Korean cinema has been one of the most underrated film industries for a long time. Korea has produced some of the most interesting, twisted, and fun films ever made. They finally got the recognition they deserve when Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite won the Oscar for Best Picture. Parasite has now become a cultural phenomenon that has exposed the world to the beauty of Korean cinema. Some of the greatest Korean films are now being seen by the world. Global film fans are searching online for earlier Korean films and discovering the vast treasure they have to offer. Therefore if you are interested in South Korean films but don’t know where to start, here are some of the greatest Korean films of all time.
The greatest Korean film of all time has to go to the only Korean film to have been nominated for an Academy Award, let alone win Best Picture. Parasite landed 6 Oscar nominations overall and really put Korean cinema on the global map. Parasite is about the poor Kim family and the rich Park family. The Kim family tries to integrate themselves into the Park family one by one by working for them. Their schemes are very clever and at first, you think this is just a con movie. However, there are many twists and turns that leave the audience kept in suspense throughout the whole film.
One of the greatest Korean directors of all time, Park Chan-wook’s masterpiece is Old Boy. It is based on Japanese manga and is extremely violent. The film is about a man named Dae-su, who gets kidnapped one night by a long-lost enemy. He gets imprisoned for years and years (15 years). Then he is suddenly released and now he is on a mission to find the person who put him away and ruined his life. The film has some of the most violent scenes in Korean cinema today and one of the wildest endings you will ever see, anywhere. Choi Min-sik one of the greatest Korean actors gives the best performance of his career. Make sure to watch the Korean version of Old Boy and not the Spike Lee version.
The Admiral: Roaring Currents
This 2014 South Korean film is considered the greatest Korean war epic of all time. The film is based on the historic battle of Myeongnyang. It was one of Joseon Admiral Yi Sun Shin’s most famous naval wins. The film has a 60-minute naval battle scene that will leave you glued to the screen. It is the most-watched and highest-grossing film of all time in South Korea. It also stars Choi Min-sik. The film was nominated for Best Film at the 51st Baeksang Arts Awards.
My Sassy Girl
My Sassy Girl is considered the best romantic comedy in Korea. It is based on an online serial that details his relationship with a “Sassy Girl”. The film is about a college student named Kyun-woo who meets a drunk girl on a late-night subway. He ends up taking care of her and vows to do whatever he can to heal her sadness. Soon she has him wrapped around her finger and he has to deal with her erratic behavior. The film is long (over 2 hours) and has two half. Will they two get together in the end? Their journey is what makes this film fun and interesting. It also doesn’t hurt that it stars one of the most beautiful Korean actresses of all time.
The Way Home
The Way Home is one of the most touching films you will ever see. It is a sweet movie about a spoiled city boy that is sent to live with his grandmother who lives in the countryside. She is unable to speak and very simple-minded. At first, their relationship is strained, but he soon becomes very fond of her. He soon starts to see a bit of her in himself. What makes this film so great are the lovely, tender moments shared between the two. Since the grandmother can’t speak, most scenes have very little dialogue but the film does not drag. One of the most charming Korean films of all time.
Some might consider Mother on par with Parasite. It was also directed by Bong Joon-ho who has multiple appearances in this life of the greatest Korean films of all time. It is the story of a mother who uses her maternal love to help her son who is a murder suspect. Her son is 27 years old but has the mind of an 8-year-old. The mother is poor but decides to find proof of her son’s innocence herself. Things take an unexpected turn just like a great Bong Joon-ho film should.
Another film by Bong Joon-ho makes the list! This time it is a film about a monster living in the Han River. There is also the eccentric Park family. When the monster nabs a Park from the shore, the family comes together to get revenge. They get very little help from the Korean government and must battle the monster themselves. The special effects of the film are amazing for the time. For those that think this is just a horror film, you don’t know Bong, the film is filled with comedy and action as the family battles enemies from all sides.
Memories of Murder
One of Bong’s first films is Memories of Murder. It is a film about a man reported to be South Korea’s first serial killer. It follows an inexperienced detective that must solve a series of rapes and murders. The police department is unequipped to catch the serial killer and soon an officer from Seoul comes to help in the investigation. The film offers many breathtaking set pieces and great chase scenes. Those that liked Parasite will enjoy Memories of Murder.
Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden is set in Japanese-occupied Korea in the 1930s. It follows a woman pickpocket named Sooki who gets a job as a handmaiden to a rich book collector and the niece of his late wife. She gets involved in a scheme by a fake count that wants to marry the niece then have her committed to an asylum so he can claim her fortune. The book collector is the mentor of the fake count and he also has the same plan.
One of the most powerful Korean films of all time is Secret Sunshine. It is about a woman named Shin-Ae and her son who relocates to a village where her dead husband grew up. Soon her son gets kidnapped and can only turn to God to find answers. Furthermore, the film stars one of the greatest female Korean actresses of all time in Jeon Do-yeon.