The 15 Must-Watch Korean Movies

by Linda McKenna // April 26 // 0 Comments

Watching movies is one of the most enjoyable ways to learn a language. In addition, watching Korean movies will help you understand Korean history and culture. Today I will introduce 15 must-watch Korean movies!

조작된 도시 (Fabricated City, 2017)

Genre: Action, Crime
Rating: 15 and over

”Fabricated City” is an action and crime movie. The main character, “Gwonyu,” is an unemployed man who plays video games all day long. One day he gets a phone call from a woman who asks him to find her phone at a PC café.

When he finds her, however, she is already dead. He is charged with murder and sentenced to imprisonment. He tries to escape prison and discover the truth with his fellow gamers and hackers.

This movie has an interesting concept. While many Korean action movies in the 2000s are about the police and mafia, this one features the latest technologies such as drones. If you like science fiction-themed action and crime movies, this movie will be the right choice.

공동경비구역 JSA (Joint Security Area, 2000)

Genre: Drama, War, Comedy, Mystery
Rating: 15 and over

”Joint Security Area” is a movie about a murder case in the Joint Security Area, where both North and South Korean soldiers are stationed. The main character, "Sophie," is a Korean-Swiss military investigator. She enters Korea to investigate the murder case and resolve disputes.

If you are interested in the division of Korea and the Joint Security Area, watch this movie. This movie will show you many interesting facts about the tension between North and South Korea. 90% of audiences and critics recommended watching this movie.

극한직업 (Extreme Job, 2018)

Genre: Comedy
Rating: 15 and over

“Extreme Job” is a comedy movie which attracted more than 16 million viewers in Korea. It is a movie where undercover cops open a fried chicken restaurant to hide their identities during the investigation.

The business, however, goes too well. Undercover cops start to forget their original mission: arresting international criminals. Now undercover cops are doing the “extreme job,” which is frying chicken and hunting criminals down at the same time.

This movie is one of the best Korean comedy movies. If you are a fan of comedy movies, you will love it. This movie is a great movie to watch with your family as well.

부산행 (TRAIN TO BUSAN, 2016)

Genre: Action, Thriller
Rating: 15 and over

If you heard someone say "Korean zombie movie” in the past, you’d probably doubt that the movie would be any good. ”Train to Busan”, however, destroyed the prejudice that zombie movies cannot be successful in Korea. This movie attracted more than 12 million viewers in Korea and earned 45 million dollars abroad.

Unlike typical zombie movies, this movie does not focus on killing zombies. In fact, you will see no zombies killed in this movie. This thriller movie focuses on how people would react in the apocalyptic chaos.

If you have never watched a Korean movie before, this movie would show you intriguing and realistic plots of Korean movies. If you are a fan of zombie movies, go watch it right now!

기생충 (PARASITE, 2019)

Genre: Drama
Rating: 15 and over

”Parasite” is the most famous Korean movie worldwide so far. It attracted more than 10 million viewers in Korea. This movie also won tons of movie awards, including Academy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

I will not say much about the movie's plot as it would be a spoiler for the movie. But Korean movies are good at combining different genres in a single movie. ”Parasite” successfully combines a drama, a comedy, and a thriller in one movie. It creates a unique genre that you have never seen before.

신과함께 (Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds, 2017)

Genre: Fantasy, Drama
Rating: 12 and over

 ”Along With the Gods” is a fantasy movie that attracted more than 10 million viewers in Korea. This movie is about the 7 trials in Korean lore, which you have to go through after death. Each trial judges if the person committed the sins of murder, sloth, lying, injustice, betrayal, and so on.

The main character, "Jahong," is a firefighter and died saving people. When he arrives at the land of the dead, he is praised as a hero and about to be reborn. The trials, however, show that he may deserve punishment in hell. The gods decide to advocate for him and seek the truth in the past.

This movie is the most popular Korean fantasy movie so far. In addition, this movie shows you Korean lore and traditions. You will love watching this movie and learning more about Korea.

택시운전사 (A Taxi Driver, 2017)

Genre: Drama, Family
Rating: 15 and over

”A Taxi Driver” is a movie set in the Gwangju Democratic Uprising in May 1980. The main character, "Manseop," decides to take a German reporter, "Jurgen Hinzpeter," to Gwangju. It is because the German reporter paid lots of money to report on the democratization movement.

This movie will help you understand the Gwangju Democratic Uprising and the military dictatorship in the 1980s. Even if you do not understand the historical background of this movie, it is still a good drama worth watching.

1987 (1987: When the Day Comes, 2017)

Genre: Drama
Rating: 15 and over

”1987: When the Day Comes” is a movie set in 1987. It is when a Seoul university student died during torture by public security agents under the military dictatorship regime. His death sparked a national democratic uprising. The uprising in 1987 led to the resignation of the military dictator.

The uprising in 1987 is highly important in modern Korean history because it marked the beginning of democracy in Korea. If you are interested in Korean history, this movie will give you a more in-depth understanding of Korean politics.

광해 (Masquerade, 2012)

Genre: Drama
Rating: 15 and over

”Masquerade” is a movie about Gwanghaegun, the fifteenth king of the Joseon Dynasty. He is a three-dimensional figure. He appears to be a violent tyrant, but also heroic and diplomatic in overcoming international conflicts.

In this movie, Gwanghaegun becomes paranoid as he fears assassination. Consequently, he orders his underlings to find someone who will masquerade as king while Gwanghaegun hides from the threat.

Royal servants decide to bring a man named “Haseon '' from a pub – a storyteller who resembles the king. Haseon begins to rule the Joseon Dynasty on behalf of the king.

While many Korean movies set in the Joseon Dynasty tend to be serious, this movie contains humor and a heartwarming drama. If you are interested in the Joseon Dynasty and its culture, this movie will be the right choice for you.

도둑들 (The Thieves, 2012)

Genre: Crime, Action, Drama
Rating: 15 and over

“The Thieves” is one of the most popular Korean crime movies. The movie is about ten thieves who are trying to steal a diamond in Hong Kong. This movie is action-packed and has interesting characters and plots.

If you are looking for an entertaining movie to watch with your friends or family, this movie will satisfy your needs for a good crime and action movie.

아저씨 (The Man from Nowhere, 2010)

Genre: Action, Crime, Drama
Rating: 18 and over

One distinctive feature of Korean action movies is realistic and explicit violence. ”The Man from Nowhere” is one of the most famous Korean action movies. It attracted 6 million viewers in Korea even though it was rated for adults only.

This movie is about an ex-special force soldier, "Taesik," who lost his wife and lives a life of desolation. He meets a girl whose mother is a drug addict and feels close to her. One day, the girl is kidnapped by human traffickers, and he tries to find her.

The violence in this movie could be uncomfortable for some people. Yet, this movie deserves the best Korean action movie title. This movie shows the distinctive feature of Korean movies: showing explicit and realistic violence without glorifying or hiding it.

전우치 (Jeon Woochi: The Taoist Wizard, 2009)

Genre: Action, Comedy, Adventure
Rating: 12 and over

”Jeon Woochi” is a Korean hero movie. Even though hero movies were the least popular genre in Korea in the 2000s, this movie was a success and attracted 6 million viewers. This movie is based on the novel with the same title in the Joseon Dynasty.

This movie transformed an ancient novel into an entertaining action and adventure movie. If you like hero movies and are interested in Korean lore, this movie will be the right choice for you.

살인자의 기억법 (MEMOIR OF A MURDERER, 2016)

Genre: Crime, Thriller
Rating: 15 and over

”Memoir of a Murderer” is a thriller movie based on a Korean novel with the same title. The main character, "Byeongsu," was a serial killer at a young age and now suffers Alzheimer's disease as he gets old. He is raising his daughter, who is the daughter of a victim he killed.

One day, Byeongsu came across a man named “Taeju” by chance. Byeongsu’s instincts tell him that “Taeju” is a serial killer as well. Byeongsu reports Taeju to the police, but nobody believes his words. As “Taeju” finds out he is being followed by Byeongsu, Taeju plans to leave no witnesses.

Although Byeongsu tries to catch Taeju, his dementia and amnesia keep him from remembering things. While he is confused with memories of his own murders, he must hunt Taeju down before his daughter gets hurt.

This movie imported the unique plot from its original novel. If you are looking for a thriller movie with a thrilling plot, this movie will be the best choice for you.

명량 (ROARING CURRENTS, 2014)

Genre: Action, Drama
Rating: 15 and over

”Roaring Currents” is a movie set in the Japanese invasions of Korea from 1592 to 1598. It is about a navy general named “Yi Sun Sin,” who is highly admired and praised as the best military general in Korean history.

This movie is about the legendary naval conflict the “Battle of Myeongryang." In this battle, the Korean navy with 12 warships won a victory against the Japanese navy with 330 warships. Yi Sun Sin's great strategies contributed to achieving the legendary victory.

Yi Sun Sin is a highly respected person. You can see his portrait engraved on 100-won coins as well. Watching this movie will give you an understanding of the Japanese invasions and Yi Sun Sin.

곤지암 (GONJIAM: Haunted Asylum, 2017)

Genre: Horror, Mystery
Rating: 15 and over

 ”Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum” is a horror movie about the deserted mental hospital “Gonjiam Asylum.” This asylum is a reportedly haunted location in Korea. However, the former owner of the asylum announced that he shut it down due to business problems and asked people not to spread rumors.

It turned out that it is not a haunted asylum. Yet, this movie will still be entertaining as it adopted the first-person view for an immersive horror experience. If you are looking for a Korean horror movie, this movie will be the right choice for you.

Conclusion

These are the 15 must-watch Korean movies. Did you decide which movie you will watch this weekend? Watch these movies first, and you can find more interesting Korean movies yourself. Watching Korean movies will surely be the most fun way to learn the Korean language!

You can also add these 10 Most Beautiful Native Korean Words to your vocabulary.

About the Author Linda McKenna

Linda was born in Seoul, South Korea, and moved to the U.S. as a teen. She previously taught at a Korean language school. She is a language enthusiast and loves learning about different languages and cultures