Last Updated on
Grab your popcorn and your favorite drink—studying Korean just got way more fun!
Thanks to Korean movies, you’ll have way more motivation and rewards when studying Korean.
We’ll tell you about some of the best South Korean movies for learning Korean so you can have fun and learn a thing or two with your next film!
- 1 Best Korean Movies for Studying Korean
- 2 Best Korean Historical Movies
- 3 Best Korean Action Movies
- 4 Best Korean Romantic-Comedy Movies
- 5 Best Korean Suspense-Thriller Movies
- 6 Best Korean Dramatic Movies
- 7 How to Watch a Korean Movie
Korean study doesn’t have to be serious and formal all the time. It’s helpful to mix it up by studying with some great 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 learning the language ,much more interesting.
Not everyone learns the same way, either. For some Korean learners, it’s easier to pick up the language hearing it spoken casually rather than reading it from a textbook. And if it means you can have fun AND learn at the same time – what’s not to love about that?
Best Korean Movies for Studying Korean
The best Korean movies are not always the best movies for studying Korean. You may need to compromise your artistic integrity a bit and watch a few low-brow Korean films if you want to understand better without subtitles.
The best movies for studying Korean won’t feature very complex conversations or plots. Casual conversations are fantastic for learners to listen to when first starting out. Over time, you’ll be able to watch even complex Korean movies without subtitles with ease.
It’s a good idea to avoid older movies as the language used in them is very different from modern Korean. Conversational Korean as we know it today has evolved over time. Korean films are also often fast-paced, so be prepared to watch a movie (or parts of it) multiple times in order to follow what’s happening. That way, you’ll have time to really understand each part of the conversation and get the most out of your studies.
Now without further ado, here is the best South Korean cinema for studying Korean!
Best Korean Historical Movies
History fans are going to have a blast with this list. Here are the best Korean movies related to history.
Silmido (실미도 | 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 South Korean film that had been made to that point. It helped cause the government to publicly acknowledge the events that occurred on Silmido and compensate the families of the victims.
For a film to have that much real-world impact, you know it has to be good. Check out Silmido and decide for yourself if you consider it to be one of the best Korean movies (and pick up a couple of Korean phrases while you’re at it).
The Admiral (명량 | 2014)
Want to mix in a bit of the Korean history along with your movie-related language studies? Then The Admiral may be the film for you! Known as 명량 (myeong ryang) in Korean, this film depicts what happened during the Battle of Myeongnyang at the end of the 16th century.
If you like naval battles, then this is the movie for you!
The Admiral gained a great deal of attention because it recorded over ten million views in only a couple of days, which was the quickest that any film had gained that type of viewership in such a short period of time.
The movie also became the most-viewed film 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 defeated 330 Japanese ships 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 film that will capture your attention and won’t let go until the credits are rolling.
This is a great movie to check out if you want to learn about Korean language and history at the same time. You can kill two birds with one stone in the short span of a two-hour film!
Check this film out and you’ll realize very quickly why it’s one of the most viewed movies in the world.
A Taxi Driver (택시운전사 | 2017)
Aside from the events in Joseon era, Korean historical movies also discuss contemporary events. So if you want to be entertained but learn something at the same time, A Taxi Driver is the film to see.
This movie highlights the life of a widowed man working in Seoul as a taxi driver. One day, he gets a foreign client who plans to go to Gwangju for a day trip. The client is a foreign journalist who wants to know and report about the civil unrest in Gwangju.
The film was set during the time when strict censorship was imposed by the government. A series of events led to what is known as the Gwangju democratic movement. What starts as a pretty simple plot becomes much more interesting with some civil unrest thrown into the mix!
The Battleship Island (군함도 | 2017)
Another contemporary historical film released in 2017, the Battleship Island starring So Jisub and Song Joongki, garnered much attention from Korean moviegoers.
The story covers the forced labor imposed by Japanese companies on Koreans during the Japanese occupation of Korea. The laborers were brought to an island called Hashima and they were forced to work beyond their limit without pay.
It’s an emotional story, and an important one for understanding a bit more about Korea-Japan relations.
Best Korean Action Movies
Here are the top Korean films in the action genre.
Chingu (친구 | 2001)
As most Korean lessons and textbooks teach the language as it is spoken in Seoul, people interested in learning the Busan dialect could find Chingu useful. This film 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.
The Good, The Bad, The Weird (좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈 | 2008)
Kim Jee-Woon’s 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 film.
It follows three characters (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’.
Haeundae (해운대 | 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 it 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 disaster movies then this will definitely be a good fit for you.
Throw on Haeundae the next time you want to practice your language skills but don’t want to pay a ton of attention to what’s going on in the story.
The Thieves (도둑들 | 2012)
The Thieves is a standard heist movie similar to the Ocean’s Eleven franchise. As the plot is quite obvious, it is easy to follow, but that’s not to say it’s not fun to watch. You can focus on the language they use and still enjoy it.
The film 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 check out a movie that’s equal parts fun, interesting, and easy to understand.
Best Korean Romantic-Comedy Movies
These are the best Korean movies in the romantic-comedy genre.
My Sassy Girl (엽기적인 그녀 | 2001)
My Sassy Girl is a Korean classic. Although it is not easy to follow, it does involve situations that might actually be applicable to real life (such as helping someone who has drunk too much soju).
If you were unfortunate enough to watch the terrible Hollywood remake of this film, 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 film 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 film progresses as these two enter into a volatile relationship together.
The film (and their relationship) takes twists and turns that you can’t imagine, and all in all, it’s a classic for good reason. You really fall in love with the two main characters and all of their quirks, which makes watching the movie tons of fun.
Check this film out 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.
You may even learn a phrase or two that’ll be useful for your next relationship.
Highway Star (복면달호 | 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 film would win it!
Kim Sang-chan and Kim Hyun-su’s 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 BTS or Big Bang.
Two Faces of My Girlfriend (두 얼굴의 여친 | 2007)
If you’re looking for something a little less political or action-packed and a little more light-hearted, Lee Seok-hoon’s Two Faces of My Girlfriend is the perfect movie for you! This film is all about serendipity and fate with a bunch of humor added in.
A man who has never had much 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 film, 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 tons of fun and features a cast of lovable characters, so you’re bound to have a great time.
Castaway on the Moon (김씨 표류기 | 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 film feels very philosophical and makes 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 film and do a little soul-searching while you learn something new about the Korean language!
On Your Wedding Day (너의 결혼식 | 2018)
A funny and cute film as described by many is a story of 2 people who met in high school.
The female character is a new kid on the block and as soon as the male character laid his eyes on her, he immediately fell in love with her. They begin their relationship by pretending to be dating but eventually turn it into something real.
If you are looking for a story that will take you back to your younger days when you first felt love then this movie is for you. But Korean romance films are famous for their shocking twists and emotional drama, so be prepared for it.
Best Korean Suspense-Thriller Movies
Grab your popcorn and your favorite drink, because you’re about to watch the best Korean movies in the suspense-thriller genre.
Joint Security Area (공동경비구역 JSA | 2000)
Joint Security Area (or JSA) is a film 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 piece together what exactly happened before war breaks out.
The action and the twists and turns of the plot in 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 film is also great if you’re interested in the relationship between North and South Korea – and really, who isn’t? You’ll get a fair share of listening practice for the North Korean dialect.
Add Joint Security Area to your must-watch list and let us know what you think!
Oldboy (올드보이 | 2003)
The year 2003 was a big year for Korean filmmaking, and Park Chan-Wook’s Oldboy had a lot to do with it!
Revenge is a big genre when it comes to Korean films 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.
Even if you need to watch this film 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 film.
The ending will be something that you talk about for days or even weeks after.
The Host (괴물 | 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 South Korea when it was released, winning multiple awards to boot.
This film was written and directed by Bong Joon-Ho. He’s a famous South Koren film director and screenwriter, known for other films such as “Okja” and “Snowpiercer”.
The movie’s premise is that chemicals dumped into a major river in Seoul result in a gigantic mutant monster. This creature is the source of much death and destruction throughout the film, so there’s some violence, but there’s also a ton of drama and emotion (as well as some humor) that brings the film together and makes it a lot of fun to watch.
The characters will make you feel a lot over the course of the movie. Rhe 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 film.
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 film for your next Korean study session.
The Man From Nowhere (아저씨 | 2010)
If you’re a fan of action movies and thrillers that will keep you on the edge of your seat, definitely add Lee Jeong-beom’s The Man From Nowhere to the list of movies you plan on watching.
It has all the elements of a great action film — a pawnshop owner who also happens to be an ex-black ops fighter who’s tough on the outside but has a heart of gold, a revenge rampage, and a sweet little girl who is kidnapped early on in the film. 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 film 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 film for.
This film 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.
The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion (마녀 | 2018)
If you are into revenge thriller movies, this film is a must watch. It is considered to be one of the top Korean film in 2018 with great cast and quality of acting.
The story revolves around a girl who escaped from a government organization who is in the process of creating children to be highly skilled assassins. As she escaped the organization, she tried to live her life normally together with her adoptive parents. However, she didn’t know that she was being hunted by the organization so they can kill her.
The movie landed 1st place in its opening week. Kim Dami who plays the lead character in the film won the best actress and best new actress from different award-giving bodies in Korea.
Best Korean Dramatic Movies
Love drama? Here are the best Korean movies related to the drama genre.
Peppermint Candy (박하사탕 | 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, Lee Chang-dong’s Peppermint Candy begins with the climax of the plot, the suicide of the protagonist. That’s one way to get viewers invested in a film, right?
After the suicide, the film 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 film or you won’t particularly appreciate it. That being said, if you invest your attention you get a huge payoff when you finish the film. 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 film on if you want to think about life and what it all means — it’s a philosophical film for sure!
Oasis (오아시스 | 2002)
Break out the tissues — Oasis will give you all the feels when you watch it, but it’s one of those films that you feel better for watching after it’s over.
This film 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 film 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 film is a great film for learning Korean if you’re not a fan of action films and would prefer a movie that focuses on the interpersonal relationships of the characters. Because this film 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 film to watch on a quiet, rainy Sunday, pop this film on and dive deep into the lives of the characters. You’ll be glad that you did!
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (봄 여름 가을 겨울 그리고 봄 | 2003)
If you’re trying to watch films without subtitles for the very first time, this film 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 films. This allows it to be used as a gateway for you to get used to watching films 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 film 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 film on if you’re looking to watch a film 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!
It does have some very adult elements in it though, so you might be advised to put it on after the kids are asleep.
Bleak Night (파수꾼 | 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 to be answered before he can be at peace.
Through the lens of the father’s search for truth, the film 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 its 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 film 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.
How to Steal a Dog (개를 훔치는 완벽한 방법 | 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 top South Korean movie ever made, but it is useful for improving your language skills. 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 film 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 dialogue and practicing your comprehension skills. This is a great movie to watch if you’re beginning to venture into the world of watching Korean movies without subtitles.
Put this film 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.
Intimate Strangers (완벽한 타인 | 2018)
This film is a story about 4 boys who were friends from childhood and continued their friendship 30 years after. They get together one night at a housewarming party for their friend who is now a doctor. They all meet with their wives and decide to play a game in which all must share messages and calls they received that night.
This is an interesting film for seeing the multi-layered dynamics of Korean relationships. While the evening starts out fun and lighthearted, it gets more serious as the characters find they don’t know as much about each other as they thought.
How to Watch a Korean Movie
Watching some fine South Korean cinema 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. However, there are a couple of things you can do to set yourself up for success.
1st viewing: Skip the subtitles
Start off by watching the movie without subtitles. This will let you appreciate the film for what it is before diving into the language-learning portion.
South Korean cinema is great – much of it is packed with drama, humor, and action – so there’s plenty to absorb and appreciate.
2nd viewing: Turn on the subtitles
Start off with English subtitles for your next viewing. This will help you match English words to their spoken Korean counterparts.
Most learners have an easier time first reading the English translation and matching the subtitles to the Korean words, so give that a shot first.
3rd viewing: Turn on Korean subtitles
Watching the film 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. This can be extremely helpful as not all of the Korean you hear will be the word you expected it to be.
If you can’t read Hangeul yet it is possible to learn Hangeul in just ninety minutes, so what are you waiting for?
4th viewing: Turn off all subtitles
After you watch a film scene with English subtitles, try turning the subtitles off and watch 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 in the film 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 a film. Feel free to only follow these steps some of the time, or only for certain scenes or phrases you want to learn. They definitely take plenty of time and energy!
There are many other movies that can help you improve your Korean. These are just a few of our favorite picks.
Let us know in the comments below which movies we should add to this list, and which movies you think are the best South Korean movies for studying Korean!