Korean Movies

Korean Movies – Your Dream Guide to the Most Popular Films

South Korean movies sprung to global popularity through the success of Parasite (기생충 ㅣ gisaengchung), the Oscar-winning thriller and black comedy movie from 2019. However, cinema in Korea has already been a hugely successful industry for decades within Korea, even before Korean pop culture gained popularity worldwide.

A hand holding a clapperboard and a text that says Korean Movies

In this article, we wish to give you an overview of the history of movies in Korea and introduce you to some of the films that have been the most popular among South Korean audiences. Do you think you already know which movies they are?

Best Korean Movies of All Time

Parasite by Bong Joon Ho is one of the highest-grossing films in South Korean cinema. But did you know that it isn’t even at the top of these films? Of course, the movie’s massive success makes it the highest-grossing South Korean movie when all the worldwide ticket sales are accounted for.

However, Parasite ranks number 19 in Korea. This means that there are more films of similarly excellent quality in Korea. Here are a few:

1. The Admiral: Roaring Currents (명량 | myeongnyang) 2014

2. Extreme Job (극한직업ㅣgeukanjigeop) 2019

3. Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds (신과함께 – 죄와 벌ㅣsingwahamkke – joewa beol) 2017

4. Ode to My Father (국제시장ㅣgukjesijang) 2014

5. Veteran (베테랑ㅣbeterang) 2015

6. The Thieves (도둑들ㅣdodukdeul) 2012

7. Miracle in Cell No. 7 (7번방의 선물ㅣ7beonbangui seonmul) 2013

8. Assassination (암살 amsal) 2015

9. Masquerade (광해, 왕이 된 남자 gwanghae, wangi doen namja) 2012

10. King and the Clown (왕의 남자ㅣwangui namja) 2005

Scenes from Train to Busan, Miracle in Cell No. 7, My Sassy Girl, and Roaring Currents
Photo credit: https://latimes.com; https://filmlinc.org; https://variety.com; https://soompi.com

We also have a list of some of the best Korean movies for learning Korean. It can be especially significant to explore when you want to find movies to watch to learn the language!

List of South Korean Movies

Below are lists of different Korean movies categorized per genre. You’ll also learn new Korean vocabulary as we go through each genre!

Korean Thriller Movies

South Korea is known for creating the best Korean movies in the horror film or thriller genre. The perfect example is the movie Parasite, which is a story revolving around the poor Kim family who planned to infiltrate the home of the wealthy Park family as employers. This movie was also recognized as the first South Korean film and the first non-English language film to win Best Picture.

“Thriller movie” in Korean

The word for “thriller movie” in Korean is 스릴러 영화 (seurilleo yeonghwa).

While the Korean word for “horror movie” is 공포 영화 (gongpo yeonghwa).

Best Korean Thriller movies

These films are known for their excellent plot and unexpected twists throughout the movie. If you’re a fan of mystery thriller movies with a serial killer, zombies apocalypse, or ghosts, these are the best Korean movies that you should watch!

The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion (마녀 | manyeo) 2018

Director: Park Hoon Jung

Cast: Kim Dami, Jo Min Soo, Choi Woo Sik

If you are into revenge thriller movies, this movie by Korean director Park Hoon Jung is a must-watch. It is considered one of the top films in South Korea in 2018, with a great cast and acting quality.

A four-panel movie poster of The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion with a man, woman, girl and guy

It tells a story of a young girl who escaped from a government organization creating children to be highly skilled assassins. As she escaped the organization, she tried to live her life normally as a teenage girl together with her adoptive parents. However, she didn’t know that the organization was hunting her so they could kill her. 

The movie landed 1st place in its opening week. Kim Dami, the lead character in the movie, won best actress and best new actress from different award-giving bodies in Korea.

You may be able to find The Witch: Part 1 on VIU.com or other streaming services, depending on your location.

Other Thriller/Horror movies:

  • Lady Vengeance

Korean War Movies

War films in South Korea generally focus on periods when the Korean peninsula is vulnerable to Chinese and Japanese attacks.

“War movie” in Korean

Korean movies in the war genre are called 전쟁 영화 (jeonjaeng yeonghwa) in Korean.

Best Korean War Movies

These types of films are popular, with many viewers able to personally relate to the story somehow. These are the top Korean movies in this genre.

The Battleship Island (군함도 | gunhamdo) 2017

Director: Ryoo Seung Wan

Cast: Hwang Jung Min , So Ji Sub, Song Joong Ki

Another contemporary historical movie released in 2017, The Battleship Island starring So Ji Sub and Song Joong Ki, garnered much attention from moviegoers.

Movie poster of The Battleship Island

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 were forced to work beyond their limits without pay.

It’s an emotional story and an important one for understanding a bit more about Korea-Japan relations.

You may be able to find The Battleship Island for streaming or download on Amazon.com (depending on your region).

Other War movies:

  • Tae Guk Gi

Korean Dramatic Movies

Drama movies will surely impact you in one way or another. This genre usually leans towards a more serious side and is often realistic.

Best Korean Dramatic Movies

Love drama? You’ll be able to find the best Korean movies related to the drama genre here.

Peppermint Candy (박하사탕 | bakasatang) 1999

Director: Lee Chang Dong

Cast: Sol Kyung Gu, Kim Yeo Jin, Moon  So Ri

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 by Lee Chang Dong, begins with the plot’s climax, the suicide of the protagonist. That’s one way to get viewers invested in a film, right?

After the suicide, the South Korean 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.

Movie poster of Peppermint Candy with a guy screaming and running

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 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.

Put this film on if you want to think about life and what it all means — it’s a philosophical film for sure! This film is a classic masterpiece by Lee Chang Dong.

You may be able to find Peppermint Candy on Amazon.com, depending on your location.

Oasis (오아시스 | oasiseu) 2002

Director: Lee Chang Dong

Cast: Sol Kyung Gu, Moon  So Ri,  Ahn Nae Sang

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 about watching after it’s over.

This movie follows the story of a mentally challenged man 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).

Movie poster of Oasis with a kissing couple and a dove above them

With all of these interwoven dramatic elements, there are bound to be tears! That being said, for a heart-wrenching movie, numerous delicately beautiful moments make the film a gem. While full of adversity and heartache, the relationship between the two main characters is achingly beautiful and will stay with you for a while after the film is over.

This movie is great if you prefer a movie focusing on interpersonal relationships. 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 film to watch on a quiet, rainy Sunday, pop this movie on. You’ll be glad that you did!

You may be able to find Oasis on Vudu.com or other streaming services, depending on your location.

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (봄 여름 가을 겨울 그리고 봄 | bom yeoreum gaeul gyeoul geurigo bom) 2003

Director: Kim Ki Duk

Cast: Kim Ki Duk, Oh Yeong Su, Kim Jong Ho

If you’re trying to watch films without subtitles as a way of practicing your Korean skills, this movie is a great place to start! There is very little dialogue in this movie, so you’ll be able to understand much more of what is happening compared to most movies. This allows it to be used as a gateway for you to get used to watching popular Korean movies without subtitles.

Movie poster of Spring Summer Fall Winter Spring

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring is a movie directed and written by Kim Ki Duk set in a Korean wilderness. This follows a young Buddhist monk and his master. We watch as the monk grows up and experiences life and human nature. This movie is often found on lists of recommended 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 movies that’s hard to forget about!

It does have some very adult elements in it, though, so we might advise you to put it on after the kids are asleep.

You may be able to find this movie on Amazon.com and other streaming services.

Bleak Night (파수꾼 | pasukkun) 2010

Director: Yoon Sung Hyun

Cast: Lee Je Hoon, Park Jung Min, Seo Jun Yeong

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.

Movie poster of Bleak Night with three guys wearing suits

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 son’s death begins to take 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 the characters will repeat the dialogue.

The mystery alone is worth watching the movie for, so it’ll keep you intrigued and guessing until you get to the end.

You may be able to find Bleak Night on Amazon.com.

Intimate Strangers (완벽한 타인 | wanbyeokan tain) 2018

Director: J.Q. Lee

Cast: Yoo Hae Jin, Cho Jin Woong, Lee Seo Jin

This film is about four 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. 

Movie poster of Intimate Strangers with a group of seven people seated around a table

This is an interesting film for seeing the multi-layered dynamics of Korean relationships. While the evening starts as fun and light-hearted, it gets more serious as the characters find they don’t know as much about each other as they thought.

You may be able to find Intimate Strangers on Netflix.com, depending on your region.

Other Drama movies:

  • Secret Sunshine

Korean Action Movies

If you’re into action and adventure, action films in Korea are a must-watch. These films typically will have you on the edge of your seat. Frequently, a Korean action flicks would involve a secret agent, a police officer, and the bad guys caught up in a rumble that keeps your eyes glued on the screen.

“Action movie” in Korean

You can say “action movie” in Korean as 액션 영화 (aegsyeon yeonghwa).

Best Korean Action Movies

Here are the top Korean movies in the action genre.

Friend (친구 | chingu) 2001

Director: Kwak Kyung Taek

Cast: Yu Oh Seong, Jang Dong Gun, Seo Tae Hwa

If you’re interested in the Busan dialect, you could find Chingu helpful. This movie follows the lives of four friends living in Busan’s gangster underworld.

Movie Poster of Chingu with four guys wearing a high school uniform

It starts when they are young children and continues into their adult lives, so you’re invested in their story when the movie’s over.

You may be able to find Friend for download or streaming on Netflix.com (depending on your region).

The Good, The Bad, The Weird (좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈 | joeun nom, nappeun nom, isanghan nom) 2018

Director: Kim Jee Woon

Cast: Song Kang Ho, Lee Byung Hun, Jung Woo Sung

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 movie.

Movie Poster of Good Bad and the Weird with three men holding a gun

Kim Jee Won is known for his movies like I Saw the Devil (악마를 보았다). 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 while simultaneously avoiding the Japanese army. Byung Hun (GI Joe, Terminator Genisys) stars as “The Bad.”

You may be able to find The Good, The Bad, The Weird on Netflix.com for streaming or download, depending on your region.

Haeundae (해운대 | haeundae) 2009

Director: JK Youn

Cast: Ha Ji Won, Kim Yoo Jeong, Park Myeong Hoon

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.

Movie Poster of Haeundae showing a huge tsunami over a bridge

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 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.

You may be able to find Haeundae on Amazon.com for streaming or download.

The Thieves (도둑들 | dodukdeul) 2012

Director: Choi Dong Hoon

Cast: Kim Yoon Seok, Lee Jung Jae , Kim Hye Su, Kim Soo Hyun

The Thieves is a classic 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.

Movie Poster for the The Thieves with nine people walking forward

The film is set in Macau and follows a gang of thieves who 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, engaging, and easy to understand.

You may be able to find the Thieves on Netflix, depending on your location.

Other action movies:

  • A Bittersweet Life

Korean Comedy Movies

Korean comedy movies are often paired with another genre to give the movie a lighter mood if needed. Miracle in Cell No. 7 is an example of a film that will make you bawl your eyes out from crying and laughing. Even if the story is light, especially in genres like comedy, cinemas in Korea have their way of leaving an impact on their audience.

Best Korean Comedy Movies

Here are the Korean movies that belong to the comedy genre.

Highway Star (복면달호 | bongmyeondalho) 2007

Director: Kim Hyun Su, Kim Sang Chan

Cast: Cha Tae Hyun, Im Chae Moo, Lee So Yeon

If there were an award for the best movie for learning about the kind of music that ajummas listen to, then Highway Star movie would win it!

Movie Poster for the Highway Star with a guy smiling while holding a gold mask

Kim Sang Chan and Kim Hyun Su’s Highway Star follow the story of a rocker who has to sing “trot” music to make ends meet. He wears a mask so that people don’t know that he is a massive sell-out.

It is an entertaining movie and can teach people unfamiliar with South Korea about a type of music that is very different from BTS or Big Bang.

Two Faces of My Girlfriend (두 얼굴의 여친 | du eolgurui yeochin) 2007

Director: Lee Seok Hoon

Cast: Bong Tae Gyu, Kim Sa Hee, Jung Ryeo Won

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.

Movie Poster for the Two Faces of My Girlfriend with a guy being held by three women

A man who has never had much luck with women finds a wallet and sets out to find its owner. The owner is a beautiful, sweet woman named Ani, and the main character begins a relationship.

Throughout 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, play this movie and enjoy yourself. It’s tons of fun and features a loveable cast, so you’re bound to have a great time.

You may be able to find Two Faces of My Girlfriend at Amazon.com.

Castaway on the Moon (김씨 표류기 | gimssi pyoryugi) 2009

Director: Lee Hae Jun

Cast: Jeong Jae Yeong, Jung Ryeo Won, Park Yeong Seo

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 convey the feeling of loneliness that can come from living in a big city such as Seoul.

Movie Poster for the Castaway on the Moon with a bearded man running on water

Even though living in a huge city means people on all sides surround you, 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. You’ll especially love it if you’ve ever lived in a big city, because the story may feel familiar to you.

You may be able to find Castaway on the Moon at VIU.com.

Seoul Searching (김씨 표류기 | gimssi pyoryugi) 2015

Director: Lee Benson

Cast: Justin Chon, Jessika Van, Teo Yoo

Set in Seoul, in the year 1986, Seoul Searching is about high schoolers who have come to their homeland, Korea. They have grown up in different countries, which is why Korea is an entirely new world for them.

They joined a summer program by the Korean government to help them connect with their Korean heritage. However, the teens had different plans and spent the summer partying until they were out of control.

Movie Poster for the Seoul searching with six people facing forward
Photo credit: https://en.wikipedia.org

As crazy as it may already seem, these high schoolers managed to make new friends, develop romantic feelings, and even learn about their roots.

Korean Romantic Movies

This list, of course, would not be complete without romance films. Korea is known for Korean dramas, usually leaning toward a romantic storyline, the same goes for the movie.

These movies will either leave your heart full with their happy ending or empty with their heart-wrenching plot twists. Either way, you can’t deny that romance films from Korea are unpredictably good. A classic romantic comedy movie to watch is My Sassy Girl.

“Romantic movie” in Korean

There are two ways to say “romantic” in Korean which are 로맨틱한 (romantikhan) and 낭만적인 (nangmanjeokin).  You can then say “romantic movie” in Korean as either 로맨틱한 영화 (romantikhan yeonghwa) or 낭만적인 영화 (nangmanjeokin yeonghwa).

For “romantic comedy” in Korean, you can say it as 로맨틱 코미디 (romaentik komidi).

Best Korean Romantic Movies

The list won’t be complete without a love story and romance! Here are the best Korean movies for romance.

On Your Wedding Day (너의 결혼식 | neoui gyeolhonsik) 2018

Director: Lee Seok Geun

Cast: Park Bo Young, Kim Young Kwang, Kang Ki Young

A funny and cute film 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 falls in love with her. They begin their love story by pretending to be dating but eventually turn it into something real.

Movie Poster for On Your Wedding Day with a man and a woman smiling

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 romance films are famous for their shocking twists and emotional drama, so be prepared for it. 

You may be able to find On Your Wedding Day on Netflix.

My Sassy Girl (엽기적인 그녀 | yeopgijeogin geunyeo) 2001

Director: Kwak Jae Young

Cast: Cha Tae Hyun, Jun Ji Hyun, Kim In Mun

My Sassy Girl is a classic film. Although it is not easy to follow, it does involve situations that might apply to real-life in Korean society (such as helping someone who has drunk too much soju).

If you were unfortunate enough to watch the terrible Hollywood film remake of this movie, then don’t be put off. This film is much, much better!

Movie Poster for My Sassy Girl with the smiling girl who has her arm around a guy's neck

My Sassy Girl’s plot is a tale as old as time — it follows a male student who’s been down on his luck romantically. Fate thrusts this guy and a random young (and sassy) 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 a good reason.

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.

Watch My Sassy Girl right now! You may be able to find the movie on Amazon.com or Netflix.

Korean historical movies

Movies under the historical genre take place in the past. This genre can be very interesting as it showcases Korean culture and history the most.

“Historical movie” in Korean

The Korean word for “historical movie” is 역사적인 영화 (yeoksajeogin yeonghwa).

Best Korean Historical Movies

History fans are going to have a blast with this list. You’ll be able to find below the best films related to history.

Silmido (실미도 | silmido) 2003

Director: Kang Woo Suk

Cast: Ahn Sung Ki, Heo Joon Ho, Sol Kyung Gu

Silmido is based on the true story of Unit 684, A special unit that was recruited to assassinate the North Korean leader Kim Il Sung. Unit 684 is sent to Silmido, an island near Incheon, for secret and extremely tough training.

Movie Poster for Silmido with four wounded men

When the movie was released, it was the highest-grossing film that had been made to that point. It helped cause the government to publicly acknowledge the events that occurred in Silmido and compensate the victims’ families.

For a movie 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 phrases used in Korea while you’re at it).

You may be able to find Silmido at Amazon.com for rent or download (depending on your location)

The Admiral: Roaring Currents (명량 | myeongnyang) 2014

Director: Kim Han Min

Cast: Choi Min Sik, Ryu Seung Ryong, Cho Jin Woong

Want to mix in a bit of Korean history along with your movie-related language studies? Then The Admiral: Roaring Currents may be the film for you!  Known as 명량 (myeongnyang), this South Korean 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!

Movie Poster for Roaring Currents with an armored man

The Admiral: Roaring Currents 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 movie had gained that type of viewership in such a short period.

The movie also became the most-viewed movie in Korea right after Avatar 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 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 check out if you want to learn about the Korean language and history 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.

You may be able to find Admiral: Roaring Currents at Amazon.com for rent or download.

A Taxi Driver (택시운전사 | taeksiunjeonsa) 2017

Director: Hun Jang

Cast: Song Kang Ho, Thomas Kretschmann, Yoo Hae Jin

Aside from the events in the Joseon era, historical movies also discuss contemporary events. So if you want to be entertained but learn something simultaneously, A Taxi Driver is the movie to see.

Movie Poster for A Taxi Driver with a taxi driver inside his cab peeking outside

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 movie was set during a time when the Korean government imposed strict censorship. A series of events led to what is known as the Gwangju democratic movement. What starts as a pretty simple plot becomes more interesting with some civil unrest thrown into the mix!

You may be able to find A Taxi Driver on Viki.com for streaming or download, depending on your region.

Korean Genre-bending movies

These films are those which do not focus on one genre only. Instead, it highlights several genres in one film. A good example is the film “Burning” by Lee Chang Dong, starring Yoo Ah In and Steven Yeun. This movie covers psychological horror, mystery, thriller, and drama genres.

Another movie that falls under this category is Train to Busan by director Yeon Sang Ho starring Gong Yoo, which is one of the most famous zombie apocalypse movies. This tells the story of fighting zombies in a zombie apocalypse and surviving, making this horror, thriller, and action movie.

Best Korean genre-bending movies

We have also listed more movies under this genre below.

Joint Security Area (공동경비구역 JSA | gongdonggyeongbiguyeok JSA) 2000

Director: Park Chan Wook

Cast: Lee Young Ae, Lee Byung Hun

Park Chan Wook’s Joint Security Area (or JSA) is a war movie that you’ll definitely enjoy. This movie, directed by the critically-acclaimed director of Oldboy has a little bit of everything – war, action, political tension, plenty of mystery, and great cinematography.

The setting is the border between North Korea 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 Korean side of the border, leaving two dead North Korean soldiers on the opposite side. A neutral third-party investigator is called in to piece together what happened before the war breaks out.

Movie Poster for JSA with a woman and two men wearing military clothing

The action and the twists and turns of the plot in the 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 stick with you).

This movie is also great if you’re interested in North and South Korea’s relationship – 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, You may be able to find the movie at Vudu.com and other streaming services. Let us know what you think!

Oldboy (올드보이 | oldeuboi) 2003

Director: Park Chan Wook

Cast: Choi Min Sik, Yoo Ji Tae, Kang Hye Jeong

The year 2003 was a big year for South Korean filmmakers and filmmaking, and Park Chan Wook’s Oldboy had a lot to do with it!

Revenge is a big genre for films in Korea, and Oldboy is a classic of that genre. Director Park Chan Wook creates a story that’s unique and thrilling.

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.

Movie Poster for Korean movie Oldboy

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 film.

The ending will be something that you talk about for days or even weeks after.

You may be able to find Oldboy on Netflix, depending on your location.

The Host (괴물 | goemul) 2006

Director: Bong Joon Ho

Cast:  Song Kang Ho, Byun Hee bong , Park Hae-il

The Host is a “monster movie” that 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. Bong Joon Ho’s “The Host” is sci-fi at its best, and it was a huge box-office hit in Korea when it was released, winning multiple awards to boot.

Movie Poster for The Host with a monster emerging from the sea grabbing a girl

This monster movie was written and directed by Bong Joon Ho. Director Bong Joon Ho is a famous South Koren film director and screenwriter known for other films such as Okja and Snowpiercer and Memories of Murder.

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 movie, 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.

Starring Song Kang Ho, Byun Hee-bong, and Park Hae-il, this movie is a must-watch for great performances by the actors. 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.

You may be able to find this action-packed movie on Netflix, depending on your location.

The Man From Nowhere (아저씨 | ajeossi) 2010

Director: Lee Jeong Beom

Cast: Won Bin, Kim Sae Ron, Kim Tae Hoon

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 starring Won Bin to the list of movies you plan on watching.

It has all the elements of a great action film — it tells a story of 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 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!

Movie Poster for The Man from Nowhere with a man pointing a gun forward while holding a child

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.

There are many short, terse questions and answers that should be easy for intermediate learners to understand without subtitles. Still, 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.

You may be able to find this action-packed movie on Amazon.com, depending on your location.

The Drug King (마약왕 | Mayakwang) 2018

Director: Woo Min Ho

Cast: Song Kang Ho, Jo Jung Suk, Bae Doona

Drug King tells a story of a smuggler in Busan named Lee Doo Sam during the 1970s who works for a group that was involved in smuggling high-priced items. When their operation was suppressed, unfortunately, Lee Doo Sam was arrested and has been imprisoned.

Soon after he was released, he got into the business of manufacturing drugs. Eventually, he joins illegal drug trades that helped him rise to the top of the narcotics trade.

Movie Poster for The Drug King

Drug King is also inspired by a true story. It may be a mix of a crime, drama, and action film but some scenes won’t fail to make you laugh. If you want to watch Drug King, it’s available for streaming on Netflix.

How to say “movie” in Korean

Now, let’s learn some vocabulary related to movies. The Korean word for “movie” is 영화 (yeonghwa). You can watch movies in Korea in a cinema or by streaming them online.

“Movie theater” in Korean

The word for “movie theater” in Korean is 영화관 (yeonghwagwan). If you’ll be watching a movie in a South Korean theater, it’s essential to know this term.

“Movie director” in Korean

The Korean word for “movie director” is 영화 감독 (yeonghwa gamdok). You can also simply use the word for “director,” which is감독 (gamdok).

History of Korean Movies

Cinema in Korea is seen to have begun in 1945, just a few years before the Korean peninsula was split into two countries. The factors that have influenced the formation of cinema include the time Korea was under Japanese occupation, the Korean War, the business sector and globalization, the censorship by the government, and of course, Korea’s undergoing democratization.

Korean cinema theater with the text JK Film on the screen
Photo credit: https://soleno.co.kr

The Golden Age of Korean cinema has said to have been in the mid-1900s. During that time, some of the most highly acclaimed movies were produced. From the 1970s onward, the movie scene in Korea fell into a slump. It was revived again in the late 1990s, leading to this era of multiple high-grossing Korean films.

The globalization of South Korean cinema has also led many South Korean actors and actresses to try their luck with Hollywood films. Most prominently, Byung Hun has become a popular actor in Hollywood, while Park Chan Wook and Bong Joon Ho have filmed English language films, such as Snowpiercer.

These best Korean movies have been especially popular with Korean viewers due to the emotions they evoke in the audience. For example, The Admiral, Ode to My Father, Assassination, Masquerade, and The King and the Clown all have some basis in key periods of Korea’s history.

Meanwhile, Extreme Job, Veteran, and The Thieves are all masterfully made action-comedy movies. Along with the Gods: Two Worlds is a movie version of one of the most popular South Korean webtoons, and Miracle in Cell No. 7, starring Park Shin Hye, has a heartwarming story that is enough to melt any viewer’s heart.

The success of Korean films internationally

The best Korean movies are wildly different from the list of South Korea’s films that the world is most familiar with. Korean viewers enjoy stories that depict the country’s history, while the international audience seems to love action-packed thrillers of the present day.

Director Bong Joon Ho and Parasite cast
Photo credit: https://soompi.com

However, it has been relatively uncommon to find movies being shown in movie theaters internationally. Snowpiercer is a notable exception; however, that film is primarily spoken in English and features the Hollywood darling Chris Evans.

International interest rose through Hallyu Wave, which paved the way for directors, namely director Bong Joon Ho, Park Chan Wook, and Kim Jee Woon, to be recognized globally. With that said, despite Korean cinema still being relatively new to many audiences outside of East Asia, thanks to Parasite’s success, many upcoming films in Korea can be expected to gain international interest!

Where to find good Korean movies to watch

There are several sources from which you can watch Korean movies and TV series, including Netflix, which we will talk about further below. You may have some luck with sites like AsianCrush. If you are located outside of Europe, you may also really love using Tubi to get your movie fix.

Some older movies can be found on the Youtube channel for Korean Classic Film. Lastly, perhaps you can even start catching more of these films in Korean cinema!

Netflix on smart phone
Photo credit: https://bigstock.com

Best Korean Movies on Netflix

If you prefer watching Korean movies online, the major streaming platform, Netflix, has several popular movies for you to enjoy. Netflix gives you unlimited access to the highest-grossing films, including that from Korea. You can also find movies depending on your preference for the genre, cast, director, or the year it was released.

If you prefer movies starring Korean actresses like Kim Tae Ri, Kim Hye Ja, or Im Soo Jung, or perhaps movies by director Hong Sang Soo, then that’s also easy to do! They even pick out specific films based on the previous ones you’ve watched.

There are plenty of great films that you can watch online. Here are some of the award-winning ones and the best Korean movies on Netflix:

  • Along with the Gods – The Two Worlds
  • The Last Princess
  • Space Sweepers
  • King and the Clown
  • Burning
  • Snowpiercer
  • Night in Paradise
  • Train to Busan
  • Extreme Job
  • Kim Ji Young

Wrap Up

How many of the best Korean movies listed above have you seen? Have you ever watched any of these in a Korean theater? What about the internationally most popular ones? And what is your favorite film currently? You can start binge-watching these movies, and even snack on some Korean fried chicken or snacks while you’re at it! Of course, Korean dramas are also as good!

Check out our article on K-dramas to know more about them. Let us know in the comments what you think of these films from Korea and whether you love watching them as much as we do!

2 thoughts on “Korean Movies – Your Dream Guide to the Most Popular Films”

  1. Ive around 150 Korean Movies on DVD some are imported into the UK as they were not released here. I like the independent movies that probably didn’t even get a release in Korea let alone internationally.

    REC, White Night, The Journals of Musan and Boys of Tomorrow. Also films such as Attack The Gas Station, Daytime Drinking and Planet of Snail. Films that tell a meaningful story are the ones i like.

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