A number of great movies have come from the Asian continent. China always seems to have some new big blockbuster on the horizon and Japan never fails when it comes to this over-the-top and experimental of films from all genres. But we certainly can’t count out Korea as another top country in producing great entertainment. Aside from their prolific television dramas that have managed to have just as much international appeal as soap opera from Japan, if not more so, their films have also been rather stellar over the years, spawning all genres from freaky thrillers to brutal horror to even giant monster movies. Korean movies offer up a little bit of everything which is why we’re now going to showcase 15 must-watch movies you should certainly check out.
Train to Busan – IMDb: 7.5
A zombie outbreak can happen in the strangest places where you least expect it. As implied by the title, Train to Busan finds a collective of South Koreans dealing with the zombie apocalypse while on a train bound for Busan. Premiering at the Midnight Screenings section of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, the movie broke attendance records in South Korean cinema and marked an acting reunion for Gong Yoo and Jung Yu-mi.
Cast: Gong Yoo, Ma Dong-seok, Jung Yu-mi, Kim Su-an, Kim Eui-sung, Choi Woo-shi, Ahn So-hee
The Handmaiden – IMDb: 8.1
Park Chan-wook has a pretty beefy filmography if great drama and terror, which is why it’s saying a lot that his movie The Handmaiden may be his grand masterpiece. Based on the novel Fingersmith by Welsh writer Sarah Waters, the movie reworks the British tale for Japanese-ruled Korea where a Korean con man (Ha Jung-woo) conspires with an orphaned thief (Kim Tae-ri) to con a Japanese woman (Kim Min-hee) out of her wealth through seduction. The movie was met with massive critical praise since its debut at 2016 Cannes Film Festival and won the foreign movie award at the 71st British Academy Film Awards.
Cast: Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong
Oldboy – IMDb: 8.1
Easily the most strange, disturbing, and violent of Korean films, Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy is overflowing with style. The movie finds one unfortunate man trapped in a room for over a decade before being released onto the streets, struggling to make sense of the world around him. And his nightmarish journey will find him scaling rooftops, eating living sea creatures, and laying waste to a hallway of bad guys with little more than a hammer.
Cast: Choi Min-sik, Yoo Ji-tae, Kang Hye-jung
The Host – IMDb: 5.6
Director Bong Joon-ho certainly made a huge splash internationally when his giant monster movie The Host debuted in 2006. A mysterious monster has kidnapped a little girl and the father tries to rescue her while the monster runs amok of the city. A compelling movie from the early years of Joon-ho, the inspiration came from local news about a strange and deformed fish found in the Han River with a uniquely shaped spine. The movie not only became an international cult hit but would also win the award of Best Film at the Asian Film Awards and at the Blue Dragon Film Awards.
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Byun Hee-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doona, Go Ah-sung
I Saw The Devil – IMDb: 7.8
Kyung-chul (Min-sik Choi) is a taxi driver on a dark road who stumbles upon a scared woman with a broken-down car. But when Kyung-chul pulls over, he decides to do the exact opposite of helping her. And when the woman turns up dead in the river, her crestfallen fiancé, Kim Soo-hyeon (Byung-hun Lee), decides to take matters into his own hands with finding the killer. And given that Kim is a trained secret agent, you can bet that revenge is going to be brutal.
Cast: Lee Byung-hun, Choi Min-sik
The Wailing – IMDb: 7.4
A rural village is stricken with a series of violent murders and strange illnesses that sends shivers through the community. And it just so happens that all these deaths began when a mysterious stranger (Kunimura Jun) strolled on into town. The 2016 horror movie was nominated for a plethora of awards, ended being a big commercial success, and received a UK remake.
Cast: Kwak Do-won, Hwang Jung-min, Chun Woo-hee
Thirst – IMDb: 7.2
Sang-hyun, a Christian priest, volunteers to be infected by a virus destroying Africa in order to properly find a cure. But the virus gives him a huge hankering for two things: blood and sex. While he dines on blood at the hospital, he pursues a sexual affair with a married woman, Tae-ju, who isn’t very happy with her relationship. It’s not exactly the Christian way for a priest as the man struggles to grip onto his last remnants of humanity, morality, and faith.
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Kim Ok-bin, Kim Hae-sook, Shin Ha-kyun, Park In-hwan, Song Young-chang, Oh Dal-su
The Man From Nowhere – IMDb: 7.8
Won Bin plays a mysterious man who soon reveals himself to be a person capable of violent revenge when a little girl he has befriended is kidnapped. Written and directed by Lee Jeong-beom, this stellar action picture was one of South Korea’s highest-grossing films of 2010, holds a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and would receive many awards. It was also optioned for US and Indian remakes.
Cast: Won Bin, Kim Sae-ron
Lady Vengeance – IMDb: 7.6
For the last thirteen years, Lee Geum-ja (Lee Yeong-ae) was convicted of a murder she did not commit. After being released, she seeks revenge on those who wronged her. Her targets include a corrupt police officer and an untrustworthy teacher. But she’s not alone as she takes a slew of new comrades she made in prison with her on her quest for revenge. So successful was the movie with critics and awards that it would spawn two more films in what would become the iconic Vengeance trilogy.
Cast: Lee Young-ae, Choi Min-sik
The Good the Bad the Weird – IMDb: 7.3
Obviously inspired by the classic Western The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Kim Jee-woon’s action/western may be the most bombastic of Korean movie. The story takes place in 1930s’ Manchuria where a hunt for a treasure map is on with all sorts of crazy characters involved. Do-won is the good (a bounty hunter), Chang-yee the bad (a man with a bounty on his head), and Tae-goo is the weird (a thief thrown into the mix). Since its debut at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, the movie has become a bit of a cult hit over the years.
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, Jung Woo-sung
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring – IMDb: 8.1
Kim Ki-duk’s Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring is a visually stunning and stirring tale of human drama. The movie follows a Buddhist apprentice (Jae-kyeong Seo) who is mentored at a monastery in the wilderness. One day, an ill woman comes seeking help and during her stay, the young man finds himself more infatuated with the woman than his teachings. He soon follows her out of the wilderness and into a world he doesn’t quite understand.
A Bittersweet Life – IMDb: 7.6
Lee Byung-Hun plays a gangster who is assigned the task of murdering his mafia boss’s cheating girlfriend (Young-Chul Kim). But when he refuses to go through with his target, he starts a brutal feud that turns ugly. Another stellar movie directed by Kim Jee-woon, A Bittersweet Life made a big splash with critics and for its international distribution. In addition to a re-ordered director’s cut, the movie also received a Bollywood remake in 2007 with an American remake on the horizon.
Cast: Lee Byung-hun, Kim Yeong-cheol, Shin Min-ah, Hwang Jung-min, Kim Roi-ha, Lee Ki-young
Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War – IMDb: 8.1
Dong-Kun Jang plays Jin-tae, a man so devoted to looking out for his brother (Won Bin) he’s willing to shine shoes to pay for his education. But the Korean War begins and the two are soon drafted into the military and Jin-tae decides to go the extra mile here as well, volunteering for the most dangerous missions so long as his brother doesn’t have to serve them. But while Jin-tae manages to be seen as a war hero for his acts, the war soon changes him for the worst.
Cast: Jang Dong-gun, Won Bin
Memories of Murder – IMDb: 8.1
It is 1986 and the two detectives of Park (Song Kang-ho) and Cho (Kim Roi-ha) find themselves tackling a case of a double murder in South Korea. It doesn’t occur to them until the murders start becoming more frequent that they are indeed tracking the country’s first serial killer. And they’re certainly not smart or armed enough to take on such a threat, striving to pull together all their skills to solve the case. Based on a true story.
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Kim Sang-kyung, Kim Roi-ha, Park Hae-il, Byun Hee-bong
A Tale of Two Sisters – IMDb: 7.2
Su-mi (Yeom Jeong-ah) is a teenager who was institutionalized but is later released and meets up with her sister Su-yeon (Su-jeong Lim). The two of them return to their country home where they are dismayed to discover their widowed father has remarried with a new wife, Eun-joo (Kap-su Kim). They try to return to living as normal but strange events start happening around the house and some dark secrets are soon to be revealed. Inspired by the folktale Janghwa Hongryeon jeon, the movie had a bit of cult following that led to the American remake, 2009’s The Uninvited.
Cast: Im Soo-jung, Moon Geun-young, Yum Jung-ah, Kim Kap-soo