It seems safe to say that South Korea is quickly taking over the entertainment industry. With the rise of K-pop, K-dramas gaining popularity on streaming platforms, and Korean films winning major international awards, what’s next? So if you’re just dipping your toes into the world of international cinema or are already in deep with Korea’s entertainment exports, you might be looking for some great Korean movies to stream.
With recent international hits like Train to Busan, The Handmaiden, and Parasite, to name a few, Korea has proven itself a force to be reckoned with when it comes to movies. The country keeps churning out hits, and while Korean creators clearly have a knack for specific genres like psychological thrillers and zombie films, there are many fantastic Korean movies of all genres. So if you are looking for a film to watch while browsing Netflix, check out 15 great Korean movies that the streaming platform has on offer.
Night in Paradise
If you are looking for a classic crime thriller, the likes of which South Korean filmmakers are known for, then the Netflix Original movie Night in Paradise is a great choice. Directed by Park Hoon-jung, the dark drama stars Uhm Tae-goo as Park Tae-goo, a mobster who denies an offer to join the rival Bukseong gang, resulting in the murder of his entire family. Tae-goo then retaliates by killing the men responsible before fleeing to the picturesque Jeju Island. There he meets a woman named Kim Jae-yeon, played by Jeon Yeo-been, who suffers from a terminal illness and has little time left to live, and the two form a connection. Unfortunately, Tae-goo’s troubles follow him to the island as the Bukseong gang hunts him down. South Korea has a talent for creating complex and exciting revenge stories with fascinating antiheroes. Tae-goo is a skilled assassin whose life gets turned upside down by his loyalty, and the one thing he cares about — his family — is taken away from him. In Jae-yeon, Tae-goo finds someone who has gone through a similar situation and ends up alone, but doesn’t want to be, and so they begin to form a life together. Their relationship becomes the emotional centerpiece of an action-packed, violent story of vengeance.
Time to Hunt
Another Netflix Original, Time to Hunt is a thriller set in a dystopian near-future in which poverty is even more widespread and destructive. A group of friends, desperate to get out of the city and start a better life, decide to commit one last heist together to get the cash they need, with a popular gambling house their target. While they successfully pull off the heist, stealing a large sum of money and the security hard drives, the owners of the gambling house decide to retaliate, hiring a ruthless assassin to hunt down the four friends and get back what they stole. Directed by Yoon Sung-hyun, the movie stars Choi Woo-shik, who you might recognize as the son from Parasite, Lee Je-hoon, Ahn Jae-hong, Park Jung-min, and Park Hae-soo. The thriller Time to Hunt is perfect for people who like heist films or action-filled dramas, and the movie is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat as the four friends fight for their lives.
Korean movies cover all genres, including sci-fi. This 2021 film, Space Sweepers, is set in the year 2092, after Earth has become nearly unlivable, when everyone who is able to has gone out to space to live. A big corporation called UTS has started building an orbiting structure that would bring selected citizens to live in the constructed utopia. But those without riches or privilege are pretty much out of luck, and that includes the many who work as “space sweepers,” or people who collect debris from the space around Earth to sell in order to survive. Space Sweepers focuses on a close-knit crew of these workers who must face off against UTS when they find a stowaway little girl known as Dorothy (Park Ye-rin) who is highly desired by the corporation. UTS claims that she is actually a robot weapon, but the crew can’t help but fall in love with the girl, so they continue to debate whether they should sell her for riches or protect her from UTS. The film stars Song Joong-ki as Kim Tae-ho, a former soldier who now works with Captain Jang, played by Kim Tae-ri of The Handmaiden, on her ship, alongside Jin Seon-kyu as Tiger Park and their robot friend Bubs, voiced by Yoo Hae-jin. Also in the film is Richard Armitage, who plays the greedy, controlling CEO of UTS, James Sullivan.
Netflix’s Korean film offerings also include 1980s-set dramedies. The 2016 film Seoul Searching is about a group of young Korean men and women who were adopted and grew up in places around the world, coming together for a summer camp experience in Seoul to connect and learn about their heritage. The movie is a clear homage to the ‘80s era, especially John Hughes-style films, with the emotional center being all these Korean adoptees coming together and finding solace and friendship in their shared experiences. It’s a rare movie in its choice to focus on the Korean immigrant experience in this way, with the characters representing a beautiful and unique blend of cultures that are rarely showcased on screen. On top of that, Seoul Searching is a laugh-out-loud comedy, with some really great romance between various central characters. As director Benson Lee is Korean-American himself, the movie definitely feels like a mish-mash of the two cultures, leaning more into the American style of film and humor. The ensemble cast features Justin Chon, Jessika Van, Cha In-pyo, Teo Yoo, and more.
Tune in for Love
Starring Jung Hae-in as Hyun-woo and Kim Go-eun, who some might know from the popular Korean drama Guardian: The Lonely and Great God, as Mi-soo, Tune in for Love is a sweet love story that takes place over years, following star-crossed lovers Hyun-woo and Mi-soo through the many ups and downs of their relationship. First meeting at a bakery where Mi-soo works in 1994, the two grow close, but strange situations seem to always drag them apart. Whether it’s a lost email password, a broken phone, or even jail time, the two can’t seem to catch a break. Despite that, Mi-soo and Hyun-woo continue to search for one another over the years, determined to be with the other person no matter what obstacles of life stand in the way. If you are in the mood for a heartfelt, subtle romance, Tune in for Love is the perfect choice.
While a majority of this film is in English, it is still very much a South Korean film. Directed by Bong Joon Ho and co-written by him and Jon Ronson, Okja is the story of a young girl named Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) who makes it her mission to rescue the “super pig” she raised, named “Okja.” The animal is part of a major experiment for the meat industry, led by a power-hungry American company, with the end goal being Okja’s consumption. It’s definitely a commentary on capitalism in America, along with the brutal treatment of animals in the food industry, most notably pigs. The film is star-studded, featuring longtime Bong collaborator Tilda Swinton, along with Paul Dano, Byun Hee-bong, Jake Gyllenhaal, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Giancarlo Esposito, and more. The movie is Bong’s second English-language film after 2013’s Snowpiercer, and although he will definitely continue to focus on Korean films like the Oscar-winning Parasite, Okja represents his increasing presence in Hollywood and the American film industry. The story of Okja is heart-wrenching, funny, and beautiful, and it definitely forces you to think about what sort of food we consume and how it gets from the farm to the stomach. After seeing Okja, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Gyllenhaal, Dano, and Yeun all team up with Bong again in the future.
The psychological thriller Forgotten focuses on a young man named Jin-seok, played by Kang Ha-neul, who lives a humble life with his parents and older brother Yoo-seok (Kim Mu-yeol). One night, Jin-seok sees his brother kidnapped by men on the street, but 19 days later, Yoo-seok returns, seemingly fine and acting like nothing even happened. While everything returns to normal, Jin-seok notices stark differences in the way his brother is acting, and soon enough he’s convinced that it’s a different person. As other strange things start happening, Jin-seok works to uncover the truth of what really happened the night of his brother’s kidnapping, but his search leads him down a deep rabbit hole that digs up more revelations about himself than Yoo-seok. Overall, Forgotten is a bit hard to explain, because if I were to get any deeper than this, I might just reveal some of the shocking twists and turns of this puzzling thriller. Written and directed by Jang Hang-jun, Forgotten is a truly unpredictable story that anyone who loves movies like Memento or I Saw the Devil should immediately add to their Netflix watchlist.
The Bros is a hilarious misadventure of two very different, estranged brothers who are forced to work together after their father dies as they go through all of the traditions of a Korean funeral. The film is directed by Chang You-jeong and stars Ma Dong-seok, who Marvel fans will see as Gilgamesh in Eternals, as Lee Seok-bong and Lee Dong-hwi as Lee Joo-bong, the two brothers in question. Seok-bong is the older, more immature brother, a history teacher whose one big dream is to discover secret treasure on the family’s land, while Joo-bong is the meticulous, ambitious younger brother who attempts to use the funeral to convince his family to sell the land. The two haven’t seen or talked to one another since their mother’s funeral, so there’s a lot to work through, and to make matters worse, the brothers hit a woman named Oh Ro-ra, played by Lee Hanee, on the way to their father’s funeral, causing her amnesia. The Bros is a dramedy that focuses on the brothers as they rebuild their relationship amidst this crazy situation. It’s extremely funny, and after their whole story is revealed, you can’t help but root for these meddlesome siblings and the woman who brings them back together.
Written and directed by Yeon Sang-ho, who also directed the 2016 hit zombie film Train to Busan, Psychokinesis is one of Korea’s first superhero movies. The film stars Ryu Seung-ryong as Shin Seok-heon, a down-on-his-luck security guard who isn’t exactly the type of person who you’d think would become a hero. But after a strange meteor grants him the power of telekinesis, Seok-heon attempts to turn his life around and help his estranged daughter Shin Roo-mi, played by Shim Eun-kyung, save her business from a mob-controlled construction company trying to kick her out. Psychokinesis is filled with plenty of action and comedy as Seok-heon bumbles his way through both becoming a hero for the city and a better father for Roo-mi. The 2018 movie is an underrated and thoroughly entertaining alternative superhero story, and it’s certainly one of Netflix’s current hidden gems.
The Reservoir Game
The only documentary on the list, The Reservoir Game is the story of journalist Joo Jin-woo’s investigation into the whereabouts of a rumored stash of funds held by the former South Korea president, Lee Myung-bak. In 2013, a major development deal was made between a big Korean bank called Nonghyup Bank and a bunch of investors, but it “fell through” before the project could be constructed, and the investors lost huge amounts of money overnight. As president from 2008 to 2013, Lee was directly involved in the scheme and suspected of squirrelling away a huge sum of money. While the former president was recently sentenced to jail time for his corrupt, illegal activities, the question of the missing money remained on reporter Joo’s mind, and so he began a deep investigation that led him and director Choi Jin-seong to travel all the way to Canada to follow a tip they received. The documentary presents a deep dive into the case and how the scam was created and put in motion. The true story of The Reservoir Game is interesting and complex, and it’s a great look at another instance of political and financial corruption of those in high positions of power, along with a group of people who are determined to not let them get away with it.
The Drug King
The Netflix Original crime drama The Drug King stars two of Korea’s best actors, Song Kang-ho, Bong Joon Ho’s most frequent collaborator who appears in hits like Snowpiercer and Parasite, and Bae Doona, who starred in Netflix hit shows Sense8 and Kingdom. Written and directed by Woo Min-ho, the film depicts the life of Lee Doo-sam, played by Song, a low-level drug dealer who rises up to become an infamous drug kingpin. The character is based on a real man of the same name who built a drug empire in the 1970s, basing his operations in Busan. Bae plays a lobbyist with influential social connections who falls in love with Doo-sam and helps him gain power and control. The Drug King is an intense, stylistic movie, really embracing the 1970s setting in Korea, while never falling short on action and drama as Doo-sam fights to maintain his position of power. If you’re looking for something exciting and gritty, The Drug King is the movie to watch.
If you want to watch a truly mind-melting mystery thriller, The Call is it. The 2020 film is directed by Lee Chung-hyeon, starring Park Shin-hye as a young woman named Kim Seo-yeon who finds an old phone at her childhood home that she starts getting calls on. The strange thing is, the woman on the other line is named Oh Young-sook, played by Jeon Jong-seo, and claims that she’s calling from 20 years in the past. Both women live difficult and distressing lives, and so they find comfort and support while talking to one another. But when Seo-yeon tries to help Young-sook through her knowledge of the future, Seo-yeon finds out that the consequential changes to her own life are much worse than she could’ve ever imagined, and the woman on the other end of the line isn’t quite who she thought she was. With a story that revolves around the complicated concept of time manipulation, The Call is a thrilling worst-case scenario about what might happen if we could change the past. The film is led by two fantastically complex main characters, with constant twists that you honestly will not see coming.
Another romance on the list, Wish You follows a shy, music-obsessed keyboardist named Yoon Sang-yi (Lee Sang) who works at a major record label. One day he sees a man named Kang In-soo (Kang In-soo, a singer playing a fictionalized version of himself) singing on the street, and he falls in love at first sight. Luckily for In-soo, who is on the verge of giving up on his music career, Sang-yi introduces In-soo’s music to his boss, giving him a huge opportunity. In order to work on his music, In-soo moves into his new label’s employee housing, with Sang-yi as a manager of sorts. As they spend more and more time together, romantic feelings start to develop, and Sang-yi discovers that his love might not be as one-sided as he thought. Written and directed by Seong Do-joon, Wish You is a straightforward movie, but the love story between Sang-yi and In-soo is very charming and cute, and it’s a great film to watch if you need a quick pick-me-up. Wish You is a part of the slow progress of Korea becoming more open to queer people and relationships. While it was almost impossible to find any LGBTQ+ stories in Korean entertainment just a few years ago, it is slowly growing more mainstream and accepted, and Wish You is evidence of that.
While more zombie movies and TV shows come out every year, some recent Korean hits prove that there are still plenty of entertaining and innovative stories to tell in this genre. In #Alive, directed by Cho Il-hyung, Yoo Ah-in (from the film Burning) plays Oh Joon-woo, a video game streamer who becomes stranded in his apartment after a zombie apocalypse breaks out in Seoul. As he slowly succumbs to hunger, thirst, and depression, Joon-woo connects with another survivor, Kim Yoo-bin (Park Shin-hye), who lives in the apartment building across from his. The two gather together and try to hold on to hope as they do what they can to survive. Released in 2020, #Alive accurately embodies the fear and depression of isolation that many certainly felt or are feeling due to the coronavirus, presenting a starkly human story of Joon-woo and Yoo-bin within a very inhuman premise. But don’t worry, if you are still looking for the trademarks of zombie films, there’s still plenty of creepy, dangerous zombies running rampant through #Alive, with the two survivors doing their best to fend them off and stay alive.
The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion
Coming out in 2018, The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion is also from the director of Night in Paradise, Park Hoon-jung. The film is a mystery thriller centered around an 18-year-old girl named Ja-Yoon, played by Kim Da-mi, whose secluded life with her adoptive parents is upended when a group of people come after her, claiming that she’s the product of an experimental program that trained children to become violent weapons, giving them supernatural abilities. As Ja-yoon does all she can to protect her family from this organization, she begins to consider whether or not they might be telling her the truth, and the memory loss of her early childhood might be hiding a very unnatural and violent beginning. As you can probably guess from the plot summary, it’s a brutal, no-holds-barred movie, with amazing action sequences and an emotive, complicated central character. The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion also stars Choi Woo-shik, Go Min-si, Jo Min-su, and Park Hee-soon. The movie has a sequel, The Witch: Part 2. The Other One, which will likely be released sometime in 2022, and the follow-up film adds Jin Goo and Park Eun-bin to the cast, while Da-mi and Min-su will be returning. Seriously, if you want to watch a fast-paced and really unique mystery thriller, you need to check out The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion now.
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