Korean horror movies are gaining in popularity. What makes them different is their ability to show dark and disturbing themes believably. This is why many Korean horror movies are beloved at film festivals worldwide. A growing internet community shares Korean horror films because most tackle issues other countries will not dare take on. In the past, it was Japanese horror movies like Ringu, Dark Water, and anime live-action Death Note that got international attention. Korean horror movies have become the latest trend for their unique darkness. This article will focus on why Korean horror movies are so damn good and recommend some classics for those interested.
Many feel Korean horror films came onto the global stage thanks to five films. The Host, I Saw the Devil, The Wailing, A Tale of Two Sisters, and the more recent zombie horror film Train to Busan. These films showed that Korean horror films are not strictly horror films. Rather, they blend different genres, with horror being an overall presence. At first, you could watch what looks like a romantic comedy, and then it turns into something sinister. Most Korean films are hybrids that do a great job of mixing genres.
A Tale of Two Sisters
A Tale of Two Sisters is a Korean horror film about two sisters who return home after spending time in the hospital. The sisters, Simran and Amber, are close to each other but have different personalities. Simran is shy and withdrawn, while Amber is outgoing and lively. When they return home, they find that their mother has remarried and their stepfather is a strict and controlling man. The sisters begin to see strange things happening in the house, and they soon realize that their stepfather is not who he appears to be. The film is a suspenseful and psychological thriller that keeps viewers guessing until the end.
It was one of the first Korean horror movies to get international attention. This film also showed that horror movies do not have to be traditional. Classifying A Tale of Two Sisters as a horror or a physiological thriller is challenging. It all depends on how the viewer interprets the movie.
A Tale of Two Sisters makes it so that it is the viewer’s job to find out who or what is causing all that is happening. While we will not give away the ending, trust us when we say it is no traditional haunted house/ghost movie. The movie does a great job of hiding a lot of answers from the audience until the end. Then they unload everything, which makes for a shocking surprise. Since many things are kept in the dark, it is very difficult to predict the ending.
Watch on: Amazon Prime
The Host is a 2006 South Korean horror film directed by Bong Joon-ho. The film follows a family living in Seoul who must deal with a terrifying creature that has emerged from the Han River and begun attacking people. As the city is plunged into chaos, the family must have wits to survive. The Host is a thrilling ride from start to finish, filled with jaw-dropping special effects and heart-pounding suspense.
This was the first monster movie to get international attention. However, it is not your normal monster movie. Most monster movies don’t show the monster until the 3rd act. Until then, there is a buildup that gets the audience ready. However, The Host puts the monster on center stage from the get-go. The fear is countered by a lower-class Korean family that brings a lot of comedy to the film due to their lack of education and goofy behavior.
This blend of horror and comedy leaves the audience on their feet. Other Korean directors have taken on this style to great effect.
Watch on: Hulu | Amazon Prime
Another great example of mixing genres is the Korean horror film The Wailing. The movie is set in a small village in Korea beset by a mysterious disease that causes people to go mad and violently kill others. A woman named Jong-Goo is tasked with investigating the disease, and he enlists the help of a shaman named Il-Gwang. As they delve deeper into the mystery, they discover that the disease may be caused by an evil spirit known as “The Sadako.”
You would think this would be a light-hearted comedy based on the main character. He is overweight, clumsy, and awkward. However, he deals with a supernatural being taking over people’s bodies in the film. The change from light-hearted moments to extreme graphic scenes is very impactful and shocks the audience. The Wailing does a great job of changing up the genre from comedy to horror from scene to scene. This is not easy to do. Those not fans of comedy in their horror films…don’t worry; the next movie might be just up your alley.
Watch on: Amazon Prime
I Saw the Devil
As anyone who’s seen a Korean horror film knows, they’re not for the faint of heart. I Saw the Devil is no exception. The movie follows a secret agent, Kim Soo-hyeon, who avenges the man who brutally killed his fiancée. However, as he gets closer to his quarry, he realizes that catching the killer is only the beginning of his nightmare. I Saw the Devil is a masterfully crafted horror film that will leave you both riveted and disturbed. Its graphic violence and stunning twists will surely send chills down your spine.
Those revenge, violence, gore, and action fans will love I Saw the Devil. It might be the ultimate tale of good and evil ever represented in Korean cinema. This movie’s plot twists are non-stop and make you question who is good and evil. Just to warn you, out of all the films on this list, I Saw the Devil is by far the most gruesome and not for the faint of heart. If there was a scale from 1 to 10 regarding gore/violence, this should easily get a 10. So you have been warned.
Watch on: Amazon Prime
Train to Busan
Train to Busan is a 2016 Korean horror film that follows a group of passengers attempting to escape a zombie outbreak aboard a train. The film opens with Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) and his daughter, Su-an (Kim Soo-ahn), boarding the train to Busan. However, shortly after the train leaves the station, zombies attack the passengers. As the outbreak intensifies, Seok-woo and Su-an team up with other survivors in a desperate attempt to reach safety. Along the way, they must contend with the undead and the living.
The same director as the Korean animated film Seoul Station directed the train to Busan. The zombies are fearsome and are similar to the 2002 Danny Boyle classic 28 Days Later. They are fast and difficult to avoid. For a zombie movie to be set inside a confined space like a train gives it that extra feeling of claustrophobia.
However, Train to Busan does not solely focus on the zombies as other scary beings are on the train. The dark side of human nature comes out in certain characters, which forces us to think…would we behave that way if we were in that situation? A pretty exciting watch, especially during COVID.
Watch on: Amazon Prime
Another Korean zombie movie that was a big hit on Netflix is #Alive. It tells the story of a man quarantined in his apartment from a deadly zombie virus. The film shows the main character Jun-u trying everything he can to survive in his apartment. This includes organizing his food and securing his home. He vlogs about his experience, and we slowly see him run out of food and hope. Then suddenly, he sees another survivor in his apartment who has also figured out a way to survive all this time. They work together going forward to survive.
Those fans of zombie storylines will like #Alive as it is purely about survival. There are a few jump scares and a lot of zombie killings. We relate to the characters as they behave the way many of us would if we were in the same situation.
Watch on: Netflix
Most Korean horror movies will leave you disturbed and wanting more. While you will feel depressed, it will impact you far more significantly than your traditional jump-scare horror films of America and Japan. You will feel a personal connection and remember them for many years. Check out the gems listed above, and I can promise you that you will have a greater appreciation for not just Korean horror movies but Korean cinema.