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13 Best Korean Movies of All Time, Ranked

Thanks to Bong Joon-ho and streaming service Netflix, Korean entertainment is currently in high demand, so we've compiled the best Korean movies to watch now.

Best Korean movies: Cho Yeo-jeong as Choi Yeon-gyo in Parasite

The best Korean movies are more in demand for Western audiences than ever before. Thanks to Bong Joon-ho’s historic win at the Oscars with Parasite and the streaming successes of Squid Game and All Of Us Are Dead, it has never been easier to enjoy the wide range of wonderful entertainment Korea has to offer.

But the truth is, Korean cinema has always given us some of the best movies around, as this list will show. If you like the best horror movies full of grisly violence and jaw-dropping twists, you’re sorted. Or if you want stylish cinematography and a sprinkle of dark humor from some of the best drama movies you’ve ever seen, look no further. We’ve got some great recommendations for you.

Best Korean movies - The Dude In Me

13. The Dude In Me (2019)

There’s a lot of darkness on this list, given that many of the Korean movies that make their way to English-speaking audiences are those with rougher edges. However, The Dude In Me deserves a mention as a truly raucous body-swap comedy that is an absolute joy to experience.

The story follows two very different people: an elite gangster and a high school student. When the student falls off a roof onto the gangster, they switch bodies. It’s impossible to do justice to what follows, but there’s a surprising synergy between the worlds of organized crime and high school awkwardness. The movie is endlessly wacky and well worth your time.

Best Korean movies - A Tale of Two Sisters

12. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)

A Tale of Two Sisters weaves a very tangled web. It’s an opaque and occasionally maddening psychological horror tale, but fortunately it brings more than enough unsettling terror to overcome any deficiencies with the plot. On the face of it, it’s about two sisters who hate their stepmother, but there are also ghosts involved.

Kim Jee-woon directs a movie built of pure atmosphere, crafting tension around the screwed up family unit at the center of the story. And it’s a family that only becomes more and more screwed up as we learn more about them.

Best Korean movies - Tae Guk Gi

11. Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War (2004)

You probably don’t think of Korean cinema as giving us many of the best war movies, but Tae Guk Gi is something very special indeed. It follows two brothers who are drafted into the South Korean army during the Korean War, but that doesn’t do justice to the tangled anti-war story that subsequently unravels.

One sibling’s act of love for the other sends him deeper into the fog of war and turns him into a relentless killing machine. It’s a stark and very, very human take on what war can do to someone. To say I was in floods of tears by the end of this one is an understatement.

The best Korean movies: Tang Wei and Hae il Park in Decision to Leave

10. Decision to Leave (2022)

Any Park Chan-wook picture is a massive treat. The guy really needs to give someone else a chance, to be honest. Decision to Leave was one of the best 2022 movies, and is a more intricate and subtle approach to the director’s previous work.

When Detective Jang Hae-jun (Hae il Park) falls for murder suspect Song Seo-rae (Tang Wei), a dangerous and sordid love affair begins that will threaten to tarnish his reputation forever. The film is reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, as love turns into a weapon and reality starts to falter as feelings get in the way.

Although it isn’t our favorite Park Chan-wook piece, it is still stunning. Read our Decision to Leave review for more.

Best Korean movies: The Host

9. The Host (2006)

The Host is one of the best monster movies ever made and is yet another hit out of the park for acclaimed director Bong Joon-ho. Telling the story of a gruesome monster who emerges out of Seoul’s Han River after dumped toxic chemicals wreak havoc, one family is set on a rescue mission to save a young girl from the creature’s clutches.

Song Kang-ho leads the flick as he ventures into the sewers to fight the beast. And, as you can imagine, the star does an amazing job of capturing thrills, suspense, and terror all in one go. The Host ticks all the right boxes. It has a fantastic cast, grimy cinematography, and a captivating script. What more could you want?

Best Korean movies: The Wailing

8. The Wailing (2016)

When we talk about the best horror of recent years, we have to mention the often underrated 2016 film The Wailing. What happens when your idyllic home and all that you hold dear are tainted by an unseen evil? What happens if a sickness causes you to kill all of those you love and then rot soon after? It’s a nasty concept, right?

Well, that is the story at the heart of Na Hong-jin’s masterpiece, The Wailing. A police officer is called to investigate a set of mysterious murders and illnesses plaguing a remote village. However, the violence in the village is only the tip of the iceberg as nightmares begin to haunt the lawman’s dreams, and a mystery begins to unfold.

The Wailing is a slow-burn horror that instills truly terrifying imagery and bold storytelling over jump scares. In terms of a supernatural spooky time, this film is fresh, unique, and expertly done. We highly recommend it!

The best Korean movies: Choi Min-sik in Oldboy

7. Oldboy (2003)

There’s not a lot you can say about Park Chan-wook’s brain-melting mystery-thriller Oldboy without walking a much-traversed film criticism path and also without spoiling what is one of the best plot twists in movie history. But let’s attempt it anyway!

On the one hand, Oldboy is a hard-hitting action movie with incredible fight choreography (that has inspired movies like The Batman), clever editing techniques, and bloody, graphic violence. But underneath all the gruesome kills lies a brooding, enigmatic story of revenge and justice, which will leave you speechless, just as it did me the first time I saw it.

Please, if you haven’t seen Oldboy before and have no idea what happens in the movie, keep it that way until you watch it. The reward of going in blind to this foreign language Hall-of-Famer is absolutely huge! Just make sure you avoid the Americanized Spike Lee movie that failed to capture the magic of the original.

The best Korean movies: Park So Dam and Choi Woo-sik in Parasite

6. Parasite (2019)

Here it is, the movie that started it all for the recent surge in popularity from curious Western cinema audiences. When Parasite and its director Bong Joon-ho, took the Oscars by storm in 2020, it was more than just an achievement for one man and his film; Bong opened up a door for the whole world to dip a toe into Korean cinema.

On that fateful night, Bong said, “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” And the general moviegoer seems to have listened, as the phenomenal success of Squid Game can attest to.

Parasite is a sprawling, meticulous hybrid of so many different genres; with soap-opera levels of family drama, ingenious comedy elements, genuine moments of terror, and all the thrills of a high-octane car chase. Believe the hype: Parasite is legitimately one of the best movies of all time.

The best Korean movies: Gong Yoo as Seok-Woo in Train to Busan

5. Train to Busan (2016)

Most of the movies on this list are pretty dark, but none come close to the horror movie Train to Busan. A heart-pounding exploration of an apocalyptic world where a virus breaks out, turning everyone into the undead might sound typical of zombie movies, but this Korean offering delivers far more than most of its kind.

Train to Busan manages to bring together all the brilliant trademark elements you find in much of Korean cinema: slick, stylish filmmaking, claustrophobic fight scenes, and a little bit of emotional trauma, as a treat. One minute, you’re watching on in horror; the next, you’re weeping like a little baby, trust me!

Before Parasite’s success, Train to Busan managed to push open the door a little bit and certainly found a high level of critical acclaim in the U.S. So much so, in fact, that a sequel was given the green light, and plans for an American remake continue to develop.

The best Korean movies: Lee Byung-hun in I Saw the Devil

4. I Saw the Devil (2010)

A lot of Korean movies are violent, but I Saw the Devil potentially takes the crown as the most bloody, brutal, and graphic of them all. When a vicious serial killer mutilates his fiancée, Kim Soo-hyun makes it his mission to track down the sadistic murderer and make him pay in the most excruciating game of cat-and-mouse ever brought to the screen.

As long as you’re not averse to a bit of blood and bone-breaking, you may well find I Saw the Devil to be an oddly satisfying experience. Not that we condone violence or anything, but seeing justice and revenge inflicted on the barbaric villain of this movie in such a meticulous fashion is pretty damn cathartic.

As is the norm with Korean movies, I Saw the Devil has a fantastically sharp script, and the camera work is exceptional, using the juxtaposition of lights and shadows superbly to bring this chilling story to life in style.

The best Korean movies: Kim Min-hee and Moon So-ri in The Handmaiden

3. The Handmaiden (2016)

Reader, this is by no means an ordinary love story. Park Chan-wook, who also directed the aforementioned Oldboy, decided to dabble in romance movies in his own unique way, and the results are truly breathtaking.

The Handmaiden is a lesbian love story, and much like Oldboy, is full of unbelievable twists and turns, deceit and betrayals, and a healthy dose of crime and violence. Think of the craziest soap opera storyline of all time, amplify it by 100, and make it a sumptuous, expertly crafted drama, and you have The Handmaiden.

Be warned, The Handmaiden is best described as an erotic thriller with lots of scenes of a sexual nature. If that kind of thing doesn’t bother you, though, you’re in for a treat with what is one of the best examples of perfect storytelling.

The best Korean movies: Kang-ho Song in Memories of Murder

2. Memories of Murder (2003)

It’s everybody’s favorite cinephile, Bong Joon-ho again! We couldn’t talk about Korean movies and only recognize Bong’s more recent work, so let’s look further back towards the start of his career with this epic detective movie.

The Oscar-winning director has been perfecting his craft for more than two decades now, and while he doesn’t like to talk about his debut, Barking Dogs Never Bite, Bong’s sophomore effort, Memories of Murder, is a scintillating neo-noir detective movie.

As you may have guessed from the title, there is murder afoot as seasoned Bong collaborator Song Kang-ho, and his colleagues track a mysterious serial killer. The gruesome murders are enough to rival the graphic nature of I Saw the Devil and this epic crime story is packed with surprises that will keep you second-guessing right to the end.

The best Korean movies: Burning

1. Burning (2018)

We round out our list with something a little less violent, with Lee Chang-dong’s meditative, poetic Burning. Starring The Walking Dead alum Steven Yeun, alongside Yoo Ah-in and Jeon Jong-seo, Burning is a complicated story of mysterious strangers, messy relationships, and finding beauty in the chaos of the world.

Burning is a bit of a slow-burn (see what we did there?), but it’s all worth it at the end when the pieces of this enigmatic puzzle begin to fit together. Not only does this film have a thought-provoking script, but it also quite possibly boasts the best cinematography of any film on this list, too.

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We hope you can check out our Korean movie recommendations and enjoy what you find. If you want to explore more Asian-inspired content, check out our guide to the best anime movies of all time, and all the new anime to come, or dive into our guide to the Squid Game season 2 release date.

You can also find out what Bong Joon-ho thinks about the Parasite TV show. Or, if it’s simply well-crafted stories you’re after, be sure and take a look at the slate of new movies coming in 2023 and beyond, including Avatar 3.