Grab your popcorn and your favorite drink—studying Korean just got way more fun!
Korean study doesn’t have to be serious and formal. It’s quite helpful to mix it up by studying some Korean media. Many students enjoy studying Korean through music, tv dramas, and of course, movies! Not only will you get some excellent listening practice, but the movies will make you more excited about learning the language. Not everyone learns the same way, either – for some Korean learners, it’s easier to pick up the language hearing it spoken casually than reading it from a textbook. It also means you can have fun AND learn at the same time – what’s not to love about that?
The best Korean movies are not always the best movies for studying Korean. Therefore, you may need to compromise your artistic integrity a bit and watch more low-brow Korean movies if you are watching without subtitles. The best movies for studying Korean won’t feature very complex conversations, because simple, casual conversations are the best for learners to listen to at first – over time, you’ll be able to watch any Korean movie without subtitles with ease.
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It is also a good idea to avoid older movies as the language used in them is very different to modern Korean, because conversational Korean has evolved over time. As movies are often fast paced, be prepared to watch a movie (or parts of a movie) multiple times in order to follow it – that way, you’ll have the time to really try to understand each part of the conversation and get the most out of studying.
**These movies are in no particular order
Some Tips for Getting the Most out of Your Korean Movie Watching
Watching a movie with the intent of learning or practicing Korean is different from watching a movie for leisure. You’ll still have fun doing it, of course, but there are a couple of things you can do to set yourself up for success.
At first, skip the subtitles – do yourself a favor and start off by watching the movie without subtitles. This will let you appreciate the movie for what it is before diving into the language-learning portion. Korean movies are great – many of them have lots of drama, humor, and action – so there’s a lot to absorb and appreciate.
Then, turn on the subtitles – start off with English subtitles for your next viewing. This will help you match English words to the spoken Korean counterpart. Most learners have an easier time at first reading the English translation and matching the subtitles to the Korean words, so give that a shot first.
Then, turn on Korean subtitles – watching the movie in Hangeul, the Korean alphabet, adds another layer of studying to your viewing experience. Not only are you listening to the Korean words being spoken, you’re matching them to how they’re written in Hangeul as well. If you can’t read Hangeul yet it is possible to learn Hangeul in just ninety minutes, so what are you waiting for?
Then, turn off the subtitles – After you watch a scene with English subtitles, try turning the subtitles off and watching the scene without any subtitles at all. This will help you practice picking up on the words and phrases you’re now pretty familiar with without a visual aid. At this point, you should understand most (if not all) of the conversation with no help from subtitles. Yay!
Keep in mind, these steps are just recommendations for if you want to get the most out of the studying part of watching the movie. Feel free to only follow these steps some of the time, because they definitely take time and energy.
And now without further ado, here are some of the best Korean movies for studying the language!
Korean Movie #1: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (2003)
If you’re trying to watch movies without subtitles for the very first time, this movie is a great place to start! There is very little dialogue in Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring, so you’ll be able to understand much more of what is happening compared to most Korean movies. This allows it to be used as a gateway for you to get used to watching movies without subtitles.
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring follows the story of a young Buddhist monk and his master. We watch as the monk grows up and experiences life. This movie is often found on lists of recommended Korean movies and feels profound when you watch it. The monk’s journey is one that anyone can relate to, whether or not you’ve personally signed yourself up to spend the rest of your days in a Buddhist monastery. Put this movie on if you’re looking to watch a movie that will leave you with something to think about (in a good way) – this is one of those movie’s that’s hard to forget about!
Korean Movie #2: Castaway on the Moon (2009)
Castaway on the Moon is about a man whose failed suicide attempt leaves him stranded on a deserted island….in the middle of Seoul.
His isolation, and that of the young woman who spies on him from her apartment, attempts to convey the feeling of loneliness that can come from living in a big city such as Seoul. Even though living in a huge city means you’re surrounded by people on all sides, it can feel impossible to connect to the people around you. It’s a universal feeling, and it makes for a great movie!
This movie feels very philosophical and make you feel as if you have learned something about yourself as well as some Korean. You’ll especially love it if you’ve ever lived in a big city, because the story may feel familiar to you. Turn on this movie and do a little soul-searching while you learn something new about the Korean language!
Korean Movie #3: Oldboy (2003)
The year 2003 was a big year for Korean filmmaking, and Oldboy had a lot to do with it!
Even if you need to watch this movie with subtitles, it is definitely worth watching. This movie quickly became a hit around the world – the story is so interesting, cryptic, and convoluted that it’s hard not to be on the edge of your seat during the entire movie. The ending will be something that you talk about for days after finishing.
Revenge is a big genre when it comes to Korean movies and Oldboy is a classic of that genre. It follows the story of a man who has been imprisoned for fifteen years and then released. He only has five days to find out the reasons for his imprisonment. Will he figure it out in time? Will the knowledge he gains set him free? Find out all of these answers (and more) by watching Oldboy.
Korean Movie #4: Silmido (2003)
Silmido is based on the true story of Unit 684, a special unit recruited with the purpose of assassinating the North Korean leader Kim Il Sung. Unit 684 is sent to Silmido, an island near Incheon, for secret and extremely tough training.
When the movie was released, it was the highest grossing Korean film that had been made. It helped cause the government to publically acknowledge the events that occurred on Silmido and compensate the families of the victims. For a movie to have that much real-world impact, you know it has to be good. Check out Silmido and see what all the hype is about (and pick up a couple of Korean phrases while you’re at it).
Korean Movie #5: Chingu (2001)
As most Korean lessons and textbooks teach Korean as it is spoken in Seoul, people interested in learning the Busan dialect could find Chingu useful. This movie follows the lives of four friends living in Busan’s gangster underworld.
It starts when they are young children, and continues into their adult lives, so you’re definitely invested in their story by the time the movie’s over.
Korean Movie #6: Haeundae (2009)
Haeundae builds up the character’s stories slowly before washing them all away in a giant tsunami. As the tsunami is the plot twist (although the English title ‘Tidal Wave’ kind of gives this away), the movie is very easy to follow.
There are also a bunch of fun special effects as the tsunami is gaining force, so if you’re a fan of CGI and natural destruction this movie will definitely be a good fit for you. Throw on Haeundae the next time you want to practice your Korean but don’t want to pay a ton of attention to what’s going on on the screen.
Korean Movie #7: The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008)
The Good, The Bad, The Weird is a ‘Western’ movie that is very easy to follow and isn’t too fast paced for an action movie. It follows three Koreans (the titular good, bad, and weird) in the ‘Wild East’ of 1940’s Manchuria as they try to find some buried treasure whilst simultaneously avoiding the Japanese army. Lee Byung-Hun (GI Joe, Terminator Genisys) stars as ‘The Bad’.
Korean Movie #8: The Thieves (2012)
The Thieves is a standard heist movie similar to the Ocean’s Eleven franchise. As the plot is quite obvious, it is an easy movie to follow, but that’s not to say it’s not fun to watch. That means that you can focus on the language. The movie is set in Macau and follows a gang of thieves who have to steal a large diamond.
Rather obviously, things don’t go according to plan. Turn on The Thieves the next time you want to watch a movie that’s equal parts fun, interesting, and easy to understand.
Korean Movie #9: Highway Star (2007)
If there was an award for the best Korean movie for learning about the kind of music that ajummas listen to, then Highway Star movie would win it!
Highway Star follows the story of a rocker who has to sing ‘trot’ music in order to make ends meet. He wears a mask so that people don’t know that he is a massive sell-out. It is an amusing movie and can teach people not familiar with Korea about a type of music that is very different from Psy or Big Bang.
Korean Movie #10: My Sassy Girl (2001)
My Sassy Girl is Korean classic. Although it is not easy to follow, it does involve situations that might actually be applicable to real life (such as helping a Korean who has drunk too much soju).
If you were unfortunate enough to watch the terrible Hollywood remake of this movie, then don’t be put off. This film is much much better! The realness of the characters in this movie is really refreshing, and makes it stay with you a long time after you finish watching it.
The plot of this movie is a tale as old as time — it follows a male student who’s been down on his luck romantically. Fate thrusts this man and a random drunk girl together, and the movie progresses as these two enter into a volatile relationship together. The girl the movie is titled after is definitely a wild roller coaster ride of a girlfriend, but the protagonist takes it all on the chin and sticks it out with her (while laughing at her crazy antics). The movie (and their relationship) takes twists and turns that you can’t imagine, and all in all, it’s a classic for a reason. You really fall in love with the two main characters and all of their quirks, and it makes watching the movie a lot of fun.
Watch this movie if you’re a romantic at heart or if you’re currently not having an easy time in the romance department — it’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, and parts of it may hit closer to home than you’d like.
Korean Movie #11: How to Steal a Dog (2014)
As the two main characters in How to Steal a Dog are children, this light-hearted comedy is also quite easy to follow.
It may not be the best Korean movie ever made, but it is useful for improving your Korean. The plot follows a family that is bankrupt and lives out of a van. The girl mistakenly thinks that you can buy a house in Korea for five-hundred dollars (I wish!). She then tries to raise this amount by kidnapping a dog then returning it for the reward money.
This is a great movie to watch if you’d rather focus more on the Korean dialogue than the plot of the movie. Because the plot isn’t particularly engrossing, you won’t be swept up in any interpersonal relationships or action sequences — instead, you’ll be able to stay focused on understanding the Korean dialogue and practicing your Korean comprehension. As a result, this is a great movie to watch if you’re beginning to venture into the world of watching Korean movies without subtitles.
Put this movie on if you have a free afternoon that you want to devote to study Korean! It won’t get you all riled up or emotional (except for some laughs), so you’ll be able to get through the rest of your day without being distracted by tears in your eyes.
Korean Movie #12: The Admiral (2014)
Want to mix in a bit of Korean history along with your movie-related language studies? Then The Admiral may be the movie for you! Known as 명량 in Korean, this film depicts what happened during the Battle of Myeongnyang at the end of the 16th century. If you like boats and battles, then this is the movie for you!
The Admiral gained a lot of attention because it recorded over ten million views in only a couple of days, which was the quickest that any movie had gained that type of viewership in such a short period of time. The movie also became the most-viewed movie in Korea right after Avatar had snatched up that title, so it’s widely acknowledged that the movie is worth watching!
The plot focuses on the historic 1957 battle, in which admiral Yi Sun-sin beat 330 Japanese ships that were invading Korean territory with only twelve ships of his own. It is definitely an underdog story full of action, and even though you know how it ends, it’s a movie that will capture your attention and won’t let go until the credits are rolling.
This is a great movie to watch if you want to learn about Korean history and the Korean language at the same time — you can kill two birds with one stone in the short span of a two hour movie! Check this movie out and you’ll realize very quickly why it’s one of the most viewed movies in the world.
Korean Movie #13: The Host (2006)
The Host is a lot of fun to watch, but it is not the movie for you if you’re looking for something light-hearted to brighten your day. “The Host” is sci-fi at its best, and it was a huge box-office hit in Korea when it was released and won a bunch of awards to boot.
The movie’s premise is that formaldehyde is dumped into a major river in Seoul, and a gigantic mutant monster is the end result. This creature is the source of much death and destruction throughout the movie, so there’s some violence, but there’s also a ton of drama and emotion (as well as some humor) that brings the movie together and makes it a lot of fun to watch. The main characters will make you feel a lot over the course of the movie – the main character is a father that needs to face his fear of the monster to bring his daughter back to safety, so of course you’re on edge the entire movie.
If you’re a fan of action movies and you don’t mind getting emotionally invested in cool characters, then The Host is the perfect movie for your next Korean study session.
Korean Movie #14: Joint Security Area (2000)
Joint Security Area (or JSA) is a movie by the critically-acclaimed director of Oldboy, and there’s a lot to love about it. This movie has a little bit of everything – war, action, political tension, and plenty of mystery and great cinematography.
The setting is the border between North and South Korea, and the plot follows the investigation of a potential war crime that could blow up and destroy the peace agreements between North and South Korea. A man returns to the South Korea side of the border leaving two dead North Korean soldiers on the opposite side, and a neutral third party investigator is called in to try to tease apart what exactly happened before chaos breaks loose.
The action and the twists and turns in the plot of Joint Security Area will ensure that although you’re studying, you’ll still be having a ton of fun in the process (and anything you learn will definitely stick with you). This movie is also great if you’re interested in the relationship between North and South Korea – and really, who isn’t? Add Joint Security Area to your must-watch list and let us know what you think!
Korean Movie #15: Two Faces of My Girlfriend (2007)
If you’re looking for something a little less political or sci-fi and a little more light-hearted, Two Faces of My Girlfriend is the perfect movie for you! This movie is all about serendipity and fate with a bunch of humor added in – a man who has never had a lot of luck with women finds a wallet, and he sets out to find its owner. The owner is a beautiful, sweet woman named Ani that the main character begins a relationship with.
Throughout the course of the movie, it becomes clear that Ani isn’t as perfect as she seems – she has a unique case of Split Personality Disorder, so the main character is dating Ani as well as her aggressive, hysterical counterpart. Hello, drama!
If you’re looking to get a few laughs in alongside you next Korean lesson, put this movie on and enjoy yourself. It’s a lot of fun and features a cast of lovable characters, so you’re bound to have a great time.
Korean Movie #16: The Man From Nowhere (2010)
If you’re a fan of action movies and thrillers that will keep you on the edge of your seat, definitely add The Man From Nowhere to the list of movies you plan on watching. It has all the elements of a great action movie — a pawnshop owner who also happens to be an ex-black ops fighter who’s tough on the outside but empathetic on the inside, a revenge rampage, and a sweet little girl who is kidnapped early on in the movie. This movie will keep you guessing, and as soon as you think you’ve figured it out it’ll throw another surprise your way!
Although this movie is primarily a crime-based thriller full of tough language and necessary violence, there are also very sweet elements that will make even the most stoic viewers tear up. The end especially will tug at your heartstrings, and is worth sitting through the rest of the movie for.
This movie is great for learning Korean in part because the plot is so interesting — it’ll keep you invested in the movie, and you’ll want to figure out what characters are saying so that you can better follow the story. There are a lot of short, terse questions and answers that should be easy for intermediate learners to understand without subtitles, but you’ll want to keep the subtitles on for some of the faster paced scenes because it can be a little difficult to pick up on the fast-paced dialogue.
Korean Movie #17: Oasis (2002)
Break out the tissues — Oasis will make you feel a million feelings when you watch it, but it’s one of those movies that you feel better for watching in some way after it’s over. This movie follows the story of a mentally challenged man who was convicted in a hit and run case in which a man was killed. After the convicted man is released from prison, he begins a complicated relationship with a young woman with cerebral palsy (who also happens to be the daughter of the man killed in the hit and run accident).
With all of these interwoven dramatic elements, there are bound to be tears! That being said, for a heart-wrenching movie, there are numerous delicately beautiful moments that make the movie a gem. The relationship between the two main characters, while full of adversity and heartache, is achingly beautiful and will stay with you for a while after the film is over.
This movie is a great movie for learning Korean if you’re not a fan of action movies and would prefer a movie that focuses on the interpersonal relationships of the characters. Because this movie is so relationship-based, there’s a lot of dialogue so you’ll be able to practice picking up on conversational exchanges. If you’re searching for a movie to watch on a quiet, rainy Sunday, pop this movie on and dive deep into the lives of the characters. You’ll be glad that you did!
Korean Movie #18: Bleak Night (2010)
Bleak Night is one of those high school movies that will feel eerily reminiscent of parts of your own high school experience. The movie’s plot picks up in the aftermath of a tragedy — a high school student is dead, and in the months following his death his father still wants closure and has questions that he needs answered before he can be at peace.
Through the lens of the father’s search for truth, the movie also follows what becomes of the dead son’s group of high school friends. Relationships become strained and the mystery of the death begins to takes it toll on this group of high schoolers as they grapple with mortality for the first time in their young lives.
As you begin to piece more and more together about the mysterious circumstances of the death, you’ll also see flashbacks to the events that transpired immediately before the death occurred, which are full of a slightly nostalgic high school overtone that will stay with you after the movie is over.
This movie is great to watch if you’re learning Korean because the dialogue between the characters can be a bit repetitive between the flashbacks and the present day timeline, so if you don’t pick up on something the first time around there’s a chance that it’ll be repeated. The mystery alone is worth watching the movie for, so it’ll definitely keep you intrigued and guessing until you get to the end.
Korean Movie #19: Peppermint Candy (1999)
Ah, Peppermint Candy. How can we possibly list all of the reasons that we love this movie? One of the more artsy movies on this list, Peppermint Candy begins with the climax of the plot, the suicide of the protagonist. That’s one way to get viewers invested in a movie, right?
After the suicide, the movie progresses with flashbacks moving further and further back into the main character’s life, and at the end of the movie the final flashback brings it all together and reveals why he killed himself. It takes a little bit to figure out how to follow the reverse chronological order of the flashbacks, so you have to pay attention when you’re watching this movie or you won’t particularly appreciate it. That being said, if you invest your attention you get a huge payoff when you finish the movie. The ending is really something!
This movie will definitely make you think and reflect on your own life once it’s over and done with, so if you’re not in a particularly reflective mood it might be too heavy for you. It’s great for learning Korean because the dialogue is really deliberate — the director wrote the script in a way that each sentence is there for a reason, so it’s easy to hang onto every word. Put this movie on if you want to think about life and what it all menas — it’s a philosophical movie for sure!
There are many other movies that can help you improve your Korean. Let us know in the comments below which movies we have missed, and which movies you think are the best Korean movies for studying Korean!