If one can talk about distinctive movie-watching experiences, most importantly about the darker subjects like crimes, wars, horrors, along with love stories, Korean cinema definitely comes to our minds. Since time immemorial, Korean cinema has been known for its raw and realistic style of handling subjects, which makes for memorable cinematic experiences. Korean films are also known for the Golden Era during the 1930s when silent films made in black and white were immensely popular. After the country got riddled in wars and political turmoil, we saw a paradigm shift in the number as well as the genres of movies produced in the country.
Hollywood has taken a lot of inspiration from Korean movies and there have been a few remakes of Korean titles in American cinema. If one is a movie buff, they must be aware of the various kinds of movies the Korean film industry has offered us over the years. Their horror and crime thrillers are well known across the world as among the most vicious, terrifying, and hair-raising experiences a viewer can have.
Of late, with the K-wave of the ’90s resulting in a growth in the popularity of Korean Pop Culture, and with the advent of online media streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, etc., we have seen an increase in the outreach of Korean movies, something that was much needed from the ’90s itself when the industry was at its absolute peak. From timeless classics like ‘Oldboy’, ‘Train to Busan’, ‘Memories of Murder‘, to heartwarming romances like ‘My Sassy Girl’, ‘A Moment to Remember’, ‘My Little Bride’ and to nail-biting horror films like ‘A Tale of Two Sisters’, ‘The Wailing’, Korean cinema has had a lot to offer, most of which remain underrated to this day.
Korean flicks have been getting a lot of attention in recent years. From horror to romantic comedies, Koreans have made it a point to push the boundaries of what is the norm, coming up with crazy unique storylines and tackling even the most uncomfortable subjects head-on. Overall, their storytelling style is extremely engaging and gripping and their cinematography is quite unique. So with all that said, here’s the list of really good Korean movies on Netflix that are available to stream right now.
20. Svaha: The Sixth Finger (2019)
Always trust Korean cinema to bring out some of the most intense thrillers that you have ever witnessed. The 2019 film ‘Svaha: The Sixth Finger’ is one such film that centers around an agent called Pastor Park whose job is to investigate religious organizations and cults. During one of his investigations into the cult called “Deer Mount”, he comes across certain clues that point to the fact that this cult might have some links with the mysterious disappearance of a number of teenage girls. As Pastor Park digs deeper, he realizes that this cult has many dark secrets and they will go to any extent to hide them from the public eye. No matter how interesting the premise of the film sounds, ‘Svaha: The Sixth Finger’ suffers from dull writing and underdeveloped characters. Something that could have become an intense thriller turns out to be a rather dull affair by the end.
19. Illang: The Wolf Brigade (2018)
‘Illang: The Wolf Brigade’ speaks of a time in 2029 when after a lot of negotiations, an agreement between the leadership of North and South Korea has been reached, calling for the reunification of the two countries. As common people in both countries begin to celebrate, there is one sinister organization that is hell-bent on not letting this happen. This terrorist organization is called “The Sect”, and to counter them, the South Korean government decides to launch their own operatives who are part of “The Wolf Brigade”. Will The Wolf Brigade be able to defend the interests of both the countries against these terrorists? The action sequences of the film are brilliant and the cinematography is stunningly beautiful. However, the film has spent too much time on set designs rather than creating compelling characters whose stories will keep the audiences engaged throughout.
18. Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage (2019)
A stylish action film directed by Lee Jeong-beom, ‘Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage’ stars Lee Sun-Kyun, Jeon So-nee, Park Hae-Joon, and Song Young-Chang. The story of the film centers on a corrupt police officer who is being investigated by an internal affairs agent on charges of blowing up a police warehouse. The character in question, the eponymous Jo Pil-ho, is someone who might be corrupt, but he has had no role to play in the explosion and believes that some people are trying to set him up for the crime he did not commit. Jo Pil-ho teams up with a high school student called Mi-na with whom he tries to get to the bottom of the case to catch the actual criminal and also to clear his name in the process. The cinematography and the action sequences of this film are memorable, but it does lack in terms of having a proper structure, as some of the scenes tend to be unnecessarily long.
17. Lucid Dream (2017)
For those unaware of what lucid dreaming is all about, it is a method practiced by certain individuals where they try to hold on to their consciousness while dreaming and thus can guide their dreams into going towards any direction of their choice. The story of the film ‘Lucid Dream’ centers around a man who is searching for his missing son for many years without any trace of him. The man in question, Dae-ho, has depleted all his sources and clues that would take him towards his son and thus has decided to take on a drastic measure. With the help of a police detective and one of his friends who is a psychiatrist, Dae-ho tries the method of lucid dreaming which will guide him to the exact moment that his son had gone missing. There is a distinct lack of suspense in the film and everything that happens is pretty predictable. The popularity that this film has received is mainly because of Netflix buying its rights for worldwide distribution.
16. Psychokinesis (2018)
A father can go to any extent for the safety of his children. He is ready to do so without caring about his own safety, for that matter. And if he gains superpowers, there is nothing that can come between him and his desire to protect his child. This is exactly what transpires in the 2018 South Korean film ‘Psychokinesis’ written and directed by Yeon Sang-ho. The central character of the film, Shin Seok-heon, is a security guard who comes to know that his daughter, the owner of a small fried chicken restaurant, has got into a tussle with a construction company over her establishment. The thing he gets worried about most is the fact that this establishment is run by the mob. Shin Seok-heon gets to drink water from a special mountain spring which gives him the superhuman ability of telekinesis, and it is with this newfound power that he plans to teach the mobsters a lesson. The film neatly combines a superhero story with comedy and important commentaries on social issues. The superpower aspect of the film is just a part of the premise, but inside it proves to be something deeper.
15. Revenger (2018)
If you are a lover of martial arts films, do yourself a favor and start watching ‘Revenger’ right away. This Lee Seung-won directorial offers you some moments of riveting action that is sure to stay with you for a long time after you’re done watching the film. The central character of this film is a former police officer who is devasted after his family is brutally killed by certain criminals. He finds out that these criminals are presently locked up on a prison island, and thus he decides to get himself arrested and sent to the same prison. Once there, he plans to hunt them down and inflict upon them the same pain and suffering that they had made his family go through. The story of ‘Revenger’ does not really have much to offer. The film triumphs with its high-octane action scenes, and it can even be said that it has been made keeping action junkies in mind.
14. The Drug King (2018)
This film is based on a true story depicting the life of a drug kingpin called Lee Doo-sam. Lee started as a small-time member of a criminal organization and indulged in the smuggling of diamonds and other such products before trying his hands in the drug trade. Naturally, the profit that he made from the drug trade is unparalleled and propelled him on his way to become one of the most notorious smugglers in all of Korea. The film serves as an eye-opening account of the drug trade that went on in the 1970s in South Korea, where a supply line thrived between Busan and Japan. Song Kang-ho, one of the biggest superstars of Korea, who has made a name across the world with performances in films like ‘Memories Of Murder‘, ‘Parasite‘ and ‘A Taxi Driver’, plays the leading character with unparalleled dexterity. The problem with the film is that it suffers from the burden of having loads of underdeveloped characters. If the writing was more nuanced, this film would have fared much better with critics and audiences alike.
13. 26 Years (2012)
Set around the Gwangju massacre of 1980, when an open fire was ordered on civilians who had wounded and killed thousands of people, ’26 Years’ recounts the horrors of the incident in the midst of the victims, 26 years after the incident took place. Apparently, it was President Chun Doo-hwan, who was responsible for the massacre. Five men, who were arguably the biggest losers and victims of the massacre, team up together to take down the man who was responsible for derailing and demeaning thousands of lives. ’26 Years’ promises a lot but somehow doesn’t deliver in the end.
12. The Prison (2017)
This movie follows Yu-gon Song, a detective, who, in a quest to bust the crime syndicates from within, get arrested and lands up inside one of the most notorious prisons. With a 100% track record for arrests, Yu-gon, who has been arrested for a hit-and-run case, finds out that a crime lord named Ik-ho, the all-powerful person inside the prison, is giving the inmates directives to commit crimes and the prison authorities seem to be in cahoots with him. Ik-ho sees a spark in Yu-gon and the latter starts working under him to gain his confidence. But with prison authorities on his side, to what extent can Yu-gon risk himself?
11. Pandora (2016)
Pyung-Sub is worried about the conditions of the local nuclear power plant, but no one seems to listen to him. However, when an earthquake strikes, it severely damages the power plant and begins to spread panic. Now, young Jae-Hyeok and his colleagues must prevent another nuclear disaster. ‘Pandora’ is not only a thrilling movie but also an emotional one, thanks to the script. With good visual effects and decent cinematography, director Jong-woo Park is able to deliver a tear-jerking story with a sense of reality.
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10. Steel Rain (2017)
‘Steel Rain’ begins with Eom Chul-woo, a soldier of the North Korean Special Forces, who has defected into South Korea along with another very important yet unconscious man. Eom then meets up with Cheol-woo, the Chief of Foreign Security, and together they must resolve to prevent the imminent Korean war which might involve the use of nuclear weapons. ‘Steel Rain’ is an electrifying affair, with moments of grief, action, adrenaline rush, and suspense that has been carried throughout the film. Watch it before it is taken down by Netflix. Wink!
9. Okja (2017)
A South Korean-American co-production, ‘Okja‘ is a film by the acclaimed director Bong Joon-Ho, and can be said to be his only children-friendly film to date. The story of ‘Okja’ centers around the story of a pig that has been genetically engineered to be of massive size and to produce pork of the finest quality. Many such pigs were distributed by a company all over the world to farmers, and the one which turned out to be the best of the lot is the eponymous pig, Okja. Now when the company takes Okja away, her owner, a little girl called Mija, decides to follow them and rescue Okja from being slaughtered. This takes Mija from her small village to Seoul, and from there to the United States. A highly entertaining watch, ‘Okja’ is something completely different from what we have come to associate Bong Joon-Ho with. The film is smartly written, has its moments of brilliance, and also boasts of some rather fine performances.
8. Seoul Searching (2015)
Based on a few sporadic true incidents, ‘Seoul Searching’ begins in the backdrop of the Korean War in the ’80s when the South Korean government started a program for the non-resident Koreans to visit the country and learn a few things about their roots and the place where they actually belong to. This movie revolves around four such residents — Sid Park, Grace Park, Chow, Kris — who’ve arrived to taste the first experience of their motherland. Despite having good intentions of initiating such an ambitious program, it had to be canceled later owing to the unlawful activities the youth started resorting to and a difficult to control law and order situation. ‘Seoul Searching’, although a little simple and slow at the start, is certainly a fascinating watch.
7. The Chase (2017)
Featuring the best old man headbutt, some hilarious black humor, and several really slow foot chases, ‘The Chase’ seems to be ironically named. It is a comedy-thriller murder mystery film about two old men – a moody homeowner and a washed-up detective – who are trying to solve a murder mystery from 30 years ago and catch a serial killer in the present who has been killing the elderly folk in a small town. ‘The Chase’ is directed by Kim Hong-sun and stars veteran actors Sung Dong-il and Yun-Shik Baek. The first half of the movie focuses on setting up the premise and is mostly light-hearted with some scenes a little slow, but the film paces up in the second half and ultimately, it lives up to its thriller categorization.
6. High Society (2018)
‘High Society’ follows a social climber middle-class couple – a university professor with political ambitions and his art gallery curator wife – as they trade in their morals and ethics to get in with the exclusive rich people’s club. To join the ranks of the South Korean elite, these two are willing to do just about anything. Featuring a lot of glitz and glamor of the upper echelons of society, the film ‘High Society’ gives viewers a sneak peek into the morally-compromised world of the uber-rich. It is a stylishly-made gripping drama and the strong performances by the lead actors are what you should be watching this film for. Also, you would witness quite a fad as far as dresses and style is concerned.
5. Tune In For Love (2019)
‘Tune In For Love’ is a sweet, heartfelt love story between a kind, straight-laced woman and a reticent man with a dark past. They first meet as teenagers when the boy, fresh out of juvie, gets a job at the girl’s family’s bakery. The duo forms an instant connection but is tragically separated, until fate brings them together again, years later. Now in their late twenties, the two begin dating but problems arise when he is not very forthcoming about his past and she just wants to know him better. In the end, though, love does conquer all and reigns supreme. Slow at times but mostly engaging, Kim Go-Eun and Jung Hae-in display great chemistry as the lead couple and look like they truly belong together.
4. Forgotten (2017)
A family of four — brothers Jin-Seok and Yoo-Seok, mother Na Young-Hee, and father Moon Sung-Geun — have moved into a new house. Jin-Seok is generally frail, hypersensitive, and is on medication. Jin-Seok is the eyewitness of the kidnap of his older brother Yoo-Seok, who has been taken by a few men in a van. A few days later, when Yoo-Seok returns, he seemingly doesn’t remember anything about the place or what transpired in the past few days, or how he was kidnapped. Sensing a change in his brother’s behavior, Jin-Seok concludes that the man who’s claiming to be Yoo-Seok is not who he is. This is, without a doubt, one of the most intense, chilling thrillers I have ever seen.
3. Time To Hunt (2020)
‘Time To Hunt’ is a high-octane Netflix Original crime thriller that’s set in a dystopian world. In poverty-stricken South Korea, four friends pull off a reckless heist to escape their dire financial straits but in doing so, get themselves on the radar of a ruthless assassin who will stop at nothing to hunt them all down. Intense action sequences, emotionally-driven drama, bromance, thrilling car chases – this movie has it all. Overall, a sincere and successful attempt at making something vaguely “Fast and Furious-Esque”.
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2. Burning (2018)
Based on a short story by acclaimed author Haruki Murakami, ‘Burning’ is literally a slow-burning character study of three individuals caught in a potent love triangle. Isolated writer Jong Su meets his childhood neighborhood playmate Hae Mi and they end up sleeping together. He reads way more into the casual encounter and starts to think of her as “his girl”, but Hae Mi possibly is not interested in pursuing a relationship with him and just wants him to look after her cat while she goes on a trip. Jong Su, like the dutiful boyfriend he imagines himself to be, takes care of Hae Mi’s cat and goes to pick her up at the airport on the day of her return. He is taken aback when she arrives with a new boyfriend in tow – rich and entitled Ben. And the audience is pulled into an unsettling mystery full of dread and doom. You know something bad is going to happen. This psychological thriller builds up hair-raising tension and climaxes in a fantastically unpredictable manner.
1. #Alive (2020)
People who are sick of being cooped up in their homes during the months-long quarantine will relate to this zombie siege film that’s reminiscent of ‘Train To Busan’. ‘#Alive’ is a thrilling survival drama featuring a lone gamer stuck in his house with no food, no weapons, not many resources, and a horde of hungry zombies surrounding his building, almost kicking down his front door. He is digitally cut off and has no way of surviving unless he gets creative. The best thing about Korean zombie movies is that their zombies are not the slow, mindless creatures of ‘The Walking Dead’, but extremely fast and vicious and scary (like in ‘Train To Busan’ and the Netflix show ‘Kingdom’). Starring the talents of Yoo Ah-in and Park Shin-Hye, ‘#Alive’ will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.
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