korean movies

Top Korean Movies: 20 Iconic Films You Need to Watch in 2022

There’s a rampaging zombie on your train!

Plus, your country’s at war, the guy you’re about to shoot at looks just like your long-lost brother and you’ve magically become fifty years younger.

These are just some of the exciting plots of Korean movies you’ll find in this post.

We’ve got the perfect mix of comedy, drama, adventure, action, mystery and thriller. 

So without further ado, here are the top 20 Korean movies you should be watching in 2022.

Contents

1. “Ode to My Father

Korean Title: 국제시장

Genre: Drama

Where to Watch: Amazon | Google 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 got separated during the Hungnam Evacuation of the Korean War. His father and sister got left behind in the North while he and his mother were able to flee 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.

2. “Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War

Korean Title: 태극기 휘날리며

Genre: Drama

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime | Google Play

This is the touching 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?

3. “Miss Granny

Korean Title: 수상한 그녀

Genre: Comedy

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime | Google Play | Netflix

“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.

Mal-soon is a difficult old widow who’s constantly getting on the nerves of her son and daughter-in-law.

One night, after being told that her own 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.

Click…Magic!

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…

4. “Miracle in Cell No. 7

Korean Title: 7번방의 선물

Genre: Drama

Where to Watch: Amazon PrimeViki

The film is a melodrama 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, of strangers turning into family.

But will all this goodwill be enough, given that the girl who Yong-gu is accused of abducting and murdering is the Police Commissioner’s daughter?

5. “The King and the Clown

Korean Title: 왕의 남자

Genre: Historical

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

You just made a deal with the royal court. You’ll make the king laugh, even once, with your performance, or it’ll be your head on a plate (and guess what, you’re down to your last joke).

The King and the Clown 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.

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. “Secretly, Greatly

Korean Title: 은밀하게 위대하게

Genre: Action

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

Three men come to live in a peaceful village in South Korea. There’s Bang Dong-gu, a carefree young man, Lee Hae-rang, an aspiring rockstar and Ri Hae-jin, a high school student.

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.

“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.

7. “Addicted

Korean Title: 중독

Genre: Thriller

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

In a freakish coincidence, two brothers, Dae-jun and Ho-jun, get into car accidents at the same time. Both of them end up in a coma, to the deep despair of their partners.

A year later, one of the brothers, Dae-jun, wakes up.

He immediately started acting very differently and very strange. Ho-jun’s wife became gradually convinced that her husband’s spirit now resides in her brother-in-law’s body. They begin living together as man and wife (meanwhile, Ho-jun’s real body is still in coma).

But hold on… is it really possible for spirit to possess a man’s body?

Or is there something sinister going on?

8. “Christmas in August

Korean Title: 8월의 크리스마스

Genre: Romance

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime | Google Play 

Death and love are the themes of this film. How would you deal with one, when the other comes knocking on your door?

Jung-won runs an old photo studio that caters to the picture needs of the people in his neighborhood (clearly, this movie came out well before Instagram).

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.

9. “The Face Reader

Korean Title: 관상

Genre: Historical

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

Nae-kyung’s talent for reading faces is unrivaled in all the land. He can look at the lines of someone’s face and predict their personality and ultimately, their future.

Little does he know his odd talent will put him at the center of one of the biggest power struggles in Korean history.

Nae-kyung’s ability gets the attention of the King, who wants to use his services to point out the bad eggs in the royal court.

When the King suddenly dies, Nae-kyung finds himself in the middle of warring princes who wanted to become king.

Where do Nae-kyung’s loyalties lie? Find out in this period film that’ll give you a sense of how Korean might have sounded a few hundred years ago!

10. “Train to Busan

Korean Title: 부산행

Genre: Horror

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime | Tubi | Viki | YouTube

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… and so begins our movie!

Beginners of Korean 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”:

For more learner support, there’s also the FluentU language learning program. You can watch clips from Korean movies, dramas, news, and other authentic Korean media—all with interactive subtitles. These explain the ins and outs of each Korean word for language learners, with transcripts and grammar notes included. 

Plus, the program is available as an iOS and Android app—for those who like a little more flexibility.

11. “Inside Men

Korean Title: 내부자들

Genre: Crime

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime | Tubi | Viki

The film is one of the highest-grossing R-rated Korean movies of all time. 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?

12. “The Admiral: Roaring Currents

Korean Title: 명량

Genre: Action

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime | Google Play | iTunes

“The Admiral: Roaring Currents” is one of the most commercially successful Korean movies of all time—chronicling the nation’s celebrated naval victory against the invading Japanese in the Battle of Myeongnyang (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.

13. “I Saw the Devil

Korean Title: 악마를 보았다

Genre: Thriller

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime | Google Play | Hulu | iTunes

In this film, you’ll see Choi Min-sik (the “Admiral” in the previous film) and Lee Byung-hun of “Inside Men” play cat and mouse with each other.

Choi Min-sik plays the psychopathic serial killer who coldly murders Byung-hun’s fiancée. The latter’s character is an agent to 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. And so you have this back-and-forth thriller that makes for a gory Friday night.

14. “Sunny

Korean Title: 써니

Genre: Comedy

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

“Sunny” is the story of a group of high school girls who grew up in the ’80s. 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.

Will Chun-hwa see all her friends together before it’s too late? See the movie to find out.

15. “The Housemaid

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. This monster, of course, comes in the form of an alluring temptress who will make you momentarily forget your wedding vows. 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.

16. “Io Island

Korean Title: 이어도

Genre: Mystery

Where to Watch: Asian Movies

“Io Island” is a 1970s murder mystery that has so many layers and levels, one might just need an elevator to grasp all its cinematic beauty.

Io is a mystic island south of the Korean mainland that has maintained its shamanistic rituals and traditions. And unlike the patriarchal system of the mainland, Io island is matriarchal in nature.

When one of the males of the island mysteriously disappears, the man suspected of the disappearance 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.

Director Kim Ki-young knew exactly what he was doing with this slow burn of a film.

17. “Veteran

Korean Title: 베테랑

Genre: Action

Where to watch: Amazon Prime | Netflix

What happens when an “unstoppable” police detective crosses paths with an “untouchable” heir to a business empire?

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.

Will the law catch up with money? Or will money, in the end, still prevail?

This movie has plenty of witty banter between the two leads. Just one of the many reasons why “Veteran” is one of the highest-grossing films in Korean history.

18. “Memories of Murder

Korean Title: 살인의 추억

Genre: Crime

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime | Hulu | iTunes

“Memories of Murder” is based on a spate of killings that happened in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province between 1986 and 1991.

Park Doo-man is a detective who uses brute force and instincts over a careful analysis of evidence. Seo Tae-yoon, a detective from Seoul, is Doo-man’s opposite. He carefully pores over evidence to methodically catch a criminal.

But between the two of them is a growing number of bodies of women who’ve been brutally murdered and raped. There’s a growing desperation from the detectives as the movie rolls. Can they get to the killer before another woman loses her life?

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

19. “Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East?

Korean Title: 달마가 동쪽으로 간 까닭은?

Genre: Drama

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

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

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.

If you’re interested in philosophy and the teachings of Buddhism, you’ll love this film—and you might just gain some insights about life.

20. “Mother

Korean Title: 마더

Genre: Thriller

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime | Tubi

Finally, we have the movie “Mother,” which tackles the lengths a mother would go to in order to prove her son’s innocence.

In a small Korean town lives a mother and her adult son, Do-joon, who has an intellectual disability. The mother dotes and fiercely protects her son.

One night, a drunken Do-joon follows a girl into an abandoned building.

The next morning, that girl is found lifeless on the rooftop. Do-joon becomes the primary and convenient suspect when a golf ball with his name inscribed on it is found near the crime scene.

Certain of her son’s innocence, the mother embarks on a mission to save her son.

Get ready for a crime drama full of twists and turns.

That about wraps up our parade of Korean movies to watch this year. 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.

So get that popcorn popping and the soda fizzing. It’s time to press play.

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