Top 20 Best Korean Films of All Time

best korean films
| Reviews > Film

 

Bookmark and then see some of the best Korean films of all time. From eerie horror to surreally quirky romance and unique action thrillers with beautiful cinematography. Mookychick proudly presents some of the best Korean films ever…

The Korean film industry has brought us a cornucopia of inventive, clever, beautiful and gripping movies that bust genres every which way and leave you guessing till the end. Whether your tastes lie in the direction of horror, comedy, romance or the horrorshow revenge thriller, here’s a serving of 20 of the best Korean films out there. Delicious, and best served cold.

1. Oldboy

(Oldeuboi)

Buy Oldboy [DVD] [2003]

On the day of his daughter’s birthday, Oh Dae-Su is abducted and imprisoned in a room for 15 years. Released by unseen captors, Oh Dae-Su is given an expensive suit, money and cellphone… and absolutely no explanation of what is going on. And that’s all in the first ten minutes. Oldboy is a wild, sexy, inventive, stylish psychological thriller directed by Korean film guru Chan-wook Park that got a US remake (ho-hum). Watch the original now, before your mind is tainted with the US version. It’s the weirdest thriller ever. You’ll never guess the ending, you’ll fall utterly in love with the antihero, and you won’t be able to believe your eyes in the restaurant scene. Even if you think you don’t like thrillers… this one will blow you away. It got 8.4 out of 10 on IMDB. Hang on… everyone on IMDB agrees on something for a change? You simply mustn’t miss this.

2. The Good, the Bad and the Weird

(Joheunnom nabbeunnom isanghannom)

Buy The Good, The Bad, The Weird [DVD]

This quirky and inventive homage to Westerns is directed by Jee-woon Kim. It’s the story of two outlaws and a bounty hunter in 1940s Manchuria and their rivalry to possess a treasure map while being pursued by the Japanese army and Chinese bandits. It nods heavily to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, but this film makes ‘madcap’ seem cool again.

3. I’m A Cyborg But That’s Okay

(Ssaibogeujiman gwaenchanha)

I'm a cyborg but that's okay

Buy I’m A Cyborg [2006] [DVD]

I’m a Cyborg… is a hyper-cute Korean indie rom-com directed by Park Chan-wook and starring Im Su-jeong and Rain. The film centres around Young-goon, a young woman who thinks she’s a robot. After trying to recharge herself and nearly electrocuting herself in the process, Young-goon is sent to a mental health institution. That’s where she meets patient Il-Sun, a kleptomaniac who claims to steal other people’s talents and souls. Be warned: It’s very knowing and endearing. If ‘cute’ or the romanticisation of mental ill health in any form sets your teeth on edge, stay away.

4. The Chaser

(Chugyeogja)

Buy The Chaser (2008) [DVD]

The Chaser is extraordinarily gripping, even if you’re not, as far as you’re aware, fond of the sight of bloodied hammers being raised and lowered repeatedly. It should be cliche, with a sleazy, lazy cop and a serial killer. However, it deftly plays with cliche to come out the other side. It’ll mess with your head, too. A Hollywood-style ending occurs a paltry twenty minutes into the film, leaving the viewer to explore whole new territories of invention. The Chaser is absolute genius, but it comes with a warning: it ventures into extremely broad farce at times.

5. A Bittersweet Life

(Dalkomhan insaeng)

Buy A Bittersweet Life [2005] [DVD]

Jee-woon Kim directed this one. Sandwiched between two buddhist parables, crime boss henchman Kim Sun-woo (Lee Byung-hun) is asked to shadow his boss’s beautiful young wife, thought to be a bit flighty and cheating on him with a younger man. Normally, our hero and heroine would fall in love. In this case, our hero is constantly trying to do the honourable right thing… and this leads him into situations that become increasingly awful, ending in one of the best finales you’ll see in cinema. More stylish than Pulp Fiction, more gripping than Haute Tension… this beautiful Korean movie is red roses for the eyes, and damn near perfect.

6. Hansel and Gretel

(Henjel gwa Geuretel )

Buy Hansel And Gretel [DVD]

Korean horror films are easily as eerie as Chinese ghost story films or the “Do they have notably long hair?They must be dead and evil” horror films from Japan. Hansel and Gretel is a beautifully-shot take on the old Grimm fairytale, placed in an enchanted setting as a young couple lose their way in a dark forest and find themselves staying the night in a happy family home they can never leave…

7. A Tale of Two Sisters

(Janghwa, Hongryeon)

Korean Films - A tale of two sisters

Buy A Tale Of Two Sisters [2003] [DVD]

Ah. A Tale of Two Sisters. Mesmerising, beautiful and strange, it follows the psychological twists and turns of two very odd sisters and a stepmother struggling to accept them as her new family. There may – or may not – be a psychopath in the family’s midst. But is it the mother? Or one of the sisters? Or both? It’s not a gory film, but so slow and gripping you’ll utterly forget to breathe.

8. My Sassy Girl

(Yeopgijeogin geunyeo)

Buy My Sassy Girl (2001) Hilarious Korean Comedy (Eng Subs)

This Korean drama / romantic comedy directed by Jae-young Kwak got a rating of 8.2 on IMDB. It’s based on a series of true stories blogged by Ho-sik Kim about his relationship with his girlfriend (later turned into a bestselling book and a crappy US remake). My Sassy Girl describes the meeting of Kyun-woo (Cha) and a girl he feels shamed into assisting – and later feeling responsible for – because the other passengers mistakenly think she is his girlfriend.

9. The Man From Nowhere

(Ajeossi)

Buy The Man From Nowhere [DVD]

A quiet pawnshop keeper with a murky past takes on a drug/organ trafficking ring in the hope of saving a child who is his only friend. It’s an explosive Korean thriller with richly choreographed violence, gorgeous cinematography and heart. And, of course, some comedy gems. I can’t help feeling that Korean films are typically much better at genre-twisting than Hollywood. Fans of the Luc Besson thriller Leon should love this.

10. Mother

(Madeo)

Buy Mother [DVD]

You know what? After a slow start, this quirky Korean thriller is not entirely unlike Twin Peaks, with its rich and varied cast of unusual townsfolk. The murder mystery focuses on a mother’s attempts to clear her son’s name when he is implicated in a killing on the grounds that he has a mental disability. As well as being an excellent mystery with neat plot twists, it features fantastic performances… and it’s the kind of movie where you really wouldn’t be surprised if David Lynch’s Log Lady turned up.

11. The Host

(Gwoemul)

Buy The Host [DVD]

Some people moan about The Host because they say it’s too patchy. Certainly, it’s many films rolled into one. It’s not really the horror film some claim it to be – it can be easier to think of as more of a Korean monster movie. But it’s got fantastic CGI, and it’s really well shot, and it’s very funny, and the second half of the film evolves a massive satire on the failings of Korean government and society. All that in one film? Excellent.

12. Haunters

This one’s kind of a curio. Are you ready for a Korean supernatural thriller stroke superhero movie? You are? Good. Cho-In can control other people’s minds, but only when he can see them. And there’s just one man he can’t control – a man who is immune to his powers. Within the first fifteen minutes you’ll know this almost-but-not-quite superhero film is designed not to provoke but to entertain. It’s wild, fun and makes no sense. Watch it and throw your popcorn in the air.

13. Memories of Murder

(Salinui chueok)

Buy Memories of Murder [DVD]

This one is based on the true story of South Korea’s first documented serial killer who raped and murdered ten women. He was never found. Brutality, black humour aimed at the military dictatorship of the time and an intended sense of unease combine in a movie that places its focus on the inept desperation of professionals trying to solve the cases. Urban cops seek viable evidence while local ones resort to torture and aiming for forced confessions. If you liked Zodiac, you might like this.

14. Lady Vengeance

(Chinjeolhan geumjassi)

Korean Films - Lady Vengeance

Buy Lady Vengeance [DVD]

Lady Vengeance is the final part of the Vengeance trilogy by lovely Chan-wook Park (which includes Oldboy). After a decade in prison for kidnapping and murdering a little boy, Geum-ja Lee just wants a peaceful life… but she’s not going to get it. Lady Vengeance has the dark humour of Oldboy and the low-key elegance of Mister Vengeance. Again, expect a great plot, fine build of pace and tension, and twists and turns. So many Korean films have those. This one is, however… exceptionally elegant. Truly elegant. I can’t stop saying the word. The music, the cinematography, the icy cool of the lead actress… you’d want Lady Vengeance to be your friend. You’d best not make her your enemy.

15. Thirst

(Bakjwi)

Buy Thirst [DVD] [2009]

Yay, it’s a Korean vampire movie! Directed by… again… Chan-wook Park. He gets around, doesn’t he? This ubergory horror movie’s plot centres on a priest who ‘catches’ vampirism through a failed medical experiment and has to give up his holy ways. Gory with a bit of nudity, Thirst pokes a great big hole in all the vampire cliches. It splices inventive plot, dialogue and visceral display with pithy surreal comedy… and as for the weird love scene? Wow. Enjoy…

16. I Saw The Devil

(Akmareul boatda)

Buy I Saw the Devil [DVD]

When his pregnant fiancee becomes the latest victim of a serial killer, a secret agent is torn between good and evil in his pursuit of revenge. I personally relate strongly to Korean films which blur the boundaries between good and evil, because no-one is ever purely one thing or the other. I Saw the Devil is outstanding in many ways… but it’s violent. Be prepared.

17. Bedevilled

(Kim Bok-nam salinsageonui jeonmal)

Buy Bedevilled [DVD]

When her pleas for help are ignored and result in her daughter’s death, a woman seeks revenge on the person she blames. Death and revenge… Korean films can’t get enough of it. Neither can Mookychick. This horror thriller, told from the point of view of someone who is not a central character, dripfeeds you clever little twists and turns through flashbacks that will leave you guessing. Oh, and it’s got two REALLY powerful female leads. Oh, it’s so much more than just a boring, standard revenge drama…

18. Windstruck

(Nae yeojachingureul sogae habnida)

Buy Windstruck

This list is skewed towards blood, guts, cops and revenge tragedies. However, Windstruck is a an emotional rollercoaster romance about love transcending death… some people rate it even higher than My Sassy Girl.

19. Breathless

(Ddongpari)

Buy Breathless (2-disc Special Edition) [DVD]

This powerful drama about the cycle of domestic violence centres on an abusive debt collector who starts to see the good in life when he meets a high school girl. It’s not an easy watch by any means, but works to present relationships (and the violence depicted) with depth.

20. A Moment to Remember

(Nae meorisokui jiwoogae)

Buy Moment to Remember [DVD]

Lastly… A Moment to Remember is a Korean love story about a young couple’s enduring relationship and how that love is tested when 27 year old Sun-jin is diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease. Yes, it’s emotional, and yes, you will cry. It’s a simple story, but so well directed that it rises above itself to become something beautiful and pure and holy and true, like going to film church. Oh, you will cry.

And on that cheery note… These are a mere twenty of the best Korean films of all time. From horror to drama to romance to comedy to strange, wonderful films that bust Hollywood genres to become something exciting and new, Korean cinema is some of the best-produced and most thoughtful and inventive in the world.

Tagged in: , ,

Click here if you'd like to write for Mookychick...