Streaming services such as Netflix make it easy for people to watch foreign movies at the comfort of their homes. There is no need to go to the video rental store, the library, or travel to a different country (which is highly unlikely), just to avail of these films.
Korea is one of the countries making its mark among international viewers. Over the past decades, Korean cinema has slowly built worldwide success for its unique cinematography and captivating storytelling. If there’s one thing that Korean films do best, it’s twists and turns.
Among the genres that get the most attention are romantic comedies, thrillers, action, and horror. There are also a few Korean sci-fi films and those inspired from a historical standpoint. Korean cinema has a sampling of different genres to cater to people’s viewing fancy, and thanks to modern technology, these can easily be accessed online.
Netflix is undoubtedly the biggest source of international films and TV shows in the 21st century. The streaming service can be hard to navigate through so we have provided you the best 13 Korean movies streaming on the network now.
Forgotten/Gi-eok-ui bam (2017)
Forgotten doesn’t fit in just one genre. It’s a psychological thriller, horror, sci-fi, and mystery film all rolled into one.
The plot is built on the premise of perception. You get the picture of a perfect family at the beginning but nothing is really as it seems. Even the synopsis tricks viewers into believing there is nothing more that goes on in the story.
A man (Kim Mu-yeol) gets kidnapped and returns weeks after with no memory of what happened in those days he went missing. His younger brother Jin-Seok (Kang Ha-Neul) vows to seek the truth about his disappearance.
However, the story turns into a series of troubling events after Jin-Seok notices that the brother he once knew is gone. Instead, the one who returns is sinister and dark. Jin-Seok then starts to question the authenticity and the motives of those he called his family.
Forgotten takes viewers into a slow, yet thrilling and mysterious pacing of uncovering the truth at every twist and turn. The doubts and the questions propel the story forward to a disturbing discovery and climax that will leave the audience shocked.
Director: Jang Hang-jun – Screenplay: Jang Hang-jun – Cast: Kang Ha-neul, Kim Moo Yeol, Na Young-hee, Lee Eun-woo, Moon Sung-Keun, Jung Chan-bi – Run Time: 1h 48m
Lucid Dream (2017)
Those who’ve seen Christopher Nolan’s Inception can very well relate to this South Korean sci-fi, crime thriller. It follows the same premise of lucid dreaming but the motive is different.
In this story, a father searches for answers through dreams. He seeks the truth about his son’s (Kim Kang-Hoon) disappearance three years ago.
Dae-ho (Ko Soo) is an investigative journalist who wants to know the whereabouts of his abducted son. The cops have been unsuccessful with finding clues that could lead to the culprit.
The father eventually asks the help of a psychiatrist friend to help him go through people’s memories using lucid dreaming techniques. This way he can backtrack on the events that led to his son’s kidnapping through people’s dreams.
The movie doesn’t go deep into the scientific process of lucid dreaming but uses it as a premise to steer the story forward. What the film really shows is the father’s desperation to find answers and possibly a closure to his son’s abduction. It is more about the mystery surrounding the kidnapping and the discovery of the people responsible.
Director: Kim Joon-Sung – Screenplay: Kim Joon-Sung – Cast: Sol Kyung-Gu, Ko Soo, Kang Hye-Jung, Park Yoo-Chun, Park In-Hwan, Cheon Ho-Jin, Jun Suk-Ho, Kim Kang-Hoon, Kwon Hae-Hyo, Choi Dae-Hoon –Run Time: 1h 41m
The Wailing (2016)
There is not a dull moment in this over 2-hour-long film that mixes the supernatural to tell a story about man’s cultural belief and faith. Filmmaker Na Hong-jin delivers another horrifying yet utterly satisfying movie that rivals his previous dark thrillers: 2010’s The Yellow Sea and 2008’s The Chaser.
This time, Na ventures into the clash between religions and cultural practices. The film has a mix of Korean shamanism, Catholicism, and the occult, which are explored greatly in a premise that involves zombies.
The story takes place in a small village in South Korea plagued with a series of murders caused by a mysterious illness that turns the perpetrators into crazed, flesh-eating humans. Local gossip points at a Japanese newcomer as the source of the affliction.
The villagers believe he is the evil entity causing all the deaths. Police officer Jong-goo (Kwak Do-won) dismisses the allegations at first as sheer ignorance. However, he later becomes obsessed with the stranger and in finding out the truth after his daughter gets infected with the same disease.
The Wailing leaves you speechless with its marvelous cinematography and the insane script full of emotions and twists and turns. It has elements of suspense, mystery, horror, and thriller. It is dark, eerie, and horrific from the onset. It’s one of those movies that leave you questioning the story after the credits roll.
Director: Na Hong-jin – Screenplay: Na Hong-jin – Cast: Kwak Do-won, Hwang Jung-min, Jun Kunimura, Chun Woo-hee, Jang So-yeon, Baek Seung-chul – Run Time: 2h 36m
A mother’s love knows no bounds. This is the premise of the 2009 crime thriller from director Bong Joon-ho that revolves around a mother’s quest to clear her son’s name of murder.
Circumstantial evidence points Yoon Do-joon (Won Bin) near the scene where a girl is murdered so the police happily arrest the boy with an intellectual disability. However, there is a list of suspects including Jin-tae, who easily manipulates Do-joon to do things. There are also those who were into sexual relations with the girl including a man who recently got out of a mental institution.
The mother (Kim Hye-ja) hires and fires a lawyer and does her own detective work. She asks around the neighborhood looking for clues. Her efforts finally pay off and she finds out the truth, just in time when the police arrest the real killer and release her son from jail.
The plot is familiar: a parent gets to the bottom of things to determine whether her child is guilty of murder or not. The story lets you sympathize with the accused and rally with the mother. However, there is a twist in this film and it involves deception.
Director: Bong Joon-ho – Screenplay: Bong Joon-ho, Park Eun-kyo – Cast: Kim Hye-ja, Won Bin, Jin Goo, Moon Hee-ra, Yoon Je-moon, Song Sae-byeok, Lee Young-suk, Jeon Mi-seon – Run Time: 2h 9m
This claustrophobic action film is based on the novel of the same title by So Jae-Won. It centers on a father’s quest to survive after a tunnel collapses and traps him inside.
Lee Jung-So (Ha Jung-Woo), a car dealer, is on his way home to celebrate his daughter’s birthday. He passes through a poorly constructed tunnel when the unthinkable happens. The tunnel caves in and traps the car under thousands of debris and concrete.
The father only has limited space to move around inside the trapped car. He also only has two bottles of water and his daughter’s birthday cake to ration until his rescue. Thankfully, his cellphone still has enough battery and a signal to call for help.
The media eventually gets wind of his dire situation and it becomes national news. Help eventually starts pouring in including from the government.
However, complications in the rescue push back the number of days and soon people start to lose interest. Jung-So’s family is forced to make hard decisions without knowing if he is still alive or not.
The story walks viewers through the suspense of the rescue with scenes that shift between above and below ground. Character buildup focuses on Jung-So and his positive outlook. Despite his situation and with hope of rescue slowly slipping by, he remains cheery, which is an alluring attitude that makes viewers pine for his survival.
Director: Kim Seong-hun – Screenplay: Kim Seong-hun – Cast: Ha Jung-Woo, Bae Doo-Na, Oh Dal-Su, Shin Jung-Keun, Nam Ji-Hyun, Cho Hyun-Chul, Kim Hae-Sook, Yoo Seung-Mok, Park Jin-Woo, Park Hyuk-Kwon – Run Time: 2h 6m
Disaster films are nothing new. Most revolve around natural causes such as earthquakes, tidal waves, floods, or hurricanes. Rarely are there based on manmade disasters, although this is what Pandora tackles.
This film uses an earthquake to jumpstart a horrific tragedy involving an explosion of a nuclear power plant. The event takes place in a small Korean town where work at the plant seems to be the main livelihood.
The story follows Jae-Hyeok (Kim Nam-Gil), his sister-in-law (Moon Jeong-Hee), his mother (Kim Young-Ae) and his nephew (Bae Gang-Yoo) as they fight to stay alive amid the chaos and panic that ensues.
Prior to the catastrophe, an employee (Jung Jin-Young) tries to warn the government about the conditions at the plant and expresses his fears of a disaster. His warnings were unheard. Only when the explosion causes a national meltdown in the form of a deadly cloud of radiation that the government starts to act.
This film puts humanity front and center as tears, cries, and screams fill the screen amid the panic. We also see acts of selflessness from a few brave workers who return to the plant in order to prevent further national cataclysm.
Director: Park Jung-woo – Screenplay: Park Jung-woo – Cast: Kim Nam-Gil, Kim Joo-Hyun, Jung Jin-Young, Kim Young-Ae, Moon Jeong-Hee, Kim Dae-Myung, Kang Shin-Il, Yoo Seung-Mok, Lee Kyoung-Young Baek Do-bin, Choi Seung-Hoon, Bae Gang-Yoo – Run Time: 2h 16m
One of the highly acclaimed South Korean films in the early 2000s (so much so, that it earned a Hollywood remake a decade after) is Oldboy. Save for the intense action scenes, this movie is riddled with mystery and quest for answers after a man gets abducted on the night of his daughter’s birthday.
The man’s thirst for vengeance propels the story forward. Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) wants bloody revenge on those responsible for locking him up in a hotel room for 15 years with no justifiable reason. He wants answers and payback for the torture and sufferings he endured.
Dae-su gets the chance to exact his revenge when he is released but there’s a catch. He has to find the reason for his imprisonment within five days or else he dies. If he succeeds then the mastermind dies.
Dae-su gets lured into a web of conspiracy in his desperation for revenge. He falls in the same nightmare he was in while in his hotel prison albeit this time in the outside world. All for the sake of one’s pleasure of twisted games. His quest for vengeance also gets tied in with romance when he falls in love with a young woman, who may or may not be very important to him.
Director: Park Chan-wook – Screenplay: Park Chan-wook, Hwang Jo-yun, Im Joon-hyung – Cast: Choi Min-sik Yoo Ji-tae Kang Hye-jung Kim Byung-ok Oh Dal-su Lee Seung-Shin Yoon Jin-seo Ji Dae-han Oh Tae-kyung Yoo Yeon-seok Oh Gwang-rok Lee Dae-yeon Park Myung-shin Kim Su-hyeon – Run Time: 2h
This psychological thriller from the same mind who brought the 2003 horror flick The Uninvited takes viewers deep into a criminal investigation. A doctor finds himself in the middle of an unsolved murder case following a confession from a sedated patient.
Seung Hoon (Cho Jin Woong) tries to make ends meet after his Gangnam clinic went bankrupt by working at a colonoscopy clinic at a satellite town. He rents a cramped, one bedroom apartment from the owner of a butcher shop below him.
His landlord makes an appointment and while under sedation, confesses to multiple murders. Surprisingly, dismembered bodies start showing up close to home including that of a headless female torso that washed up on the bank of the melted Han river.
Hoon suspects his landlord and the landlord’s son are behind the killings and his suspicion drives him into paranoia and hysteria. He must solve the mystery behind the murders before the killer realizes what he may know.
This slow-burner delves into one’s consciousness and explores the depths of one’s sanity. It relies on viewers’ senses and perception of things to create the nail-biting moments, the tension, and suspense. This film has a surprising end that puts all suspicions off-kilter.
Director: Lee Su-yeon – Screenplay: Lee Soo-yeon – Cast: Cho Jin-woong, Gu Shin, Kim Dae-myung, Lee Chung-ah, Yun Se-ah Jung Ah-Mi, Song Young-chang, Jo Jin Woong – Run Time: 1h 95m
Vanishing Time: A Boy Who Returned (2016)
This fantasy drama starts out slow but quite engrossing and emotional once the elements kick in. The story tells of a timeless friendship and love between a young girl and her bestfriend, who mysteriously turns into a grown man in a span of days.
Soo Rin, a 6th grader, is considered a weirdo in her class. No one else wants to befriend the newcomer except for Sung Min, a boy from another class. They became friends and share a mutual understanding of their feelings for each other.
One day, Soo Rin decides to join Sung-Min and his friends on a trek up the mountains. There they find a cave under a tree that led them to a mysterious egg. The next thing, Soo Rin notices that the boys have disappeared. A search happens but to no luck. Days later, a man appears and introduces himself to the girl as her friend Sung-Min.
The film uses different perspectives to examine the situation. There’s the psychological analysis and then Soo Rin’s childlike wonder of Sung Min’s story. Of course, viewers are left to their own observations, although the beautiful cinematography adds to the realism of the fantastical elements that one might be compelled to believe the existence of such.
Meanwhile, the casts’ superb acting make you really invested in the story. Kang Dong Won especially portrays the role so well of a vulnerable boy trapped in a man’s body.
Director: Eon Tae-hwa – Screenplay: Eon Tae-hwa – Cast: Lee Hyo Je, Shin Eun Soo, Kim Dan Yul, Um Tae Goo, Jung Woo Jin, Kim Hae Won, Kwon Hae Hyo, Moon So Ri, Gang Dong-won – Run Time: 2h 10m
A Violent Prosecutor (2016)
Byun Jae-Wook (Hwang Jung-min) is a highly temperamental attorney who often strays from the norm at work. His personality brings about his downfall when he is slapped with a 15-year jail sentence for a murder he didn’t commit.
Inside the prison walls, the prosecutor endures torture and repeated denials of a retrial. He eventually gets the respect of the guards and the other inmates when he becomes a legal adviser to matters happening in and outside of prison.
Jae-Wok meets con man Han Chi-won (Gang Dong-won) who tells him the truth about his imprisonment. He helps Chi-won out of jail in exchange for outside work that would help clear his name of murder and bring the real culprits to justice.
This is a classic revenge story about a man being framed and looking for justice. It has its own unique story though, one that is slapped with a few funny scenes here and there for a little comedic shot. You also want to stick around until the end to see if Jae-Wok and Chi-won’s efforts do not go to waste.
Director: Lee Il-hyung – Screenplay: Lee Il-hyung – Cast: Gang Dong-won, Hwang Jung-min, Lee Sung-Min, Park Sung-Woong – Run Time: 2h 6m
The Beauty Inside (2015)
The premise is simple: Woo-Jin wakes up every day in a different body; a change that includes the age, gender, and nationality. One day he may be a woman, a child, or another man but older or younger, and the possibilities go on.
The only thing constant in his life is his love for Yi-Soo. He may appear different every day but he is the same person inside and his feelings for her never changes. Yi-Soo knows about his secret but has to learn daily to adjust to the changes, but she loves him nevertheless.
This touching story encompasses love in all its diversity. It simply shows that love knows no shape, size, gender, nationality, or beauty. This is the message that comes from this romantic comedy that uses a very peculiar yet unique plot to explore the definition of love.
Director: Baek Jong-Yeol – Screenplay: Kim Sun-Jung, Park Jung-Ye – Cast: Han Hyo-Joo, Kim Dae-Myung, Do Ji-Han, Bae Sung-Woo, Park Shin-Hye, Lee Beom-Soo, Park Seo-Joon, Yoo Yeon-Seok, Juri Ueno – Run Time: 2h 7m
Memoir of a Murderer (2017)
Byung-soo (Sol Kyung-Gu) is a former serial killer who suffers from Alzheimer’s. He lives a quiet life with his 17-year old daughter Eun-hee (Seol Hyun). He suffers from memory lapses and starts to get worried over his condition after a series of murders occur near his town.
He wonders whether the killings are his own doing during his memory lapses. Byung-soo then meets Tae-ju, a cop, and suspects him to be a murderer and a psychopath. However, his suspicions only draw the cop’s interests in him and his daughter.
The storytelling in this South Korean action thriller is tense all the way and engrossing till the very end. The scenes all contribute to telling a story about a father’s plight to protect her daughter from a dangerous man. However, to do so he must also fight against his own mind and retrace his memories the best he can.
Director: Won Shin-Yeon – Screenplay: Won Shin-Yeon, Hwang Jo-Yoon – Cast: Sol Kyung-Gu, Kim Nam-Gil, Seol Hyun, Oh Dal-Su, Hwang Suk-Jung, Gil Hae-Yeon, Lee Byung-Joon – Run Time: 1h 58m
The Age of Shadows (2016)
This action film is set in the late 1920s and follows the cat-and-mouse game between a group of resistance fighters and the Japanese police force. The story follows the opposing groups as the former attempt to smuggle explosives from Shanghai to destroy Japanese facilities in Seoul, while the latter carries a covert operation against the resistance.
Lee Jung-chool (Song Kang-ho), a Korean police in the Japanese force, is tasked to infiltrate the resistance group. He befriends its leader Kim Woo-jin (Gong Yoo) and they become close, but not to the point of revealing each other’s inner thoughts.
However, both men are aware of each other’s intentions. The men carry out their respective missions while information is being leaked on both sides and no one knows who the informant is. The resistance suspect of a spy within their group who has released their identities. The members flee to Shanghai and the Japanese forces follow suit.
The Age of Shadows is a spy thriller that revolves around the theme of betrayal, loyalty, allegiance, and blackmail. Every scene is packed with suspense and the mystery serves to shift the focus to more intriguing areas.
Director: Kim Jee-woon – Screenplay: Kim Jee-woon, Lee Ji-min, Park Jong-dae – Cast: Lee Byung-Hun, Han Ji-Min, Um Tae-Goo, Gong Yoo, Park Hae-soon, Song Kang-ho, Sin Seong-rok – Run Time: 2h 20m
Train to Busan (2016)
Although it gained mixed reviews, this South Korean zombie flick was an international hit not just because of its premise, but because of its unique storytelling. It doesn’t feature your typical lazy, slow-moving monsters. Instead, the undead here are swift and they run.
This film is a thrilling ride (literally) from start to finish. As its title suggests, the zombie onslaught happens inside a moving train. So just imagine the struggle in having to fight off hordes of these vicious monsters inside the claustrophobic environment of a train. You have to be creative in your means of escape let alone in how you dodge their attack.
The pacing is also just right as not to bore viewers or put an abrupt end to the film. There are moments of danger and suspense mostly presented in the most unexpected way.
What makes this film even more compelling is its use of the family setting to bring out the human side of the story. It’s not all about the chases and the thrill. You also get to bond with the characters, even the minor ones, as the story progresses.
You have a pregnant wife and his brave, courageous husband who would risk everything to save his family. Then you have a young girl who only wants to feel loved and be close to his estranged father. Their bond is put to the test in the most horrendous way (should I say tragic?).
Directors: Sang-ho Yeon – Screenplay: Joo-Suk Park, Sang-ho Yeon – Cast: Yoo Gong, Yu-mi Jung, Dong-seok Ma, Su-an Kim – Run Time: 1h 58m
This sci-fi mystery thriller takes place in the aftermath of a failed climate-change experiment, which has wiped out living creatures on the planet. Those who survived are onboard the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe through a perpetual-motion engine.
The inhabitants of the train are divided by a class system. The poor occupy the rear part while the rich enjoy luxuries up front. The story follows the plight of the low-ranking class as they strive to live through their struggles and unjust treatment.
The story picks up momentum when they decide to revolt against the authorities and decide to join the elite, putting their lives on the line in the process. What they discover challenges their moral judgment. They see poor kids employed as a replacement for extinct machinery.
Snowpiercer uses immersive visuals and raw emotions of despair and rage to grip viewers to the plight of the poor. Its steam-punk apocalypse premise doesn’t deviate from obvious references to the actual happenings in the real world brought by climate change.
Director: Bong Joon Ho– Screenplay: Bong Joon Ho, Kelly Masterson – Cast: Ko Asung, Steve Park, Song Kang-ho, Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Ed Harris – Run Time: 2h 6m
How To Steal A Dog (2014)
Okja is a South Korean film that tells the struggles we often have to go through to hold on to the value of friendship and of humanity. The narrative focuses on Mija, a young caretaker of a massive animal named Okja.
For ten years, they have lived an idyllic life in the mountains until Mija’s friend is taken to New York to conglomerate CEO Lucy Mirando, who wants to promote the animal to boost her image. The young girl then embarks on a rescue mission to bring her friend home.
However, her quest comes without some complications as she encounters disparate groups of people who also want to have Okja for their own selfish reasons.
Joon-ho Bong (Snowpiercer) is a master at picking at society’s flaws in his movies. In Okja, he shows the animal inside of us through his satiric depiction of corporate evil. He also shows the humanity in us through the heart-warming devotion Mija has to her animal friend.
Overall, Okja is a touching film filled with great visual effects and captivating performances from a star-studded cast. Outside of the story’s message of altruism, the film offers a subtle ecological reminder about the value of animals.
Director: Joon-ho Bong – Screenplay: Joon-ho Bong, Jon Ronson– Cast: Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Seo-hyun Ahn, Jake Gyllenhaal, Lily Collins – Run Time: 2h
Based loosely on Haruki Murakami’s short story Barn Burning, this South Korean film is a tale of jealousy, love, and obsession and told through the eyes of three young characters.
The story kicks off after a chance encounter between old acquaintances Jonsu (Ah-in Yoo) and Haemi (Jong-seo Jun). Jonsu’s monotonous lifestyle takes an unprecedented turn after he bumps into Haemi, a former neighbor, while at work. Haemi then asks him a favor to look after her cat while she is away on a trip to Africa.
Jonsu agrees and when Haemi returns she introduces the mysterious Ben (Steven Yeun), a rich guy she met during her trip. Jonsu feels something sinister about their new acquaintance and his suspicions grew when the latter confides in him about his eerie fascination with burning abandoned houses.
Burning is a slow burner and a great South Korean psychological thriller that leaves you in perpetual uncertainty of what really transpired in the story even after the credits roll. The takeaways are debatable so you end the film still unsure of what you just saw. Regardless, it‘s a suspenseful, strange, and engrossing film about unrequited love.
Director: Lee Chang-dong – Screenplay: Oh Jung-Mi, Lee Chang-dong – Cast: Steven Yeun, Yoo Ah-in, Jun Jong-seo, Kim Soo-Kyung, Mun Seong-kun, Choi Seung-ho – Run Time: 2h 28m
The Witch: Part 1: The Subversion (2018)
This South Korean mystery action film uses amazing visuals and nail-biting action sequences to keep you invested in the story. The narrative focuses on Ja-yoon, a high school student who appears shy and innocent. But her outside appearance is far from the truth of who she really is.
The young girl grew up with no memory of her past including her name and age. An old couple takes her in and raises her to be a normal and intelligent student. However, her seemingly normal life starts to change after she appears on national television and people from her past notices her.
Strange people who know about her previous life start appearing and cornering her. They want something from her and they ultimately turn her life upside down in a blink of an eye. In the process, Ja-yoon learns the unsettling truth about her past.
This film belies its title because it does not involve the supernatural. Instead, it’s a superbly executed action movie that involves a girl with superhuman abilities. This is by far the best South Korean action film of 2018 that can very well beat other Hollywood superhero flicks.
Director: Park Hoon-jung – Screenplay: Park Hoon-jung – Cast: Baek Seung-chul, Kim Byung-Ok, Choi Woo-sik, Jo Min-soo, Jung Woorim, Kim Da-mi, Go Min-si, Park Hee-soon, Kim Han-na – Run Time: 2h 5m