Kids these days.
Your great-great-grandpa would be rolling in his grave if he knew that the platform you use for entertainment, for passing time, is the very same one you use for work, paying bills and serious language study.
The internet is many things rolled into one.
Here, we’re going to talk about one great facet of the internet: Netflix.
And we’ll share some great cinematic picks for Korean learning that are currently available on Netflix.
But first, let’s talk about why Netflix is a godsend for Korean language learners.
Why Netflix Is God’s Gift to Korean Language Learners
Its video quality is unmatched.
It’s not 2005, so you shouldn’t be watching movies that suddenly feature the shadow of some dude carrying his soda, sidestepping through a whole row of moviegoers.
No, you deserve better. The difference between that movie at the theater and the same movie done in HD or 4K and watched in the comfort of your home, is the difference between Pinocchio and a real boy.
In the same vein, your Korean movie should have good audio, especially when you’re using it for language learning. We all know native speakers already speak too fast—there’s no sense in studying a film where you can barely hear what the characters are saying, and then suddenly hearing laughter from the crowd of moviegoers.
Netflix gives you both high quality audio and video, and it’s just waiting for the smart and hack-minded Korean language learners out there.
It contains accurate subtitles.
With some other online options, Korean and English subtitles may be hit or miss. Sometimes you wonder if they were indeed the work of a human being and not some auto translator.
Sometimes, you watch a foreign film, read the subtitles and feel like somebody’s playing a nasty prank on you. (Yeah, that same feeling you get when you read the back of some foreign food products where the English translations are so horrendous you wonder if they’re as willy-nilly when it comes to what’s inside.)
With Netflix, you don’t have those issues. If the subtitles are listed as being in English and Korean, you can rest assured that they are, and are spot on, so you can get on with what’s really important: learning the language.
It has excellent search functions.
Netflix makes it easy on language learners. The platform gives you recommendations for shows and movies similar to those you happen to be searching for. Interested in Korean movies? Netflix shows you the whole lot and you can take your pick of Korean films.
(And even if the movie you want isn’t in their collection, they recommend you something you likely want, based on your search terms.)
Netflix really knows you, maybe better than your own mother. It even knows which part of a movie you’re in so when you close the window and run an errand for a few hours, the next time you hit “Play,” it brings you back right where you left off.
It houses a good Korean collection (and growing!)
Some of the best films, documentaries and shows are on Netflix—from Hollywood blockbusters to international fare. They carefully curate what can be streamed on their platform, so you can be sure that the Korean movies you find on Netflix are definitely worthy of your attention.
And this awesome collection is growing. Each year, Netflix acquires ever more content, which includes a lot of Korean content. And not only that, they’re also making originals that rival releases from the world’s largest film studios.
It’s all above board.
Okay, this one may not be a big concern for the Korean language learner who just wants to get their hands on anything available, but it’s still good karma to ensure that the language learning content you use is fair to all concerned.
Besides, because their content is above board, you’re not only guaranteed high audio and video quality, you can rest easy that the movie you’ve been using for your studies won’t be on the platform one day and then go “poof” the next because it’s been taken down by the copyright police.
It’s the perfect accompaniment to FluentU.
Already learning Korean with FluentU? If not, check it out!
Imagine watching a Korean film or TV show and actually understanding what the characters are saying—FluentU sets you up for exactly this kind of success by giving you authentic content with interactive subtitles and quizzes that help you focus on short stretches of material in great detail.
So with all that said, and with the popcorn still hot from the microwave, let’s finally go to some of the most awesome Korean movies you can binge and study on Netflix.
Kimchi and Popcorn: 7 Must-watch Korean Movies on Netflix
We open our list with this psychological mind bender that may prevent that popcorn from digesting properly in your gut.
Put yourself in the shoes of Jin-seok—a college student whose older brother was kidnapped before his very eyes. And then…after 19 days of deep anguish, this brother just mysteriously reappears. Despite the family’s rejoicing, you sense that something’s off. Your brother has no memory of the past 19 days. You begin to wonder what really happened.
And so the movie begins to slowly unravel that proverbial “yarn.”
This nothing-is-what-it-seems mystery-thriller is full of fake-outs, twists and turns—you may need a piece of paper to mark down the plotline. And while you do that, you can definitely make use of that same piece of paper to write down phrases and expressions that can be lifted from the movie. This one is ideal for the beginner out to expand their treasure chest of Korean vocab.
For example, language learners can use this one to learn simple and common Korean expressions like “괜찮아요” (genchanayo — okay) and “물론이지” (mulloniji — of course).
And because the film keeps some elements hidden from the characters to keep them at bay (especially Jin-seok), you’ll find them voicing out plenty of questions. Watchful students can familiarize themselves with Korean question words like:
- 왜 (wae — why)
- 언제 (eonje — when)
- 어디에 (eodie — where)
- 누구 (nugu — who)
2) “The Bros”
From that murky murder mystery, we go to a lighter film.
Got a sibling who pushes your buttons like they’re playing the piano? This next one features two brothers—one, a poor teacher, the other, a hotshot architect. The brothers lived their own respective lives until news came about the passing away of their father. Then they had to come back to their hometown and bury their old man. The long-awaited reunion becomes the comedic setting of this film as the brothers selfishly try to push their own personal agendas.
More color is injected into the film when they meet a lady—”meet” as in hit her with their car—who seems to know so much about their family while they know nothing about her!
Learners will enjoy the to-and-fro volley of lines between brothers as they try to bring out the worst in each other. You’ll get to hear the rhythm of Korean conversation here. The movie is perfect for beginners and intermediate language learners, and will help tune your ears to the sounds of authentic Korean dialogue.
3) “The Chase”
Up for a grisly thriller?
“The Chase” will satisfy your bloodlust. In the fictional port town of Aridong, in the southern part of South Korea, elders start dying one after another. The police consider the deaths accidents and think nothing of it. But a stern landlord, whose workday involves making his tenants miserable, begins to piece the “accidents” together and thinks, “There’s a serial killer in town!”
This theory is further bolstered by a former detective who notices similarities to an unsolved serial murder case from thirty summers earlier. The two pool their wits and courage and mount an exciting chase to catch a cold killer.
This film uses very informal and colorful Korean in the dialogues. No highbrow language in this one.
Also, language learners will get an interesting taste of Korean spoken in the countryside, outside big cities like Seoul.
While the title is clearly of Greek origins, this film had Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown of 2011 for inspiration.
In the movie, protagonist Jae-hyeok lives in a small town in the province of Gyeongsangnam-do, which hosts one of South Korea’s nuclear plants. Jae-hyeok works in the power plant—a facility that has clearly seen better days and better management.
One fateful morning, a 6.1 magnitude earthquake hits the town, causing massive destruction. Alarms start blaring, red lights blink to warn of an even bigger disaster. The plant has suffered a radioactive leak too dangerous to be fixed. An explosion is dangerously imminent! (Meanwhile, politicians in the capital are looking at it as a PR situation.)
Language learners will quickly notice the hierarchical nature of Korean culture in this film. You’ll see this in a home situation with how a son addresses his mother. You’ll see this in a work situation, with how plant workers talk to their boss. And you’ll see this in a political situation, with how the Korean Prime Minister’s aides address him. You’ll hear a lot of Korean honorifics like “님” (nim) and “씨” (ssi) in this one.
5) “Lucid Dream”
They say that when people dream, they exhibit unique brain wave frequencies. And that if you’re able to match your frequencies with theirs, you might just be able to step inside the other person’s dreams. Or so goes the premise of this film.
It was three years ago when Dae-ho’s son mysteriously disappeared from a family outing at an amusement park. Dae-ho was certain that his son’s abduction had something to do with his job as an investigative journalist, where exposing corporate corruption was a regular task. But so far, the search for his son has led nowhere.
Then, the desperate father hears about lucid dreaming techniques and thinks to give them a try. He seeks the help of the nation’s top psychotherapist, So-hyeon, who happens to be his childhood friend. Together, they seek to find the truth about his son’s whereabouts.
Will Dae-ho be reunited with his son? What will he discover by entering other people’s dreams?
This film is a great exercise for intermediate and advanced Korean language learners. If you want to know how well you understand authentic and spoken Korean, have a go with some of the scenes in this one.
Some of the characters talk fast and don’t enunciate very clearly, so if you find yourself still following along, it means you’ve come a long way with the language. But if not, don’t fret. Netflix offers you English and Korean subtitles.
6) “A Tale of Legendary Libido”
This one’s a naughty comedy of cartoonish proportions, so needless to say, not for the faint of heart.
This is a period film set in the Joseon dynasty. Byun lives in a small mountain village where he makes his living selling rice cakes. Every day, the village folks, especially the women, ridicule him for his well-known impotence. Add to this his homely looks and you have a potent combination resulting in a massive inferiority complex.
Things change when he meets a traveling monk who tells him the secret to being a great lover. He tells him of an old bottle buried deep in the forest, whose contents can imbue him with special powers. And what great timing, all the other men in the village are being sent to war!
For those interested in Korean language and culture, this film will show you rich sets that reflect the life and times under the Joseon Dynasty—from the music, costumes and houses to the trinkets and objects the characters interact with. If you want to see Korea before it became the technological marvel it is today, this film is a visual treat.
7) “Bank Attack”
Apparently, a father’s love is a common theme in Korean movies as of late.
This one is about a father who, desperate for the surgery his daughter needs, decides to rob a bank, on the very same day real robbers show up. The premise promises a few laughs, a few dramatic moments and a whole lot of confusion.
Add to this the complication that the cop who negotiates the ensuing hostage situation has a certain interest in the bank himself. (He’s dirty and needs to get some incriminating documents out of the bank’s safe.) And oh, one of the robbers suffers from diarrhea while the crime is taking place.
Will this father be able to save his daughter? Watch the movie to find out!
“Bank Attack” uses simple dialogue and easy vocabulary, so beginners can easily mine it for the goodies it contains. Just remember to subdivide the film into scenes to study it so it becomes even more digestible. (That is, after watching the movie in full, a few times.) Make full use of the subtitles, too—going from English, to Korean, to no subtitles at all.
Repeat the scenes as many times as possible and soon enough, you’ll know them like the back of your hand and be able to deliver dialogue as the characters.
So that’s it for this post.
Check out Netflix for more Korean movies you can get your hands on.
I just would like to say that Netflix didn’t pay me anything to write this post.
It’s really just a cool platform that I think can seriously help language learners with their Korean.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Korean with real-world videos.