in Minari, Youn Yuh-jung starred in The Bacchus Lady as So-young, an aging sex worker strugglin to make ends meet. Youn brings a certain dignity to the role that’s rarely seen in typical depictions of sex work around the world. Her work isn't framed as something disgusting or immoral, but as something that's natural and normal. Writer-director E J-yong clearly sides with and respects the people that you don't normally see in K-dramas—characters that have been pushed aside in favor of the stereotypical “ideal” Korean. While meandering at times, the film's warm and bittersweet approach to these characters acts as a reprimand to Korean society on how they fail those at the margins.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Chon Moo-song, Hyun-jun Choi, Jeon Moo-song, Jo Sang-gun, Jung Jae-woong, Kim Han-na, Kim Hye-yoon, Moon-Song Chon, Park Gyu-chae, Seo Hyun-woo, Ye Soo-jung, Ye Su-jeong, Yeo-jeong Yoon, Yoon Kye-sang, Youn Yuh-jung

Director: E J-yong, Je-yong Lee, Lee Je-Yong

Rating: N/A, Not Rated

Midnight Runners is a hilarious and action-packed buddy comedy that delivers both laughs and thrills in equal measure. The film follows two police cadets who find themselves embroiled in a dangerous conspiracy after witnessing a kidnapping. The chemistry between the two leads is electric, and their banter and antics provide some of the film's funniest moments. However, it also has its share of intense and suspenseful scenes, as the cadets race against time to save the victim and uncover the truth. Midnight Runners is a highly entertaining and enjoyable film that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Crime, Drama

Actor: Bae Yoo-ram, Byeon Woo-seok, Cha Si-won, Dong-il Sung, Go Joon, Ha-Neul Kang, Ha-seon Park, Ha-sun Park, Hwang Chan-seong, Hwang Chan-sung, Jeong Da-eun, Jung Won-joong, Kang Ha-neul, Kim Gyu-baek, Kim Kyu-baek, Ko Jun, Lee Eun-saem, Lee Ho-jung, Lee Jun-hyeok, Park Ha-seon, Park Seo-joon, Park Seo-jun, Seo-Joon Park, Suh Jung-yeon, Sung Dong-il

Director: Joo-hwan Kim, Kim Joo-hwan, Kim Ju-hwan

Rating: Not Rated

A Korean police comedy built on a premise so dumb it's brilliant: a group of bumbling cops who are so bad at their job that they accidentally start an amazing fried chicken restaurant while undercover. All of the suspense and excitement that should be going into their actual mission is spent on this new job that actually begins to give them coordination and a greater sense of purpose. There may not be much of a deeper meaning to be found here, but the characters are lovable enough—and the filmmaking sharp enough—to get you invested in their personal happiness, and to get you to appreciate how strong editing and performances can make even the smallest throwaway line spit-take hilarious.

Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime, Family

Actor: Gong Myeong, Gong Myoung, Han Jun-woo, Heo Joon-seok, Honey Lee, Jang Jin-hee, Jeong Jae-kwang, Ji Chan, Jin Sun-kyu, Jung Won-chang, Kim Eui-sung, Kim Ji-young, Kim Jong-soo, Kim Kang-hyun, Lee Dong-hwi, Lee Ha-nee, Lee Joong-ok, Na Chul, Oh Jung-se, Ryu Seung-ryong, Shin Ha-kyun, Shin Shin-ae, Song Young-gyu, Tae Won-seok, Yang Hyun-min, Yoo Je-yoon

Director: Lee Byeong-heon, Lee Byoung-heon

Rating: Not Rated

A woman loses her phone on her way back to her countryside childhood home. Once there, she connects an old landline in hopes of finding her lost mobile, only to start receiving weird calls that seem to be from 20 years ago.

On the other side of the receiver is a girl who seems to be in danger. The Call is thrilling, sometimes scary, but also brilliantly shot, and its plot is so expertly woven. It’s a proper movie-night movie.

Genre: Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: EL, Jeon Jong-seo, Jo Kyung-sook, Jun Jong-seo, Kim Min-ha, Kim Sung-ryoung, Kim Sung-ryung, Lee Dong-hwi, Lee El, Lee Joo-young, Moon Chang-gil, Oh Jung-se, Park Ho-san, Park Hyeong-su, Park Hyoung-soo, Park Shin-hye, Ryu Kyung-soo, Song Yo-sep, Um Chae-young

Director: Lee Chung-hyun

Rating: R

This slow romance is set in a Seoul bakery during the 1990s. A boy fresh out of juvenile detention and a part-time employee fall for each other while working there. For a while, their existence is joyful and quiet as they sell bread and bond. However, the Asian financial crisis of 1997 forces the bakery to close. This makes them seek different jobs away from each other. As a romance, Tune in for Love is not original but it doesn’t need to. It’s just easy and enjoyable.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Choi Jun-young, Hae-In Jung, Heo Ji-na, Jang Se-won, Jung Eu-gene, Jung Eugene, Jung Hae-in, Jung Ji-woo, Jung Yoo-jin, Kim Go-eun, Kim Guk-hee, Kim Hyun, Kim Kuk-hee, Na Chul, Nam Moon-chul, Nam Mun-cheol, Park Hae-joon, Park Hae-jun, Park Se-hyun, Shim Dal-gi, Sim Dal-gi, Song Duk-ho, Yoo Yeol

Director: Ji-woo Jung, Jung Ji-woo

The Witch hardly reinvents the thriller wheel. In fact, part of the fun in watching it is calling out the cliches. Cold-blooded villain? Check. Antihero who defies death? Check. Senseless, bloody killings for minutes on end? Check, check, check. The Witch has everything you'd expect from an action movie, and yet, the viewing experience is all the better for it. 

By trimming all the unnecessary fat and zeroing in on the action, director Park Hoon-jung delivers a no-nonsense, no-holds-barred film that could hold a candle to the John Wick franchise. Like those films, the movements here are sharp and the gore relentless. The only difference is that The Witch is led by a teenage girl—seemingly flimsy but deliciously deranged, Kim-Dami is magnetic in her breakout role as the titular witch Ja-yoon. It's also a bit like Stranger Things in that sense, but comparisons aside, The Witch stands out as a razor-edged entry into the genre. 

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

Actor: Baek Seung-chul, Cho Min-soo, Choi Jung-woo, Choi Woo-shik, Chung Ye-jin, Da-Eun, Go Min-si, Hyun Bong-sik, Jeong Da-eun, Kim Byeong-Ok, Kim Byung-ok, Kim Da-mi, Kim Ha-na, Ko Min-si, Kwon Tae-won, Lee Ju-won, Lee Ki-young, Lee Si-hoon, Oh Mi-hee, Park Hee-soon, Park Hoon-jung, Seung-chul Baek, Song Hyeong-su, Woo Min-kyu, Woo-sik Choi, Yeo Moo-yeong

Director: Hoon-jung Park, Park Hoon-jung

Rating: Not Rated, R

, 2019

If you like movies without plot, you'll love Korean master Hong Sang-soo's work in Grass. Sang-soo likes to write the script for his characters and not the other way around: he hires actors, then writes a script that would fit them every morning of the shoot.

The result is a personal movie that feels improvised and experimental, despite being quite simple: it's about a small café and a woman who observes the interactions of the guests.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ahn Jae-hong, B-Real, Damian Marley, Gi Ju-bong, Gong Min-jeung, Han Jae-yi, Han Jai, Jin-young Jung, Ju-bong Gi, Jung Jin-young, Kang Tae-u, Kang Tae-woo, Ki Joo-bong, Kim Min-hee, Kim Myeong-su, Kim Myung-soo, Kim Sae-byuk, Lee Yoo-young, Lee You-young, Seo Young-hua, Seo Young-hwa, Shin Seok-ho, Snoop Dogg, Steven Hager

Director: Fab 5 Freddy, Hong Sang-soo

Rating: N/A

, 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

I didn't know anything about the movie before watching it (this was my husband's pick for 'one of us picks something that the other knows nothing about' night). It is Korean, sweet, funny, touching, unique, odd, poignant. I think the fact I knew nothing about the movie when I watched made it even more enjoyable so I hesitate to write more details in this review! Since watching it I have read that an American remake may be in the works, so I would recommend watching it before there is too much info out there about what is destined to be a less charming and successful version

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Jae-yeong Jeong, Jae-young Jeong, Jang So-yeon, Jung Jae-young, Jung Ryeo-won, Koo Kyo-hwan, Lee Kyoo-hyung, Lee Sang-hun, Mi-kyeong Yang, Min Kyung-jin, Park Young-seo, Ryeowon Jung, Yang Mi-kyung, Yeong-seo Park

Director: Hae-jun Lee, Lee Hae-jun

Rating: PG-13, Unrated

If this South Korean cult favorite relies a little too much on jump scares and twisty plot developments, its relatively emotionally distant story is nevertheless given a welcome boost in character thanks to an impressive overall look and feel. Shadowy and foreboding from beginning to end, A Tale of Two Sisters seems to be designed for group viewings where friends can spook each other out without losing track of the film's momentum. But it's far from shallow: patient horror fans should enjoy unpacking the movie's densely layered character dynamics, which become all the more disturbing and sorrowful after learning all of the film's secrets.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery

Actor: Kim Gap-soo, Kim Kap-soo, Lee Dae-yeon, Lee Seung-bi, Lim Soo-jung, Moon Geun-young, Park Mi-hyun, Seung-bi Lee, Woo Ki-hong, Yum Jung-ah

Director: Kim Jee-woon

Rating: R

Sometimes it's hard to relate to foreign movies because of the different cultures, languages and actors. But Miracle in Cell No. 7 transcended the language barriers for me and delivered one of the most touching stories I have ever seen. It's a Korean film about the intricate yet simple love story between a mentally challenged father and his daughter. When the father is wrongly accused of a crime he did not commit and is sent to prison, his personable character eventually causes the prisoners around him to help reunite him with his daughter in prison. Warning: many tissues will be needed.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family

Actor: Choi Ro-woon, Dal-su Oh, Gal So-won, Han Yi-jin, Jeong Man-sik, Jin-young Jung, Jo Deok-hyeon, Jo Jae-yoon, Jo Jae-yun, Jung Han-bi, Jung Hee-tae, Jung Jin-young, Jung Man-sik, Jung-tae Kim, Kal So-won, Kang Seung-wan, Kang Ye-seo, Kim Jung-tae, Kim Ki-cheon, Kim Ki-chun, Kim Se-dong, Kyul Hwi, Lee Seung-yeon, Man-shik Jeong, Man-sik Jeong, No Kang-min, Oh Chang-kyung, Oh Dal-su, Park Kil-soo, Park Sang-myeon, Park Shin-hye, Park Won-sang, Ryu Seung-ryong, Seung-ryong Ryu, Shin-Hye Park, So Won Kal, Song Lee-woo, Won-sang Park, Yeo Moo-yeong, Yoon Sun-Woo

Director: Hwan-kyung Lee, Lee Hwan-kyung

Rating: N/A, Not Rated

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