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 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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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!Find this helpful? Share with your friends. They'll thank you for it!