The Epic 21 Best Korean Movies You Must Watch

Filled with amazing storylines, cinematography, and exciting moments - Korean movies captivate audiences. See the history behind the genre, including the 21 most epic Korean Movies of All-time

Sarah SinghJuly 26, 2020Views 1K+

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The Korean movie industry began its journey with the silent screen (1926-1935), and now, it has moved to the box-office blockbusters. This transformation of the Korean film industry has been shaped by different cultural and historical forces.

During the WWII and Korean War, film industries were severely collapsed. After the surrender of Japan in WWII (1945), and the liberation of Korea, the predominant theme in the Korean Movies was about freedom. In that era, one of the best movies was “Viva Freedom” (1946) directed by Choi In-gyu.

The movie represented the independence of Korea, and it was a great commercial success too.
The golden age of the Korean film industry appeared in 1955. One of the most popular movies at that time was “Chunhyang-jeon” (1955) directed by Lee Kyu-hwan. Approximately 10% of the population in Seoul went to the movie theater to watch it.

Another masterpiece at that time was “Madame Freedom” (1956) directed by Han Hyung-mo. In the early 1960s, the filmmakers had the freedom from censorship. At that time, the filmmakers produced some great movies like “The Housemaid” (1960), directed by Kim Ki-young, “Obaltan” (1961), directed by Yu Hyun-mok, “The Coachman” (1961), directed by Kang Dae-jin, and so on.
The Coachman was one of the greatest movies at that time. This was the first Korean movie that won an international award. However, between the years 1969 – 1979, the filmmakers lost their audience by 60% because of the appearance of the television.

After 1980, Korean films started getting international audiences for the first time in its history. Director Im Kwon-taek won the Grand Prix award at the Hawaii Film Festival in 1981 for the movie “Mandala” (1981). He was the first Korean director to have his movie screened at the European film festivals

Another breakthrough in the Korean movie industries appears with “Heavenly Homecoming of Stars” (1974), directed by Lee Jang-ho, and “Winter Woman” (1977), directed by Kim Ho-sun. Both of these movies drew the attention of massive numbers of people in the box office.

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Audiences Love Korean Movies Today

There are several things that non-Korean people love in Korean films.

Firstly, their characters have great emotional control, and the cultural appearance is also educational. Watching Korean films will let you absorb the information about their culture. Importantly, every Korean film has the potentiality to win the heart of the audiences because those movies create a deep emotional connection with them.

Besides, the audience loves Korean actors like – Kim Soo-Hyun, Hyun-bin, Lee Min-ho, and actresses like – Jun Ji-Hyun, Lee Young-ae, Song Hye-Kyo who are well-known in this era.

A lot of audiences have reported that both sadness and good storyline are necessary for a movie, and they find both of them in Korean films. In addition to this, the audience also finds these movies more realistic because these movies aren’t like fairy-tales (always happy ending).

This best Korean movie list is created by analyzing the audience’s preferences, likings, recommendations, and voting. It is true that we can’t include all of those greatest Korean movies in our list. So because of that here our are honorable mentions – “Thirst” (2009), “Burning” (2018), “The Admiral Roaring Currents” (2014), and “Veteran” (2015) that you must watch. Get all Korean movies here.

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21. Bedevilled (2010)

Bedevilled (2010) is a Korean thriller movie. This movie won the award of the “Best Film” at the Golden Cinematography Awards during 2011.

Starring: Seo Young-hie, Ji Seong-won, Hwang Min-ho, Min Je

Hae-won is an officer working in a bank. She takes an offer from her friend to pay a visit to an island. She finds Bok-nam, one of her closest friends. Bok-nam is physically, mentally, and sexually abused by her husband, his brother, and old women.

The trailer of the movie can’t express the beauty and cinematography of this movie. The movie represents the revolution of a woman as well as the vengeance of a mother.

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20. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)

A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) is a psychological horror drama film. It is recognized as the highest-grossing horror movie in Korea. The film got its award as the “Most Popular Film” at Fantasia Festival 2004.

Starring: Im Soo-jung, Moon Geun-young, Yum Jung-ah, Kim Kap-soo

Su-mi is a teenage girl who is treated in a mental institution. After her release, she comes home with her father and sister Su-yeon. After a series of events with the stepmother Eun-joo, it is revealed that both Su-yeon and Eun-joo are the hallucinations of Su-mi. But what does the flashback of this beautiful say of them?

The audience has addressed that every aspect of the movie is outstanding. They strongly recommend others to watch the movie as it didn’t disappoint them.

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19. The Yellow Sea (2010)

The Yellow Sea (2010) is an action thriller movie. The movie was nominated as the “Best Film” at the 47th Baeksang Arts Awards and the 48th Grand Bell Awards in 2011.

Starring: Ha Jung-woo, Kim Yoon-seok, Jo Sung-ha, Hwang Seok-jeong

Gu-nam is a taxi driver in the city of Yanji. Often he visits the gambling halls and suddenly falls in serious debt. But the situation gets worse when he is fired from his only job. Myun Jun-hak, a gangster, offers him a deal, and Gu-nam accepts it. Gu-nam is now set out to kill a businessman in South Korea, where Gu-nam also searches for his wife.

The movie has several shocking events after the visit of Gu-nam. No one can predict what is going to happen next, and this is why audiences love this masterpiece.

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18. The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008)

The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008) is a western action movie. The movie is inspired by a legendary American movie – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Starring: Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, Jung Woo-sung, Yun Je-mun

Park Chang-yi is the bad guy, who is hired to grab a treasure map. However, Yoon Tae-goo, the weird, steals the map before Chang-yi gets that. But the weird is caught by the bad. Park Do-won is the good and claims a bounty on the bad. After a series of fascinating shootouts and chases, who is going to get the treasure?

Audiences love this western Korean film because it is simply fantastic. The cinematography and breathtaking moments have won the hearts of the audiences.

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17. The Host (2006)

The Host (2006) is an infamous monster Korean movie. It won many awards including the “Best Film” both at the Blue Dragon Film Awards and the Asian Film Awards.

Starring: Byun Hee-bong, Song Kang-ho, Bae Doona, Park Hae-il, Go Ah-sung

During 2000, an American pathologist orders his Korean assistant to dump all the formaldehyde into a drain. The drain leads to the Han River. After several years, people have experienced a strange monstrous creature that comes out of the Han River and snatches younger people. Gang-du has to save his daughter Hyun-seo from the monster.

This masterpiece has a bunch of brilliant moments including scary, emotional, thrilling, sad, and intense moments. The audience loves the movie and its brilliant characters.

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16. New World (2013)

New World (2013) is a crime drama Korean movie. The movie won the award “Jury Prize (second place)” during 2013 at the Beaune International Thriller Film Festival”.

Starring: Lee Jung-jae, Choi Min-sik, Hwang Jung-min, Song Ji-hyo

Sales director Lee Ja-sung is an undercover police officer. He has been serving the department for eight years and now wants to have some relaxation. He has always the tension of being caught. But Ja-sung is forced to keep working with the department. Now, it seems quite difficult for him to play both a goon and a cop.

The movie is highly appreciated by the audience. They have claimed that the performances of all the actors are so beautiful. Besides, those stunts and undercover activities are fantastic.

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15. Secret Sunshine (2007)

Secret Sunshine is a drama movie. The actress won the Prix d’interpretation feminine at the Cannes Film Festival during 2007. The film also got awards the “Best Film” at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards and the Asian Film Awards.

Starring: Jeon Do-yeon, Song Kang-ho, Kim Yeong-jae, Seon Jeong-yeob

Lee Shin-ae’s husband has died, and now she has moved to a small town with her child. On the highway, her car breaks down, and she gets a mechanic named Kim Jong-chan. Slowly, the pair find themselves quite comfortable in each other’s presence. But another tragedy strikes Shin-ae again.

The movie shows sorrow and shines, and the spiritual maturity of a woman to overcome the torment. People love the role of Jeon Do-yeon.

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14. A Bittersweet Life (2005)

A Bittersweet Life is an action film. The movie won the award for the “Best Cinematography” at 26th Blue Dragon Film Awards in 2005.

Starring: Lee Byung-hun, Shin Min-ah, Kim Yeong-cheol, Hwang Jung-min, Lee Ki-young

Kim Sun-woo is a loyal subordinate of a crime lord Kang. Kang goes on a business trip and assigns Sun-woo to look after Hee-soo. Kang thinks that his mistress is having a love affair. Sun-woo does his responsibility but discovers Hee-soo and her lover in the room. Later, Kang finds out and gives him a chance to fix the mistake. This time, Sun-woo vows to take revenge.

The movie is well-known for its emotional, action, and romantic scenes. The audience loves every character of this film.

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13. Joint Security Area (2000)

Joint Security Area (2000) is a mystery thriller film. In the Korean film history, this movie was the highest-grossing movie. It won the award under the category of the “Best Film” at the 2000 Blue Dragon Film Awards and 2001 Grand Bell Awards.

Starring: Lee, Young-ae, Lee Byung-hun, Song Kang-ho, and Kim Tae-woo

The movie is based on the relationships between two Koreas. After the killing of two North Korean soldiers in the DMZ, Lee Soo-hyeok tries to go back to South Korea. Two days later, Major Sophie E. Jean conducted an in-depth investigation on behalf of the NNSC.

Audience has mentioned that the movie offers an exciting twist and represents a clear and universal message that we shouldn’t create differences among people.

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12. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005)

Lady Vengeance (2005) is a psychological thriller film. The movie won the award for “Best Film” at 26th Blue Dragon Film Awards and had its US premiere on 30th September 2005.

Starring: Lee Young-ae, Choi Min-sik, Kim Shi-hoo, Kwon Yea-young

Lee Geum-ja is convicted of murdering and kidnapping a little schoolboy named Won-mo. Mr. Baek is the person who kidnapped Geum-ja’s infant child and murdered Won-mo. Later, Baek threatened Geum-ja to take the blame. Now Geum-ja has to take her revenge on Baek for murdering a little boy and separating her child from the mother.

The audience thinks that the storyline of this film is so gorgeous and extraordinary. This movie is worth watching. They are really charmed at the role of Lee Young.

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11. The Chaser (2008)

The Chaser (2008) is an action thriller movie. The film won the award of “Best Film” at the 45th Grand Bell Awards during 2008. The film is inspired by a real-life serial killer in Korea.

Starring: Kim Yoon-seok, Ha Jung-woo, Seo Yeong-hie, Kim Yoo-jeong

Joong-ho is a disgraced ex-detective. He is in financial trouble as two of his prostitutes are missing. One night, he sends one of his prostitutes to serve a new customer named Yeong-min. Joong-ho suspects this customer and asks the prostitute, Mi-jin to forward the address. But

Mi-jin falls in trouble with the murderer Yeong-min.
The movie doesn’t let the audiences blink their eyes because in every turn there is a breathtaking moment. When audiences sit to watch this movie, they only think of the girl and the killer.

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10. The Man From Nowhere (2010)

The Man From Nowhere (2010) is an action thriller movie. During 2010, the film got the award of “Movie of the Year” at 11th National Assembly Society of Popular Culture & Media Awards (Korea).

Starring: Won Bin, Kim Sae-ron, Kim Tae-hoon, and Kim Hee-won

Cha Tae-sik has an emotional past and currently has a little friend named So-mi. Her mother is a heroin addict and is murdered by the crime lord called Oh Myung-gyu. The little girl is also kidnapped. Now, Tae-sik has to save his little friend from this drug and organ trafficking ring.

The characters in this film are very genuine. The audience addressed the movie “Simple Wow”. They like Won Bin very much because of his incredible talent and action.

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9. Mother (2009)

Mother (2009) is a thriller film. The movie is awarded in the category of the “Best Film” at Buil Film Awards, Busan Film Critics Awards, Korean Association of Film Critics Awards, and KOFRA Film Awards.

Starring: Kim Hye-ja, Won Bin, Goo Jin, and Yun Je-mun

One night, Do-joon, a shy guy, sees a girl called Moon Ah-jung walking down the street alone. He follows the girl into an abandoned building, but the next morning Ah-jung is found dead. The police arrest Do-joon. However, his mother believes that her boy is innocent, and now it is her mission to prove Do-joon’s innocence.

People are shocked at the fact – how the movie ends. Yes. None can imagine the twist at the end. The movie is intense, engaging, and witty. Surely, you will love it also.

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8. The Wailing (2016)

The Wailing (2016) is a horror film. During 2017, the movie received two awards as the “Best Film and “Top Films of the Year” award during 2016 at the 36th Korean Association of Film Critics Awards.

Starring: Kwak Do-won, Chun Woo-hee, Hwang Jung-min

A Japanese man arrives at a small village and starts living in an abandoned house in the forest. Soon the villagers begin to experience some violent murders. A mysterious infection drives the victims to kill their families. A police officer, Jong-goo, must solve this mystery to save his little daughter.

This is indeed another horror masterpiece Korean movie. People claim that the movie has an astonishing ending, and the movie has shaken most of them from deep inside.

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7. War of the Arrows (2011)

War of the Arrows is a war-action historical film. Both actor and actress, and the supporting actor received honorable awards at the 32nd Blue Dragon Film Awards, and 48th Grand Bell Awards.

Starring: Park Hae-il, Moon Chae-won, Ryu Seung-ryong, and Kim Mu-yeol

Nam-yi, a skilled archer, lost his family during the invasion of Manchu forces. The force took Ja-in, Nam-yi’s fiancé, with them. Now, he sets out on a dangerous mission with his bows and arrows to find the armies of Qing. The fierce commander of the army, Jyuushinta, seems to be a real pain for Nam-yi.

This is one of the most favorite movies among movie lovers because of its action and drama. The film will keep the audience excited during the entire period.

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6. Train to Busan (2016)

Train to Busan (2016) is an action-horror film. The movie received the award at the Blue Dragon Film Awards in the category of Audience Choice Award for Most Popular Film during 2016.

Starring: Gong Yoo, Ma Dong-seok, Jung Yu-mi, Kim Su-an, Kim Eui-sung, Choi Woo-shik, and Ahn So-hee

Seok-woo is a workaholic father and can’t spend time with his daughter. So, the daughter now wants to go to Busan to celebrate her birthday with her mother. Seok-woo takes her wish seriously and gets on the train to Busan, and here starts the spread of the zombie infection.

This masterpiece is breathtaking, and the people have opined that “Train to Busan” is one of the most perfect zombie apocalyptic movies.

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5. I Saw The Devil (2010)

I Saw the Devil (2010) is an action thriller film. The film is about revenge against a psychopathic serial killer. The movie made its premiere in the US at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

Starring: Lee Byung-hun, Choi Min-sik, Jeon Gook-hwan, and Lee Joon-hyuk

The movie starts with the murder of Jang Joo-yun by the killer. Joo-yun is a fiancé of the NIS agent Soo-hyun, who vows to take the vengeance of the killer. Soo-hyun quickly tracks the murderer, but instead of killing him, Soo-hyun continues torturing the murderer.

People are charmed at the horrific cinematography. In fact, they have found that every turn is full of horror and shocking, and it is an ideal movie for horror fans.

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4. Memories of Murder (2003)

Memories of Murder (2003) is a crime drama film. The film is based on a true story in Korea. It won seven awards during 2003 and one in 2004.

Starring: Song Kang-ho, Byun Hee-bong, Park Hae-il, Kim Sang-kyung, Kim Roi-ha

Two women are brutally raped and murdered by an unknown criminal. The detective Park Doo-man, his partner Cho, and another detective Seo Tae-yoon start investigating this serious case. But they are failing to reach the criminal. The case is still unresolved.

Some people have claimed that this is the best crime thriller that they have ever seen. The haunting cinematography, music, and figures in the woods keep the film so intriguing at every turn.

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3. The Handmaiden (2016)

The Handmaiden (2016) is an erotic psychological thriller movie. The movie won the award in the category of Best Film Not in the English Language at the 71st British Academy Film Awards.

Starring: Kim Min-hee, Ha Jung-woo, Kim Tae-ri, and Cho Jin-woong.

Count Fujiwara wants to steal the inheritance of a Japanese heiress, Lady Hideko. He plans to seduce and marry the heiress and then commit her to an asylum. He hires a woman as a handmaiden to this Japanese heiress who will encourage the lady to marry him.

People have opined that “The Handmaiden” is a masterpiece. The combinations of cinematography, music, production design, costumes are so perfect. They claim that the film is twisted in several unexpected ways from the cinematography.

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2. Oldboy (2003)

Oldboy (2003) is an action thriller film and has won the Grand Prix award at the 200 Cannes Film Festivals.

Starring: Choi Min-sik, Kang Hye-jung, and Yoo Ji-Tae

Oh Dae-su is imprisoned in a hotel room for 15 years, but he doesn’t know who is the captor and why he is imprisoned. After being released, he receives a call that says – Dae-su has five days to find out the motive of imprisonment, or the captor will kill Dae-su’s love Mi-do.

The movie is full of enjoyment and thrill. According to movie lovers, the film has lots of shocking moments that no one can even expect. They highly recommend others to watch Oldboy.

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1. Parasite (2019)

Here it comes – the best Korean movie on this list. This one is a black comedy thriller movie. The movie won four prestigious awards, including Best Picture at the 2020 Academy Awards.

Starring: Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Jang Hye-jin, Lee Jung-eun, and Park So-dam.

The movie is based on two families – the Kim family and the Park family. The Kim family is poor and is employed by the wealthy Park family. But the class discrimination and greed don’t let the symbiotic relationship exists for too long.

The storyline of Parasite is exceptional, and the ending is shocking and emotional. The movie is very popular and has won the heart of many people because of every dialogue, the characters, and the arts.

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