Korean cinema comes to mind if one can talk about distinctive movie-watching experiences, most importantly about darker subjects like crimes, wars, and horrors, along with love stories. It has been known for its raw and realistic style of handling subjects, which makes for memorable cinematic experiences. Hollywood has taken a lot of inspiration from Korean movies, and there have been a few remakes of Korean titles in American cinema.
If one is a movie buff, one must be aware of the various kinds of movies the Korean film industry has offered us over the years. Their horror and crime thrillers are well known across the world as among the most vicious, terrifying, and hair-raising experiences a viewer can have. From horror to romantic comedies, Koreans have made it a point to push the boundaries of what is the norm, coming up with crazy, unique storylines and tackling even the most uncomfortable subjects head-on.
28. Badland Hunters (2024)
In the adrenaline-pumping dystopian action flick ‘Badland Hunters,’ crafted by debut director Heo Myung-haeng, the stellar cast featuring Ma Dong-seok, Lee Hee-joon, Lee Jun-young, and Roh Jeong-eui propels viewers into a post-apocalyptic Seoul. This engrossing sequel to ‘Concrete Utopia’ thrusts audiences into the heart of chaos, where the once-vibrant city has crumbled into a lawless wasteland after a devastating earthquake. Brace yourself for a rollercoaster ride as ‘Badland Hunters’ explores the aftermath, where survival instincts kick in, and the struggle for order becomes a thrilling battle against the backdrop of a city plunged into the abyss of an unpredictable future. You can watch the movie here.
27. Love and Leashes (2022)
This rom-com is directed by Hyeon-jin Park and stars Seohyun and Lee Jun-young. The plot explores the contractual relationship between Ji-Hoo and JI-Woo. While Ji-Hoo appears to be generous, competent, and handsome, inside, he is a mess and wants nothing more than to be dominated by an alpha female. JI-Woo wants to be bossy with those around her but cannot do so in her office environment, of which Ji-Hoo is also a part. Realizing that both are apt for each other, they agree to get into this deal of a relationship that JI-Woo secretly wants to turn into a true romance because she has a crush on Ji-Hoo. But will she be able to wait till then? What if it never happens? How long is she willing to wait? Be a part of this duo’s interesting experience right here.
26. Kingdom: Ashin of the North (2021)
This action-thriller film directed by Seong Hun Kim is a spin-off to the second season of ‘Kingdom.’ The film dives deep into Joseon’s intricate tapestry, weaving a tale of tragedy, betrayal, and mysteries unearthed. As the landscape of Joseon is threatened, a unique herb promises power beyond imagination. Gianna Jun brilliantly portrays Ashin, a character shrouded in enigma, giving life to a tale of power, politics, and personal vengeance. As an extension to the gripping ‘Kingdom’ saga, this film intricately expands upon the origins of the resurrection plant and adds layers to the already complex world. It is a masterpiece for fans and newcomers alike. You can watch it here.
25. Kill BokSoon (2023)
‘Kill Boksoon’ is an action-thriller film written and directed by Sung-hyun Byun. In a world where danger lurks in the shadows, Kill Boksoon, a single mother, excels as an unmatched assassin. But the line blurs between personal life and deadly contracts when she faces the quintessential dilemma of balancing her dangerous career with family ties. Working for M.K. Ent, she navigates the treacherous waters of loyalties and betrayals. The narrative crescendos when a single incident threatens to shatter the fragile balance she’s maintained. Her story is a pulse-pounding exploration of the lengths one will go to protect what they cherish. Laced with suspense, the film underscores the volatile nature of trust in a world of deceit. You may watch it here.
24. The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure (2022)
‘The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure’ is a period adventure film directed by Kim Jeong-hoon. The narrative sails into the vast expanse of Goryeo, charting the ambitious adventures of pirates in pursuit of a vanished royal treasure. With clashes and camaraderie, Moo-chi and Hae-rang lead a group of pirates and bandits on an epic quest. Their adventure is made all the more treacherous with the entrance of Bu Heung-soo, a traitor with eyes on the same prize. An enthralling quest, the film is a testament to the indomitable spirit of adventure. It’s a whirlwind of thrilling sea battles, strategic plays, and old-school pirate fun. You can check out the film here.
23. 20th Century Girl (2022)
’20th Century Girl’ is a romantic drama film directed by Bang Woo-ri. Set against the nostalgic backdrop of 1999, the narrative radiates with youthful exuberance, first loves, and high school friendships as Bo-Ra (Kim Yoo-jung) navigates the corridors of teenage years. Amidst school, taekwondo, and her duties in the broadcasting club, she finds herself intertwined in her best friend Yeon-Du’s romantic endeavors with Hyun-Jin. A poignant portrayal of youthful love and the turbulence of adolescence, the film is a beautiful homage to those tender moments that define youth and the essence of growing up. You can watch ’20th Century Girl’ here.
22. The Call (2020)
‘The Call’ is a psychological thriller film directed by Lee Chung-hyun. When Seo-yeon finds a peculiar phone in her mother’s house, she’s thrust into a chilling conversation with Young-sook, a woman from the past. Their bond, transcending two decades, unravels a series of events with unforeseen consequences. This suspense-laden journey plays with the malleability of time, asking if destinies can indeed be rewritten. With compelling performances from Park Shin-hye and Jeon Jong-seo, the film draws viewers into its eerie twists and turns. It’s not just a film but an experience, challenging the boundaries of time and choices, which you can undergo right here.
21. Svaha: The Sixth Finger (2019)
Always trust Korean cinema to bring out some of the most intense thrillers that you have ever witnessed. The 2019 film ‘Svaha: The Sixth Finger’ is one such film that centers around an agent called Pastor Park, whose job is to investigate religious organizations and cults. During one of his investigations into the cult called “Deer Mount,” he comes across certain clues that point to the fact that this cult might have some links with the mysterious disappearance of several teenage girls.
As Pastor Park digs deeper, he realizes that this cult has many dark secrets, and they will go to any extent to hide them from the public eye. No matter how interesting the premise of the film sounds, ‘Svaha: The Sixth Finger’ suffers from dull writing and underdeveloped characters. Something that could have become an intense thriller turns out to be a rather dull affair by the end. You may watch ‘Svaha: The Sixth Finger’ here.
20. Miss Granny (2014)
Directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, ‘Miss Granny’ is a comedy-drama film that delightfully dives into the fountain of youth. At 74, Oh Mal-soon’s life is disrupted when a visit to a mystical photo studio reverts her into a 20-year-old. As she navigates her newfound youth, she becomes the center of attention in her grandson Ji-ha’s band and gets entangled in unexpected romantic affairs. A spellbinding tale of age, music, and rediscovered dreams, Miss Granny’s poignant narrative and impeccable cast make it an unforgettable gem on Netflix’s Korean cinema collection. You can stream the film here.
19. Carter (2022)
With no memories and only a voice inside his head to tell him what to do, Carter (Joo Won) has to find a kid named Ha-na (Kim Bo-min) and bring him to a North Korean facility. She is the human cure to the virus that has spread across America and North Korea and is turning people into violent, emotionless creatures. The facility shall then create an antidote from her blood. But with agents from all across the globe looking for the little girl, will Carter be able to keep Ha-na close and safe until they reach their destination? Fast-paced action sequences underscored by an Earth-level urgency make ‘Carter,’ directed by Byung gil Jung, an utterly entertaining action thriller. You can check it out here.
18. Lucid Dream (2017)
For those unaware of what lucid dreaming is all about, it is a method practiced by certain individuals where they try to hold on to their consciousness while dreaming and thus can guide their dreams into going towards any direction of their choice. The story of the film ‘Lucid Dream’ centers around a man who has been searching for his missing son for many years without any trace of him. The man in question, Dae-ho, has depleted all his sources and clues that would take him towards his son and thus has decided to take on a drastic measure.
With the help of a police detective and one of his friends, who is a psychiatrist, Dae-ho tries the method of lucid dreaming, which will guide him to the exact moment that his son goes missing. There is a distinct lack of suspense in the film, and everything that happens is pretty predictable. The popularity that this film has received is mainly because of Netflix buying its rights for worldwide distribution. You may watch it here.
17. Psychokinesis (2018)
A father can go to any extent for the safety of his children. He is ready to do so without caring about his own safety, for that matter. And if he gains superpowers, there is nothing that can come between him and his desire to protect his child. This is exactly what transpires in the 2018 South Korean film ‘Psychokinesis’ written and directed by Yeon Sang-ho. The central character of the film, Shin Seok-heon, is a security guard who comes to know that his daughter, the owner of a small fried chicken restaurant, has got into a tussle with a construction company over her establishment.
The thing he gets worried about most is the fact that this establishment is run by the mob. Shin Seok-heon gets to drink water from a special mountain spring, which gives him the superhuman ability of telekinesis, and it is with this newfound power that he plans to teach the mobsters a lesson. The film neatly combines a superhero story with comedy and important commentaries on social issues. The superpower aspect of the film is just a part of the premise, but inside, it proves to be something deeper. Feel free to check out the film here.
16. Revenger (2018)
If you are a lover of martial arts films, do yourself a favor and start watching ‘Revenger’ right away. This Lee Seung-won directorial offers you some moments of riveting action that are sure to stay with you for a long time after you’re done watching the film. The central character of this film is a former police officer who is devasted after his family is brutally killed by certain criminals. He finds out that these criminals are presently locked up on a prison island, and thus, he decides to get himself arrested and sent to the same prison. Once there, he plans to hunt them down and inflict upon them the same pain and suffering that they had made his family go through. The story of ‘Revenger’ does not have much to offer. The film triumphs with its high-octane action scenes, and it can even be said that it has been made keeping action junkies in mind. You can stream the film here.
15. The Drug King (2018)
This film is based on a true story depicting the life of a drug kingpin called Lee Doo-sam. Lee started as a small-time member of a criminal organization and indulged in the smuggling of diamonds and other such products before trying his hands in the drug trade. Naturally, the profit that he made from the drug trade was unparalleled and propelled him on his way to becoming one of the most notorious smugglers in all of Korea. The film serves as an eye-opening account of the drug trade that went on in the 1970s in South Korea, where a supply line thrived between Busan and Japan.
Song Kang-ho, one of the biggest superstars of Korea, who has made a name across the world with performances in films like ‘Memories Of Murder,’ ‘Parasite‘ and ‘A Taxi Driver,’ plays the leading character with unparalleled dexterity. The problem with the film is that it suffers from the burden of having loads of underdeveloped characters. If the writing was more nuanced, this film would have fared much better with critics and audiences alike. You can stream ‘The Drug King’ here.
14. The Wailing (2016)
Directed by Na Hong-jin, this horror film follows police officer Jong-Goo, who finds himself in the middle of a bizarre conspiracy as multiple murders take place in quick succession in the Goksung village. While this seems to be some kind of illness, the word around is that a sinister stranger who lives all alone in the mountains is killing the people using a curse. Are an altar, a goat head, and pictures of the infected victims proof enough of the man’s demonic nature? It is up to Jong-Goo to find out, but only after that can he save his daughter from the curse. ‘The Wailing’ is a must-watch Korean horror drama that stars Chun Woo-Hee, Kwak Do-won, Hwang Jung-min, Jun Kunimura, and Kim Hwan-hee. You can watch it here.
13. Night in Paradise (2020)
‘Night in Paradise’ is a hauntingly beautiful film that revolves around Tae-goo, a mobster who gets the chance to change places with his rival gang. However, he refuses the offer, leading to the murders of his sister and niece. Angry and seeking revenge, Tae-goo seeks out the chairman of the rival gang and kills him before fleeing to Jeju Island. Initially, all hope seems lost, as with a massive target on his back, Tae-goo is doomed to die. Yet, once he meets Jae-Yeon, a terminally ill woman who has given up on life, he finds a new reason to live. Showcasing the budding relationship between the two and following the rival gang on their quest for revenge, the film offers an intricate combination of action and melodrama. You may see it here.
12. Pandora (2016)
Pyung-Sub is worried about the conditions of the local nuclear power plant, but no one seems to listen to him. However, when an earthquake strikes, it severely damages the power plant and begins to spread panic. Now, young Jae-Hyeok and his colleagues must prevent another nuclear disaster. ‘Pandora’ is not only a thrilling movie but also an emotional one, thanks to the script. With good visual effects and decent cinematography, director Jong-woo Park delivers a tear-jerking story with a sense of reality. Feel free to check out the movie here.
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11. Steel Rain (2017)
‘Steel Rain’ begins with Eom Chul-woo, a soldier of the North Korean Special Forces, who has defected to South Korea along with another very important yet unconscious man. Eom then meets up with Cheol-woo, the Chief of Foreign Security, and together, they must resolve to prevent the imminent Korean war, which might involve the use of nuclear weapons. ‘Steel Rain’ is an electrifying affair, with moments of grief, action, adrenaline rush, and suspense that have been carried throughout the film. Watch it before it is taken down by Netflix. You can check it out here.
10. Okja (2017)
A South Korean-American co-production, ‘Okja‘ is a film by the acclaimed director Bong Joon-Ho, and it can be said to be his only children-friendly film to date. The story of ‘Okja’ centers around the story of a pig that has been genetically engineered to be of massive size and to produce pork of the finest quality. Many such pigs were distributed by a company all over the world to farmers, and the one that turned out to be the best of the lot was the eponymous pig, Okja. Now, when the company takes Okja away, her owner, a little girl called Mija, decides to follow them and rescue Okja from being slaughtered. This takes Mija from her small village to Seoul and from there to the United States. A highly entertaining watch, ‘Okja’ is something completely different from what we have come to associate Bong Joon-Ho with. The film is smartly written, has moments of brilliance, and boasts of some rather fine performances. You can watch it here.
9. Sweet and Sour (2021)
‘Sweet and Sour’ is an incredible romantic drama film that is sure to tug at one’s heartstrings. Primarily revolving around Jang-hyuk, the movie portrays how he falls in love with Da-Eun, a nurse at the hospital where he was treated for Hepatitis B. Soon, their relationship blossoms, and the couple starts living together. However, with Jang-hyuk landing a job in a different city, the long commute begins, posing problems for their relationship. Besides, Jang-hyuk starts developing feelings for one of his co-workers, leading to more strife. The rest of the film then documents Da-Eun and Jang-hyuk’s journey as they try to iron out the issues, only for a massive twist in the end. You may watch it here.
8. The Chase (2017)
Featuring the best old man headbutt, some hilarious black humor, and several really slow foot chases, ‘The Chase’ seems to be ironically named. It is a comedy-thriller murder mystery film about two old men – a moody homeowner and a washed-up detective – who are trying to solve a murder mystery from 30 years ago and catch a serial killer in the present who has been killing elderly folk in a small town. ‘The Chase’ is directed by Kim Hong-sun and stars veteran actors Sung Dong-il and Yun-Shik Baek. The first half of the movie focuses on setting up the premise and is mostly light-hearted, with some scenes a little slow, but the film paces up in the second half, and ultimately, it lives up to its thriller categorization. You may watch ‘The Chase’ here.
7. The 8th Night (2021)
A hair-raising mystery-thriller film, ‘The 8th Night’, talks about how the Buddha stopped a monster about two and a half millennia ago after tearing out its black and red eye. He then keeps the eyes separately, hoping they will never reunite. However, a professor determined to prove the myth as real reawakens the red-eye thousands of years later. Fearing the worst, the protector of the casket tasks monk Chung-Seok with finding construction worker Park Jin-soo to stop the eye in its tracks. Detective Kim Ho-Tae joins the two in their task as he, too, is determined to stop the trail of murders and destruction the eye leaves in its wake. Moreover, the movie reveals that the eye just needs to find the Virgin Shaman to reach humanity and awaken the monster. Thus, with time being of the essence, the stage is set for an epic showdown between the forces of good and evil. If you want to witness that, you can stream the film here.
6. Tune In For Love (2019)
‘Tune In For Love’ is a sweet, heartfelt love story between a kind, straight-laced woman and a reticent man with a dark past. They first meet as teenagers when the boy, fresh out of juvie, gets a job at the girl’s family’s bakery. The duo forms an instant connection but is tragically separated until fate brings them together again years later. Now in their late twenties, the two begin dating, but problems arise when he is not very forthcoming about his past, and she just wants to know him better. In the end, though, love does conquer all and reigns supreme. Slow at times but mostly engaging, Kim Go-Eun and Jung Hae-in display great chemistry as the lead couple and look like they truly belong together. You can stream ‘Tune In For Love’ here.
5. Forgotten (2017)
A family of four — brothers Jin-Seok and Yoo-Seok, mother Na Young-Hee, and father Moon Sung-Geun — have moved into a new house. Jin-Seok is generally frail, hypersensitive, and is on medication. Jin-Seok is the eyewitness of the kidnap of his older brother Yoo-Seok, who has been taken by a few men in a van. A few days later, when Yoo-Seok returns, he seemingly doesn’t remember anything about the place, what transpired in the past few days, or how he was kidnapped. Sensing a change in his brother’s behavior, Jin-Seok concludes that the man who’s claiming to be Yoo-Seok is not who he is. An intense, chilling thriller; we suggest you watch it right here.
4. Time To Hunt (2020)
‘Time To Hunt’ is a high-octane Netflix Original crime thriller set in a dystopian world. In poverty-stricken South Korea, four friends pull off a reckless heist to escape their dire financial straits but, in doing so, get themselves on the radar of a ruthless assassin who will stop at nothing to hunt them all down. Intense action sequences, emotionally driven drama, bromance, thrilling car chases – this movie has it all. Overall, it was a sincere and successful attempt at making something vaguely “Fast and Furious-Esque.” You can stream it here.
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3. Space Sweepers (2021)
Set in the year 2092, the film follows four space travelers as they travel far and wide in their quest to find exotic space debris. Their luck suddenly changes when, after recovering a crashed space shuttle, they look inside only to find what seems to be a small 7-year-old girl human girl. Nevertheless, they soon realize that the girl is a humanoid robot and an incredibly valuable one at that. Furthermore, with the UTS Space Guards showing an interest in the robot, the space travelers decide to take the opportunity and demand a ransom in exchange. However, the trade doesn’t go according to plan, and the four friends end up uncovering explosive secrets that are sure to change their lives for good! You can watch the movie here.
2. #Alive (2020)
People who are sick of being cooped up in their homes during the months-long quarantine will relate to this zombie siege film that’s reminiscent of ‘Train To Busan.’ ‘#Alive’ is a thrilling survival drama featuring a lone gamer stuck in his house with no food, no weapons, not many resources, and a horde of hungry zombies surrounding his building, almost kicking down his front door. He is digitally cut off and has no way of surviving unless he gets creative. The best thing about Korean zombie movies is that their zombies are not the slow, mindless creatures of ‘The Walking Dead,’ but extremely fast, vicious, and scary (like in ‘Train To Busan’ and the Netflix show ‘Kingdom’). Starring the talents of Yoo Ah-in and Park Shin-Hye, ‘#Alive’ will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. Feel free to check out the movie here.
1. Oldboy (2003)
A cult classic from director Park Chan-wook, this action thriller stars Choi Min-sik as Oh Dae-su, who is kidnapped and held in a windowless room for 15 years, after which he is released. For all these years, he was only fed and sedated so as to prevent him from killing himself. But now that he is out, with only a phone and some money, he is bent on finding out his anonymous captors, no matter how much he has to dig up from his past. His wife has been murdered, and his daughter was adopted after the news of his kidnapping spread. All that remains now is for him to find the culprit. Will he be able to? Watch ‘Oldboy’ here to find out.
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