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, he/she 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 the 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 seem to know what they are doing before we can even realize it. 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:
22. 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 which 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 to the film.
21. High Society (2018)
Upward mobility in society is something everyone of us looks for. We all want to work hard and get to a point in life where our social status will be higher than the one we were born into. But how far are you willing to go to make such a dream of yours come true? If this question is troubling you, I’d suggest you check out the film ‘High Society’ on Netflix right away. The story of ‘High Society’ centers on a couple and their true story. The male protagonist in the film is a university professor, while the woman is a curator of an art gallery. It is their eagerness to jump ahead on the social ladder which makes them sleep around with certain influential people who can make their road to success much smoother. The film has a number of graphic sex scenes so it would be advisable to watch it without kids around! Besides the sexual aspect, the couple are also shown to be indulging in other illegal activities like money laundering. Well-acted with a brilliant dosage of black humor, ‘High Society’ is a slick Korean drama you should not miss out on.
20. 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.
19. 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.
18. 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.
17. 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.
16. 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 which 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 which 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. What could have become an intense thriller turns out to be a rather dull affair by the end.
15. 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 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 pf 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.
14. 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 till date. The story of ‘Okja’ centers around the story of a pig which has been genetically engineered to be of a 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.
13. 26 Years (2012)
Set around the Gwangju massacre of 1980, when an open fire was ordered on civilians which 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.
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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?
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11. The Chase (2017)
With an overly familiar premise, ‘The Chase’ seems to be cliched, but wait for it, for you don’t know what surprises lie down there. ‘The Chase’ is the story of a landlord who owns an apartment in South Korea. The apartment is in a dilapidated state and he continually pushes his tenants for rent without anything in return. A stranger shows up one fine day and asks the landlord some questions, which doesn’t feel weird at all, does it? Soon after, people start disappearing from the apartment, thus leading the police to investigate the matter, thinking there might be a serial killer on the loose. I think I need not explain more, you see where this is going.
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10. 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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9. Asura: The City of Madness (2016)
Perhaps one of the most decorated political thrillers of Korean cinema, ‘Asura: The City of Madness’ revolves around Han Do-Kyung, a police officer who has been in cahoots with the mayor of the city, Park Sung-bae, undetected and undeterred. Kim Cha-in is a morally upright, remorseless prosecutor who comes to know of the embezzlement the mayor had been doing for years and refuses to give up on the investigation. He seeks Han’s help in bringing Park to justice. Shocked by the sudden turn of events, Han asks his junior Moon Seon-mo to take over his work and work closely with the mayor. Entangled in his own web, Han seems to have a very limited number of options before he is exposed in the public.
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8. Tunnel (2016)
A survival film at the very outset, ‘The Tunnel’ will give you anxiety and render you claustrophobic at the same time. Jung-soo is heading home to celebrate the birthday of his daughter. As he passes through a tunnel, which collapses, Jung-soo will have to salvage the limited resources available at his expense — two bottles of water, a birthday cake and a mobile phone — in order to survive the uninvited disaster while waiting for the rescue team to pick him up. His hope and his willingness to survive does the trick at the end of the day.
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7. Memoir of a Murderer (2017)
A compelling masterpiece, ‘Memoir of a Murderer’ can be regarded as one of the best South Korean thrillers of all time. The movie revolves around a former serial killer and psychopath Byeong-soo, who believes in killing the killers or criminals and sparing the innocents. He has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Owing to an accident that occurred years ago, Byeong-soo had withdrawn from the criminal world and resorted to a peaceful life. He gets reports of serial killings after his diagnosis. Turns out, a man named Tae-joo, who is also a cop, is the serial killer. Byeong-soo needs to protect his daughter while playing Tae-joo’s game on him.
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6. The President’s Barber (2004)
An awe-inspiring tale, ‘The President’s Barber’ is set during the turmoil of the 1960s when the President’s position has been left vacant and a military rule is imposed in South Korea. Han-mo is a barber who owns a shop near The Blue House – the official residence of the President of South Korea. Despite being so close to a politically active centre, Han-mo is least bothered about the turmoil in his country and is mostly nonchalant about any political opinions. One fine day, he is summoned by one of the president’s men and he later comes to be known as the President’s barber, a big honour for him and the people who know him closely. ‘The President’s Barber’ is one of the most successful Korean language movies on Netflix.
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5. The Age of Shadows (2016)
Based on a real story, ‘The Age of Shadows’ is a historical thriller set in 1920, a time when Japan ruled Korea. The tension was high between Korean and Japanese people. We follow a group of resistance fighters who are trying to bring explosives to Seoul to attack the main Japanese organizations and the Japanese team that is trying to stop them. This film is engrossing from beginning to end. With an effective musical score and strong acting, ‘The Age of Shadows’ creates a suspenseful atmosphere. Moreover, the film demands your attention with constant action sequences and a dark but captivating script.
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4. 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!
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3. 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.
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2. 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.
1. Train to Busan (2016)
Ok-woo and his daughter, Soo-ahn, are boarding the KTX, a fast train that will bring them from Seoul to Busan. But during this trip, the apocalypse begins, and most of the earth’s population become zombies. Most of the movie takes place inside the train, which can be a little claustrophobic and difficult to watch. However, Sang-ho Yeon’s talent and experience make this an enjoyable experience with the help of fantastic visual effects. This Korean film is not just action-packed but also has a good dose of melodrama. The father-daughter relationship is moving and the script intriguing. Unlike many zombie films, ‘Train to Busan’ is believable and engaging.
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