South Korean cinema is well known for its gruesome, no-holds-barred violence, which ranks among the most disturbing films.
South Korea has established itself as a formidable opponent in the debate over which countries are currently producing the best films with Parasite's historic Best Picture win at the 2020 Oscars.
We've compiled a list of the best Korean films of all time.
40. The Roundup
Ma Dong-Seok of Train to Busan and Eternals returns as "beast cop" Ma Seok-do in this sequel to 2017's action hit The Outlaws.
Four years after the events of The Outlaws, Detective Ma and Captain Jeon Il-man are dispatched to Vietnam on a covert mission to bring down Kang, a sadistic man who kidnaps wealthy Korean tourists for ransom.
39. 'The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure'
This remake/sequel to the 2014 hit film follows a new band of swashbuckling antiheroes in 14th-century Korea.
When self-proclaimed "good bandit" Wu Mu-chi and his men become stranded in the middle of the ocean, pirate captain Hae-rang and her crew come to their aid.
The two groups discover a map of a lost royal treasure and band together to recover it, taking on a mercenary crew led by the villain Bu Heung-soo.
38. Love and Leashes
This rom-com stars two idol actors as two coworkers pursuing a BDSM partnership.
Ji-woo is developing feelings for her new colleague Ji-hoo when she receives his package, which contains a human-sized dog collar.
Instead of panicking, she becomes interested in BDSM, and Ji-hoo invites her to a dominant/submissive relationship. Will the couple stick with BDSM or pursue a romantic relationship?
37. Tune In For Love
Mi-Soo meets Hyun-Woo on the first day that singer Yoo Yeol becomes the DJ for the radio programme "Music Album" in 1994.
Hyun-Woo has just been released from a juvenile detention centre and walks into the bakery run by Mi-Soo and her older sister Eun-Ja. Hyun-Woo starts working part-time at the bakery.
Mi-Soo is initially terrified of Hyun-Woo, but they grow close and develop feelings for each other. Hyun-Woo, on the other hand, is haunted by guilt over a fatal incident in his past and refuses to discuss it with anyone.
Hyun-Woo's friends appear at the bakery store one day and leave with him. Mi-Soo is convinced that Hyun-Woo will not return.
Their friendship does not end there, and they will cross paths several times more in the future.
36. 20th Century Girl
This rom-com begins in 1999, when Na Bo-Ra, then 17, meets her first love, Hyun Jin. Years later, after their sweet but heartbreaking relationship, she runs into him again, resurrecting a long-forgotten teenage romance.
35. Hope (2013)
The infamously tragic Nayoung Case, which shocked the country in 2008, is the inspiration for "Hope", a terrible film about a beautiful family.
Their peaceful lives are shattered when their 8-year-old daughter So-won is beaten, raped, and left to die.
So-won survives the inhumane treatment, but she and her family bear psychological and emotional scars as a result.
34. PIETÀ (2012)
Kim tells the story of a cruel loan shark who treats his debtors coldly, harshly, and ruthlessly.
He neither gives them more time nor kills them; instead, he cripples them. He makes their lives a living hell.
He is cold because he feels no sympathy or sorrow for his victim.
33. The Way Home (2002)
The plot of 'The Way Home is well-known, and it will contain sentimental elements.
A lovely, quiet grandma who is oblivious to modern technologies such as electricity, drainage, and Kentucky Fried Chicken wins over her spoiled grandson when they spend the summer together in her rural South Korean town.
Because of the economic downturn, the grandmother's daughter has decided to spend the summer away from Sang-woo until she can find work in a city.
The story was written and directed by Jeong-Hyang Lee with such tenderness and affection for the characters that it 'feels' fresh and new.
He avoids all clichés and genre conventions in order to construct a story centred on a character whose path is determined by their internalised feelings rather than the ideological and societal divides between the protagonists.
32. Thirst (2009)
Park Chan-Wook gives a fresh spin on a popular cultural trope: vampires with high cheekbones who syphon off blood and have lengthened teeth to latch on the carotid artery.
Even if the existence of vampires suffers the same fate as fairy tales, his jazzed-up and evolved vampire narrative feels relatable.
"Thirst" by Park Chan-Wook is full of original ideas and painstaking characterization, and he becomes nasty and disturbing at times, as is typical of him. His ideas can be cynical at times, which can be unsettling.
By layering the characters, Park Chan achieves emotional depth. He sets up a moral battleground for two diametrically opposed souls linked by estranged feelings.
31. The Host (2006)
'The Host,' directed by Bong Joon-ho, is a subtle but caustic critique of public panic, healthcare bureaucracy, consumerism, and pollution, rather than a horror film about a slimy tentacle monster spewing terror along the Han River.
The drama surrounding the dysfunctional family acts as a connecting thread, allowing the screenplay to address the issues while masquerading as a monster movie without weighing them down.
Bong Joon-Ho's greatest achievement in The Host is pulling off a moment of comedy in the midst of the saddest sequence. When the family is grieving the loss of their sweet adolescent daughter, try not to laugh.
30. Lady Vengence (2005)
Lee Geum-Ja has spent the last 13 years in prison for a murder she did not commit.
She's had nightmares about exacting vengeance on those who have wronged her, including the cop who forced her to confess and a questionable teacher with whom she has a tumultuous relationship.
She joins forces with a group of eccentric friends she met in prison in order to clear her name and find the daughter she was forced to leave behind after her release.
29. I Saw The Devil (2010)
A cab driver, Kyung-Chul, comes across a terrified female motorist trapped in a broken-down vehicle on a dark road.
He comes to a complete stop but does not assist her. When the woman's head is discovered in a nearby river, her distraught fiancé, skilled secret agent Kim Soo-Hyeon, becomes obsessed with finding her killer.
When he meets Kyung-Chul, things start to get complicated. Kim lets the murderer go after viciously beating him, and a bizarre cat-and-mouse game ensues.
28. IL Mare (2000)
While separated by a temporal time warp, two disturbed people are linked by letters found in the mailbox at Il Mare, the name of the Lake House.
The concept may appear absurd, but the way people negotiate their personal space and cure one another through a fantasy exchange of letters without succumbing to genre conventions has more to do with instinct and the passion of love than with the plot itself.
The film's allure was too much for Hollywood, which adopted it as 'The Lake House,' starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, in 2006.
27. New World (2013)
Park Hoon-Jung's sophisticated gangster movie 'New World' is an intense character study of the Korean Crime syndicate's inner workings, which begins to unravel after the Chairman's death in a staged car accident.
When Ja-sung, a helpless undercover detective who joined the syndicate eight years ago, fails to find a way out, his devotion is called into question.
As it travels through the crumbling empire, the story unfolds on a Shakespearean landscape of betrayal and shifting loyalties.
26. The Brotherhood Of War (2004)
Jin-Tae has always been concerned about his younger brother, Jin-Seok, and has even shined shoes to help fund his college education.
As the Korean War erupts, Jin-Tae decides to defend his younger brother and both brothers enlist.
Jin-Tae strikes an agreement with his commander: he will accept the most dangerous missions in exchange for keeping Jin-Seok safe from harm.
Jin-Tae matures into a war hero, with a growing bloodlust that surprises his younger brother.
25. Oldboy (2003)
Dae-Su is a bad-tempered alcoholic who has been bailed out of jail yet again by a friend.
He is kidnapped off the street, however, and awakens in a cell, where he will spend the next 15 years, drugged unconscious when human contact is unavoidable and with only the television for company the rest of the time.
Then, after being unexpectedly released, he is compelled to track down his tormentor, which leads to a stunning conclusion.
24. The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008)
A chance encounter on a train in 1930s Manchuria launches an epic quest for a treasure map, culminating in a marathon chase for the loot.
Do-won, aka "The Good," is a bounty hunter on the trail of Chang-yee, aka "The Bad," a seductive hitman out to steal a map from a military official.
However, when the unscrupulous Tae-goo obtains the map for himself, he throws a wrench in both of their plans.
23. The Bow (2005)
Kim Ki-Duk's character study of a 16-year-old girl who has spent a decade aboard a boat, 'The Bow,' is enigmatic and ambiguous.
The girl is being watched over by an elderly man wielding a multifunctional bow, who plans to marry her when she reaches the age of seventeen.
She's been cut off from civilization for a decade, which has had serious psychological consequences, as evidenced by the character's actions.
22. The World Of Us (2016)
Yoon Ga-Eun investigates the intrinsic and extrinsic stresses that contemporary Korean adolescents face without resorting to theatrics or event manipulation.
In the film, Sun, an elementary school girl and social outcast, befriends a transfer student, Jia, during a summer vacation.
Sun and Jia's new friendship is put to the test when the new semester begins, as they face bullying and internal issues. Will they be able to overcome their obstacles?
21. A Tale Of Two Stories (2003)
After being institutionalized in a mental facility, Su-mi, a Korean teen, reunites with her loving sister, Su-Yeon, and the two return to their country home.
The widower father of the girls has remarried, and his new wife, Eun-Joo, is despised by the siblings.
Strange occurrences occur in the house as Su-mi and Su-Yeon attempt to resume their normal lives, leading to unexpected revelations and a tragic conclusion.
20. Oasis (2002)
After serving time for killing a man in a hit-and-run vehicle accident, Hong Jong-du is released with no money and nowhere to go. His family has turned against him.
While attempting to make amends, he runs into Han Gong-Ju, his victim's adult daughter. Because she is wheelchair-bound due to cerebral palsy, her heartless family has abandoned her in a run-down apartment.
The recklessly impetuous Jong-du is drawn to the sensitivity of Gong-innate Ju, and the two begin an unlikely relationship.
19. Oki's Movie (2010)
Hong Sang-soo gave the love triangle a frustratingly unorganised but thrilling narrative twist. Throughout, it's a self-referential metadrama with subtle humour and an awkward droll.
Ambiguities, ironies, and the gap between men's and women's experiences emerge in the shattered story depicting the awkward and painful turmoil of love.
It follows Jingu, a neurotic, insecure young filmmaker, a mature but questionable professor named Song, and Oki, a fellow student, as they become entangled in an uncomfortable but sensual relationship.
18. House Of Hummingbird (2019)
"House of Hummingbird" is a coming-of-age novel about a group of lonely and awkward teenagers who are trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be during a time of upheaval in their personal lives as well as in the wider world.
Based on that description alone, many of you are probably recalling a variety of films that match those characteristics, albeit strangely at times.
This one, on the other hand, is one of the good ones—a nuanced and fascinating take on a familiar issue bolstered significantly by the contributions of writer/director Bora Kim and young lead actress Ji-hu Park.
17. The Day He Arrives (2011)
Hang Sang-soo is well-known for intertwining personal experiences with fictitious plots to create an intimate meta-narrative. "The Day He Arrives" could be his most sincere existential slacker comedy to date.
Seong-jun, a sloppy filmmaker with four films under his belt, is about to be fired. He's in Seoul to see his critic friend Young-ho.
They spend a number of seemingly repetitive days in a bar, similar to Groundhog Day, except that each day brings new developments and energy shifts.
They meet Young teacher Ho's friend, a bar owner, and an actor who has been offered a part in Seong-Jun's film. Their interactions are fairly mundane, as one might expect from Hang's films.
16. Right Now, Wrong Then (2015)
South Korean director Hong Sang-soo raises the emotional stakes of this cinematic romance by doubling the drama.
It tells the story of Ham Chunsu, a well-known art-house filmmaker who has a day to kill before presenting his new film at a Suwon film festival.
While visiting a shrine, he meets Heejung, a young artist who is awestruck by his fame and invites him to her studio.
He becomes interested in her work there and eventually confesses his feelings to her over the course of a drunken evening.
15. Painted Fire (2002)
Everything begins with a Korean artist's mistrust of a Japanese art collector who admires his work.
The story then returns to his father's childhood. He started out as a wanderer with a passion for drawing, and he has a talent for mimicking other people's art, but he is encouraged to develop his own style.
For him, this is a terrible process, and he frequently acts out, getting drunk and being rude to those who care about him and want to help him.
14. Parasite (2019)
Bong Joon-ho's intelligent and compelling comedy/thriller became one of the year's most talked-about films, setting a new bar for the impact that a South Korean film can have on American audiences.
The film is packed with social satire, thrilling scenes, and meaty language that warrants a thorough 'Parasite' movie analysis.
'Parasite,' while not Bong Joon-best ho's work, is an incredibly engaging film from the start. It's a commercial potboiler with a social and class undercurrent that moves between Shakespearean melodrama and Hitchcockian suspense.
13. Take Care Of My Cat (2001)
Hae-Joo is a selfish, self-centred, and ambitious person who seeks fulfilment through material possessions. Her friends will not be able to fit into her future plans. She looks at them with a sneer.
It has something to do with their inability to find stable employment. Ji-young, who wants to study textile design abroad, is especially dismissive of her.
Ji's parents have died, and the family's financial situation prevents her from continuing her education.
Hae-Joo rudely reminds Ji-young of it. Tae-hee is the most mature and caring of the group. Her parents hire her.
She finds living at home claustrophobic due to her large family. Ohn-jo and Bi-Ryu, identical twins, are happy in their small village.
12. Train To Busan (2016)
Surviving on a train bound for Busan is a matter of life and death. Seok-woo, a divorced father, is always preoccupied with business, leaving him with no time to spend with his daughter Su-an.
He offers to drive her to Busan to see her mother. As the train departs, a strange virus spreads from a sick girl, and people start turning into zombies.
Will Seok-woo and Su-an make it through the ordeal? TRAIN TO BUSAN is Yeon Sang-first Ho's feature film, and his edgy animation has earned him critical acclaim at Cannes.
11. Microhabitat (2017)
Miso, the protagonist of Jeon Go-Woon's debut novel Microhabitat, prefers her vices - alcohol and cigarettes - to a roof over her head.
This is a one-of-a-kind and unexpected decision. However, contrary to my initial impression that Miso's decision in the film was emotional, the film is written with such conviction and a fresh and convincing perspective that Miso's decision in the film appears potent and sensible.
Miso's detached attitude toward life and priorities will cause you to consider your own existence.
Miso travels around Seoul couch-surfing as rent rises and cigarettes and alcohol become prohibitively expensive.
She brings an egg tray for every friend she sees. Jeon Go-Woon contrasts the culture and economics of Korean metropolitan life with the impoverished economy. She does it without sneering or feeling sorry for herself.
Miso is fascinating because she barters her trade for necessities and helps her friends along the way to avoid going into debt with her friends, who are almost certainly in debt themselves.
10. Mother (2009)
A mother is traditionally regarded as a symbol of unwavering devotion, capable of willingly sacrificing everything for her child.
'Mother,' directed by Bong Joon-ho, seeks to understand the reality of unconditional love while traversing a mother's emotional problem.
Bong Joon creates a heartbreaking mystery thriller centred on the murder of a teenage girl, with a moderately intelligent man as the prime suspect.
His mother begins a haphazard search for the true perpetrator. It entangles her in a web of deception and moral turpitude.
Kim Hye-Ja immerses herself brilliantly in this role, delivering a subtle performance that will be remembered for a long time.
9. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… And Spring (2004)
It's difficult to write about a film with an intuitive, visceral, and expansive plot. How do you write about something that is so similar to life and explore it against the backdrop of the changing seasons?
On a raft floating in the middle of a mountain pond, we are introduced to a small Buddhist monastery, a world unto itself. An ageing monk prepares to pass on his wisdom to a young monk in a recurring cycle of life.
Life unfolds against the backdrop of four distinct seasons. As if time had stopped, encapsulating the emotions of existing and perpetually flourishing.
8. The Handmaiden (2016)
Park Chan-Wook's "The Handmaiden" is a love story, revenge thriller, and puzzle film set in Japanese-occupied Korea in the 1930s.
It's voluptuously beautiful, openly sexual, strange at times, and horrifyingly violent. Its very existence seems incomprehensible at times.
Despite this, the film's various components are assembled with such care, and the characters are written and portrayed with such psychological sensitivity, that you never get the impression that the writer-director is rubbing the audience's nose in excessive amounts of one kind or another.
7. Burning (2018)
"Burning" is a lovely, enigmatic, ambiguous riddle story with unexpected twists and turns. The film is well-crafted, with subdued cinematography and complete control over its script, as evidenced by the strong characterization.
The restrained and controlled narration, which relies on visual cues to depict the tight tension between the characters, is the most impressive aspect of "Burning".
Anger, grief, fury, love, and envy are never expressed explicitly. Instead, they're lost in awkward silences, heightened by Kim Da-disturbing won's score.
6. The King And The Clown (2005)
The King and the Clown is a historical tragicomedy. It's a subtly nuanced examination of sexuality, love, envy, and lunacy set against the backdrop of 15th-century Korean socio-cultural components during the reign of King Yeonsan.
The rich plot, compelling monologues, and dramatic tropes combine to create a tragic conundrum reminiscent of Shakespearean tragedy.
The film, adapted from Lee Joon-Ik and Choi Seok-stage hwan's play, deconstructs the interpersonal and intrapersonal interactions of two unfortunate travelling clowns who become entangled in a web of compassion, generosity, and longing for a nice life.
5. The Wailing (2016)
Set in a remote mountain town in South Korea, village residents face their worst nightmare: the unsolved murder of village residents.
Na Hong-jin allowed the basic plot to evolve naturally over time while keeping the audience entertained by creating a perplexing horror trap with a dash of doleful humor.
This horror masterpiece is unquestionably one of the best Korean films of the twentieth century.
4. On the Beach at Night Alone (2017)
On the Beach at Night Alone, Sang-soo Hong's new film, finds him working in a more intimate vein while maintaining the singular sensibilities that have driven much of his celebrated previous work.
Young-hee is a jaded Korean actress who is troubled by her romance with a married man. She wonders on the beach if he misses her as much as she misses him.
3. Peppermint Candy (1999)
After a man commits suicide, time travels back to reveal six chapters of his life that explain why he committed suicide.
Lee Chang-'Peppermint dong's Candy' is an unflinching and methodical portrayal of a man set against Korea's ever-changing and volatile geopolitical context.
The story of Peppermint Candy is told through the five stages of the protagonist's life. It is written backwards, beginning with his suicide on the bridge and ending with his college days.
It delves into Young Ho's mind after he accidentally shoots an innocent girl during the 1980s Gwangju tragedy.
2. Memories Of Murder (2003)
"Memories of Murder" is a remarkable achievement in character study and the creation of unsettling tension throughout the film, which is richly detailed and nerve-wracking.
Because of the muted color cinematography and the vast emptiness of the fields in the rain, every scene has a creepy undercurrent.
The ritualistic serial killing of women in a small South Korean town brings together two ineffective local cops and a cool-headed Seoul cop to solve the crime.
1. Poetry (2010)
The best Korean films of the 20th century Lee Chang-dong is undeniably one of today's most gifted screenwriters and directors.
Even if he had the most rudimentary plot that could be summarized in a single sentence, the intricate and nuanced drama he contains would require multiple viewings to fully appreciate.
The best of the bunch is "Poetry". Lee's gloomy "Poetry" has an underlying theme of contemplating remorse and grief and articulating it in order to vent while facing existential crises.
Despite being Lee's most approachable work, it is rich in emotional and psychological dimensions.
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