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26 Classic Korean Movies You Need to Watch in 2024

For decades, South Korea has been producing some of the most celebrated films in modern cinema history.

We’ve got the perfect mix of drama, action, romance, horror and thriller for you movie buffs out there. 

Here are 26 classic Korean movies and where you can stream them in 2024.

Contents


1. “The Housemaid” (1960)

Korean Title: 하녀 | Genre: Horror

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

When a movie is considered by critics at Koreanfilm.org as one of the top three Korean films of all time, and makes it to the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die” list, then it must be for a good reason.

“The Housemaid” is a cautionary tale about the fatal destruction that befalls an unsuspecting family when they welcome a psychotic monster into their home. There are scenes of seduction, betrayal, revenge and death.

If a film makes Martin Scorsese feel like this, then it must be worth your time.

2. “Io Island” (1977)

Korean Title: 이어도 | Genre: Mystery

Where to Watch: Asian Movies

Directed by Kim Ki-young, “Io Island” is a 1970s mystery film that has so many layers and levels. Io is a fictional mystic island south of the Korean mainland that has maintained its shamanistic rituals and traditions.

Unlike the patriarchal system of the mainland, Io island is matriarchal in nature. When one of the males of the island mysteriously disappears, a man planning to develop a tourist resort there goes to Io island to investigate.

There he witnesses a world unto itself—almost like a psychedelic experience so bizarre, it’ll unnerve even the most stoic of viewers.

3. “Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East?” (1989)

Korean Title: 달마가 동쪽으로 간 까닭은? | Genre: Drama

Where to Watch: Kanopy

The movie is one of only two films (the other one is “The People in White”) by writer-director Bae Yong-kyun.

The film depicts three men who are at different stages of enlightenment: Hae-jin, a boy who’s just beginning to see the physical wonders of life; Ki-bong, a young man vacillating between his old life and his life as a monk; and Hye-gok, an old Zen master, awaiting his death.

The title of this movie refers to Bodhi-Dharma, an Indian monk who did indeed move Eastward to spread the teachings of Zen Buddhism.

4. “Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War” (2004)

Korean Title: 태극기 휘날리며 | Genre: Drama

Where to Watch: Internet ArchiveGoogle Play

At the time of its release, this was one of the most successful films Korea had ever made. It tells the story of two brothers when they each get conscripted to fight in the Korean War.

Jin-tae, the older brother, has always looked after his younger sibling Jin-seok. When war breaks out, Jin-tae seeks to protect his brother by striking a deal with his commander that if he earns the highest military honors, his younger brother will be released from military service and sent home.

Jin-tae, without regard for life and limb, joins the most dangerous and suicidal combat missions. Will he win freedom for his brother?

5. “The King and the Clown” (2005)

Korean Title: 왕의 남자 | Genre: Historical drama

Where to Watch: Roku

“The King and the Clown” (“The King’s Man” in Korean) was the most-watched Korean movie of 2005 and was the country’s official entry for the 2006 Academy Awards for Best Foreign-Language Film.

Caught making fun of the king in a street performance, the main characters make a deal with the royal court. They have to perform for the king himself and make him laugh, or it’ll be their head on a plate. 

The movie has plenty of elements to make it interesting: a deranged king with unchecked powers, incredible theatrical performances, a love triangle composed of three men and social unrest brewing in the background.

6. “Ode to My Father” (2014)

Korean Title: 국제시장 | Genre: Drama

Where to Watch: TubiGoogle Play 

This is Korea’s version of Forrest Gump and is one of the most successful movies the country has ever produced.

It follows the life of a boy named Deok-soo, whose family gets separated during the Hungnam Evacuation of the Korean War. His father and sister get left behind in the North while he and his mother are able to flee to the South.

The movie depicts the dramatic moments in the country’s history from the 1950s to modern times. Deok-soo, as the lead character, experiences these turbulent times as he tries to lift his own family from poverty and at the same time build a family of his own.

7. “Memories of Murder” (2003)

Korean Title: 살인의 추억 | Genre: Crime

Where to Watch: Tubi | Apple TV | Google Play

“Memories of Murder,” directed by world-famous Bong Joon-ho, frequently appears on lists of the best Korean films ever made. It’s often praised for its storytelling style and for popularizing the crime genre in South Korea.

The film is based on a spate of real killings that happened in Hwaseong between 1986 and 1991. It focuses on two detectives who try to solve the murders, but are faced with limited resources and escalating frustration.

This 2003 murder mystery received renewed interest in 2019 when Lee Choon-jae, 56, confessed to the murders.

8. “Mother” (2009)

Korean Title: 마더 | Genre: Thriller

Where to Watch: Tubi | Amazon Prime

Here’s another classic from director Bong Joon-ho. “Mother” tackles the lengths a mother would go to to prove her son’s innocence. Get ready for an intense crime drama full of twists and turns.

In a small Korean town lives a mother and her adult son, Do-joon, who has an intellectual disability. One night, a drunken Do-joon follows a girl into an abandoned building.

The next morning, that girl is found lifeless on the rooftop and Do-joon becomes the primary and convenient suspect. Certain of her son’s innocence, the mother embarks on an extreme mission to save her son.

9. “Joint Security Area” (2000)

Korean Title: 공동경비구역 JSA | Genre: Thriller, mystery

Where to Watch: Tubi | Amazon Prime | Apple TV

Directed by another world-famous director, Park Chan-wook, “Joint Security Area” is a Korean film that blends political drama and mystery. It became the highest-grossing Korean film at the time of its release.

Set against the backdrop of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the story unravels the aftermath of a shooting incident involving North and South Korean soldiers.

As an investigation unfolds, the film delves into the complexities of friendship, loyalty and the tragic consequences of political division.

10. “Old Boy” (2003)

Korean Title: 올드보이 |Genre: Thriller, action

Where to Watch: Netflix | Amazon Prime | Apple TV

“Old Boy” was also directed by Park Chan-wook. This film gained international acclaim, winning the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.

The tale follows Oh Dae-su, a man mysteriously imprisoned for 15 years, seeking revenge upon his release. Themes of vengeance, morality and redemption are skillfully woven into a dark and compelling narrative.

Known for its intense storytelling, remarkable cinematography and a jaw-dropping twist, this is one of the most famous Korean films of all time. It’s not for the faint of heart!

11. “Lady Vengeance” (2005)

Korean Title: 친절한 금자씨 | Genre: Psychological thriller

Where to Watch: Tubi | Apple TV | Kanopy

Completing Park Chan-wook’s vengeance trilogy, “Lady Vengeance” further solidifies the director’s reputation for pushing cinematic boundaries. The film won the Cinema Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the Cannes Film Festival.

This film, recognized for its visual elegance and haunting storytelling, explores the complexities of revenge through the character Lee Geum-ja. 

With a compelling mix of drama and thriller elements, “Lady Vengeance” is a visually stunning exploration of justice, forgiveness and the human psyche.

12. “The Handmaiden” (2016)

Korean Title: 아가씨 | Genre: Psychological thriller

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime | Kanopy

Yet another one directed by Park Chan-wook, “The Handmaiden” became a classic for its bold storytelling and exquisite craftsmanship. 

Based on Sarah Waters’ novel “Fingersmith,” the film is a tale of deception, desire and double-crossing set in 1930s Japan-occupied Korea. Praised for its lush visuals and shocking plot twists, “The Handmaiden” received accolades at major film festivals.

It’s a sensuous and suspenseful journey that captivates audiences with its rich narrative layers and stunning cinematography. Be aware: there are some explicit scenes! 

13. “The Host” (2006)

Korean Title: 괴물 | Genre: Suspense, action

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime | Apple TV | Hulu

We’re now moving on to more films by Bong Joon-ho. This critically acclaimed film became a cultural phenomenon, showcasing Bong’s unique storytelling prowess.

“The Host” combines elements of monster horror, family drama and social commentary. It received numerous awards, including Best Film at the Asian Film Awards.

The movie revolves around a dysfunctional family’s quest to rescue their daughter from a monstrous creature spawned from polluted waters, blending thrills and heartwarming moments in an unforgettable cinematic experience.

14. “Parasite” (2019)

Korean Title: 기생충 | Genre: Black comedy, thriller

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime | Apple TV | Hulu

“Parasite,” also directed by Bong Joon-ho, made history by winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and later became the first non-English-language film to win the Best Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards.

With a plot that cleverly explores class disparity, “Parasite” follows the Kim family as they infiltrate the wealthy Park household, leading to unexpected and gripping twists that resonate on both personal and societal levels.

The film is celebrated for its sharp social commentary, genre-blending narrative and impeccable direction.

15. “A Tale of Two Sisters” (2003)

Korean Title: 장화, 홍련 | Genre: Horror

Where to Watch: Apple TV | Kanopy

Kim Jee-woon’s “A Tale of Two Sisters” stands out as a psychological horror classic, winning Best Picture at the Fantasia Film Festival.

As two sisters return home to their estranged father and cruel stepmother, the boundaries between reality and the supernatural blur, creating an unsettling and atmospheric cinematic experience.

Renowned for its atmospheric tension and narrative complexity, the film weaves a haunting tale of family secrets, trauma and supernatural elements.

16. “I Saw the Devil” (2010)

Korean Title: 악마를 보았다 | Genre: Horror, psychological thriller

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime | Apple TVHulu | Google Play 

In this film, also by Kim Jee-woon, you’ll see the characters played by Choi Min-sik and Lee Byung-hun engage in a cat-and-mouse hunt with each other. This is a back-and-forth thriller that makes for a gory Friday night.

Choi Min-sik plays the psychopathic serial killer who coldly murders Lee Byung-hun’s fiancée. The latter’s character is an agent of Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS, the country’s CIA).

Lee Byung-hun decides that vengeance is best served one dish at a time and so begins this gripping thriller. But as one man tries to exact revenge, his opponent refuses to take things sitting down. 

17. “Veteran” (2015)

Korean Title: 베테랑 | Genre: Action

Where to watch:  Netflix | Amazon Prime 

This movie is one of the top five highest-grossing Korean movies of all time. It was a hit domestically, and was nominated and won multiple awards.

Seo Do-cheol is a super cop who busts syndicates left and right. Jo Tae-oh is the sadistic heir to the Sun-jin group, a really despicable character who destroys lives for personal entertainment.

When one of Do-choel’s cases leads to Tae-oh’s front door, the two men from opposite sides of the law come into contact. This movie has plenty of witty banter between the two leads. 

18. “Inside Men” (2015)

Korean Title: 내부자들 | Genre: Crime

Where to Watch: Tubi | Amazon Prime | Viki

This is another extremely high-grossing Korean film. It’s based on a popular webtoon “The Insiders” and tackles themes like political corruption and revenge.

Ahn Sang-goo is a political henchman out to seek revenge on Jang Pil-woo, a former ally who suddenly turned against him and tried to liquidate him. Jang is a consummate dirty politician using money, the media and goons to win the presidential race.

Meanwhile, Woo Jang-hoon, an ambitious prosecutor, is hell-bent on building a high-profile case and catching a big fish. Each one is motivated by revenge, power and fame. What will the aftermath look like?

19. “Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…and Spring” (2003)

Korean Title: 봄 여름 가을 겨울 그리고 봄 | Genre: Drama

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime | Apple TV

Directed by Kim Ki-duk, “Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…and Spring” is a meditative masterpiece that received critical acclaim for its simplicity and spiritual depth.

The film, which won the Best Film award at the Grand Bell Awards, unfolds across five seasons, each representing a stage in a Buddhist monk’s life.

With breathtaking visuals and minimal dialogue, the movie explores themes of life, death and the cyclical nature of existence, offering a profound and contemplative journey for the audience.

20. “Train to Busan” (2016)

Korean Title: 부산행 | Genre: Horror

Where to Watch: NetflixAmazon Prime | Viki 

This movie was the certified hit of 2016, and it briefly resurrected the dying “zombie apocalypse” genre.

Seok-woo, a workaholic fund manager played by Gong Yoo, is on a train with his young daughter and headed for Busan. But then a woman with a bite wound manages to get into the train. She’s about to wreak havoc on every passenger inside.

Korean beginners can actually watch this one because it’s very light on the language. If you’re not sure how to go about studying with movies, here’s a guide for practicing your Korean with “Train to Busan.”

21. “The Admiral: Roaring Currents” (2014)

Korean Title: 명량 | Genre: Action

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime | Google Play | Apple TV

“The Admiral: Roaring Currents” is another commercially successful Korean film—chronicling the nation’s celebrated naval victory against the invading Japanese in the Battle of Myeongnyang in 1597. The movie even beat “Avatar” in ticket sales in Korea.

It’s the story of 13 ships against a Japanese fleet of more than 300. The small Korean contingent is led by Yi Sun-sin, a most revered naval commander who, through cunning strategy, is often able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

With epic scenes, big battles and a star cast, led by the masterful Choi Min-sik as the title Admiral, this movie is absolutely worth 127 minutes of your life.

22. “Miss Granny” (2014)

Korean Title: 수상한 그녀 | Genre: Comedy

Where to Watch: NetflixAmazon Prime | Google Play 

This film was an immediate box office hit when it came out. “Miss Granny” is a funny look into what sort of trouble a 70-year-old grandmother could get herself into if she suddenly reverted back to her 20-year-old self.

One night, after being told that her son is going to leave her at a nursing home, Mal-soon wanders the streets and finds herself in front of a mysterious photo studio. She goes in to have her photo taken.

Mal-soon leaves the studio as a fresh 20-year-old. She can’t believe it at first, but soon, she resolves to make the most out of her situation. And so the fun begins…

23. “Miracle in Cell No. 7” (2013)

Korean Title: 7번방의 선물 | Genre: Drama

Where to Watch: Tubi | Amazon Prime | Viki

Here is another one that’s in the top 10 highest-grossing Korean films of all time. It’s based on a true story about a mentally challenged father who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

An innocent Yong-gu, due to a truly unfortunate turn of events, is sent to prison for the abduction, rape and murder of a young girl. He is placed in Cell No. 7, where the most hardened criminals are kept, and where he is welcomed most unkindly.

This is a story of unlikely bonds and friendships, of hardened criminals turning out to be softies, and of strangers turning into family.

24. “Secretly, Greatly” (2013)

Korean Title: 은밀하게 위대하게 | Genre: Action, comedy-drama

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

“Secretly, Greatly” is a comedy-drama based on the webtoon “Covertness.” The film had the biggest one-day ticket sales and one of the biggest opening weekends for a Korean movie.

Three young men come to live in a peaceful village in South Korea. But things aren’t what they seem. These men are actually highly-trained North Korean spies sent to infiltrate the South.

They’ve settled quite nicely in the village, getting to know folks and living a quiet and ordinary existence (in truth, they are eagerly awaiting orders from the top). The long-awaited order comes, but it’s an order nobody ever expected.

25. “Christmas in August” (1998)

Korean Title: 8월의 크리스마스 | Genre: Drama, romance

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime | Google Play 

This film screened at the Cannes Film Festival and was one of the top Korean movies of 1998. 

Jung-won runs an old photo studio that caters to the picture needs of the people in his neighborhood. Darim, on the other hand, is a traffic constable, whose work constantly brings her to the studio. Gradually, feelings develop between these two.

When everything is perfect and at its best, Jung-won suddenly closes the studio and ceases all contact with Darim, leaving the latter in absolute despair. Why, you may ask? Well, you’ll have to watch to find out.

Want to watch more movies about entrancing love and shattering heartbreak? Check out these 15 Korean romance movies:

26. “Sunny” (2011)

Korean Title: 써니 | Genre: Comedy, drama

Where to Watch: Tubi

“Sunny” is the story of a group of high school girls who grew up in the 1980s. The girls named their clique “Sunny,” after Bobby Hebb’s 1963 hit of the same title.

Chun-hwa is a successful businesswoman with terminal cancer. She only has two months to live. Her dying wish is to have the whole gang together again for the last time.

A private detective is hired to track down the members of “Sunny,” and one by one, the girls come out of the woodwork—a little bit older, but only a little different from who they were in high school.

 

If you want some additional support while you watch these Korean films, you might consider using the language learning program FluentU.

Thanks to many wonderful directors and actors, you have a full year of comedy, crime, drama, mystery and adventure ahead of you.

Language learners and non-language learners alike will get to enjoy the highs of Korean cinema over the years. Fortunately, there are tons of Korean movies on Netflix now as well. 

So get that popcorn popping and the soda fizzing. It’s time to press play on the top Korean movies!

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