30 CERTIFIED FRESH SOUTH KOREAN MOVIES TO WATCH NOW

With Parasite‘s historic Best Picture win at the 2020 Oscars, South Korea has now become an intractable contender in the argument for which countries are producing the best movies today. Whether Parasite is your gateway into an international film scene or you’re a seasoned viewer looking to tick off every last classic, we present 30 Certified Fresh South Korean movies to watch now!

Parasite is a great introduction to the South Korean aesthetic, as director Bong Joon-ho has been playing with tone since the early 2000s. His spectacular crime thrillers Mother and Memories of Murder and his acclaimed monster movie The Host helped establish him as one of the country’s most promising filmmakers. Parasite‘s Song Kang-ho, one of Korea’s most versatile and prolific leading men, also starred in the latter two films and serves as the connective tissue between Bong and many of his celebrated colleagues. He’s worked with Oldboy director Park Chan-wook (ThirstSympathy for Lady Vengeance), Kim Jee-woon (The Age of ShadowsThe Good, the Bad, the Weird), and Poetry and Burning director Lee Chang-dong multiple times.

Once you’ve devoured all of those films, there’s also the quiet, subdued work of Hong Sang-soo (Hotel by the RiverOn the Beach at Night AloneRight Now, Wrong Then), whose frequent leading lady Kim Min-hee also starred in Park Chan-wook’s endlessly talked-about 2016 romantic mystery The Handmaiden. And if you’re looking for genre thrills, recent hits Train to Busan and The Wailing, as well as Kim Jee-woon’s A Tale of Two Sisters and I Saw the Devil, will help scratch that horror itch.

Since the turn of the century, South Korea has been a rising force in critic-applauded and genre-friendly moviemaking, with no signs of slowing down after Parasite‘s big wins. Take a look back with 30 Certified Fresh South Korean movies to watch now!

 

THE HOUSEMAID (2010)
70%

#30
Critics Consensus: Im Sang-soo’s remake of The Housemaid struggles to escape the shadow of the original, but offers its own unique — and decidedly sensual — pleasures.
Synopsis: Eun-yi (Jeon Do-yeon), a poor Korean woman, takes a job as a domestic servant in the lavish home of Hoon… [More]
Directed By: Im Sang-soo

 

PIETA (2012)
73%

#29
Critics Consensus: It lacks subtlety and depth of character, but Pieta gets by with committed performances and a darkly ambitious, deceptively simple message.
Synopsis: In Seoul, a loan shark’s brutal enforcer (Lee Jung-jin) turns away from his violent lifestyle after he meets a woman… [More]
Directed By: Kim Ki-duk

 

THE WAY HOME (2002)
75%

#28
Critics Consensus: A simple story told with much warmth and compassion.
Synopsis: Little Sang-woo (Yoo Seung-ho) doesn’t want to leave Seoul, South Korea, to live with his mute grandmother (Kim Eul-boon) in… [More]
Directed By: Jeong-Hyang Lee

 

LADY VENGEANCE (2005)
76%

#27
Critics Consensus: Stylistically flashy and gruesomely violent, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance fits in nicely with the other two films of Park’s revenge trilogy.
Synopsis: Lee Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae) has spent the last 13 years in prison for a murder she didn’t commit. She’s fantasized… [More]
Directed By: Park Chan-wook

 

I SAW THE DEVIL (2010)
81%

#26
Critics Consensus: Never flinching during its descent into depravity, I Saw the Devil is a pulverizing thriller that will give bloody satisfaction to audiences who like their revenge served with fiery rage.
Synopsis: On a dark road, taxi driver Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik) comes across a scared female motorist stranded in a broken-down vehicle…. [More]
Directed By: Kim Jee-woon

 

Critics Consensus: Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War sends viewers to the front lines of the Korean War, with grim yet rewarding results.
Synopsis: Jin-tae (Jang Dong-gun) has always looked out for his little brother, Jin-seok (Won-bin), even shining shoes to raise funds for… [More]
Directed By: Je-gyu Kang

 

THIRST (2009)
80%

#24
Critics Consensus: The stylish Thirst packs plenty of bloody thrills to satisfy fans of both vampire films and director Chan Wook Park.
Synopsis: Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho), a respected priest, volunteers for an experimental procedure that may lead to a cure for a deadly… [More]
Directed By: Park Chan-wook

 

OLDBOY (2003)
81%

#23
Critics Consensus: Violent and definitely not for the squeamish, Park Chan-Wook’s visceral Oldboy is a strange, powerful tale of revenge.
Synopsis: Dae-Su is an obnoxious drunk bailed from the police station yet again by a friend. However, he’s abducted from the… [More]
Directed By: Park Chan-wook

 

Critics Consensus: Whilst never taking itself too seriously, this riotous and rollicking Sergio Leone-inspired Korean Western is serious fun.
Synopsis: In 1930s Manchuria, an encounter on a train triggers an epic crusade for a treasure map, prompting a marathon chase… [More]
Directed By: Kim Jee-woon

 

THE VILLAINESS (2017)
85%

#21
Critics Consensus: The Villainess offers enough pure kinetic thrills to satisfy genre enthusiasts — and carve out a bloody niche for itself in modern Korean action cinema.
Synopsis: Honed from childhood to be an elite assassin, Sook-hee embarks on a rampage of violence and revenge to finally earn… [More]
Directed By: Jeong Byeong-gil

 

#20
Critics Consensus: A fittingly artful biopic about the life of a brilliant painter, Chihwaseon offers an uncommonly compelling look at a singularly creative life.
Synopsis: Jang Seung-Up (Choi Min-sik) is a Korean peasant and a gifted artist. Upper-class Kim Byung-Moon (Ahn Sung-ki) discovers Jang and,… [More]
Directed By: Im Kwon-taek

 

A TALE OF TWO SISTERS (2003)
85%

#19
Critics Consensus: Restrained but disturbing, A Tale of Two Sisters is a creepily effective, if at times confusing, horror movie.
Synopsis: After being institutionalized in a mental hospital, Korean teen Su-mi (Yum Jung-ah) reunites with her beloved sister, Su-yeon (Im Soo-jung),… [More]
Directed By: Kim Jee-woon

 

CHUNHYANG (2000)
86%

#18
Critics Consensus: Chunhyang brings a classic love story to life with a period romance whose savory visuals are enhanced by a sincerity that transcends folktale formula.
Synopsis: In 13th-century Korea, Noble-born Mongryong (Cho Seung-woo) and commoner Chunhyang (Lee Hyojeong) fall in love when they first meet, but… [More]
Directed By: Im Kwon-taek

 

3-IRON (2004)
87%

#17
Critics Consensus: A tender and moving romance from Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… And Spring’s director Kim Ki-Duk.
Synopsis: Tae-suk (Jae-hee) is a lonely drifter who spends his nights in one empty vacation home after another. However, Tae-suk is… [More]
Directed By: Kim Ki-duk

 

TREELESS MOUNTAIN (2008)
86%

#16
Critics Consensus: Intermittently wondrous and harsh, this sensitive drama about two abandoned sisters gives time and space to the intimate and beautiful moments of childhood.
Synopsis: Jin (Kim Hee-yeon) and her younger sister, Bin (Song Hee Kim), are left by their mother (Soo Ah Lee) with… [More]
Directed By: So-yong Kim

 

MEMORIES OF MURDER (2003)
95%

#15
Critics Consensus: Memories of Murder blends the familiar crime genre with social satire and comedy, capturing the all-too human desperation of its key characters.
Synopsis: In 1986, Park (Song Kang-ho) and Cho (Kim Roi-ha) are two simple-minded detectives assigned to a double murder investigation in… [More]
Directed By: Bong Joon-ho

 

#14
Critics Consensus: A funny and wildly inventive hybrid of various genres, Save the Green Planet! is definitely a unique viewing experience.
Synopsis: Lee Byeong-gu (Shin Ha-kyun) is convinced that there are aliens from Andromeda among us, plotting to destroy Earth. He believes… [More]
Directed By: Jang Joon-hwan

 

RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN (2015)
92%

#13
Critics Consensus: Right Now, Wrong Then offers diverging perspectives on a chance meeting — and thought-provoking observations on human interactions in general.
Synopsis: An art film director meets a fledgling artist and invites her for sushi and soju…. [More]
Directed By: Hong Sang-soo

 

#12
Critics Consensus: On the Beach at Night Alone finds writer-director Sang-soo Hong working in a more personal vein — without losing the singular sensibilities that have informed much of his acclaimed earlier work.
Synopsis: After a publicized affair with her director, an actress leaves South Korea and goes to Hamburg, where she gains insight… [More]
Directed By: Hong Sang-soo

 

TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016)
94%

#11
Critics Consensus: Train to Busan delivers a thrillingly unique — and purely entertaining — take on the zombie genre, with fully realized characters and plenty of social commentary to underscore the bursts of skillfully staged action.
Synopsis: A man (Gong Yoo), his estranged daughter and other passengers become trapped on a speeding train during a zombie outbreak… [More]
Directed By: Yeon Sang-ho

 

THE HOST (2006)
93%

#10
Critics Consensus: As populace pleasing as it is intellectually satisfying, The Host combines scares, laughs, and satire into a riveting, monster movie.
Synopsis: Careless American military personnel dump chemicals into South Korea’s Han River. Several years later, a creature emerges from the tainted… [More]
Directed By: Bong Joon-ho

 

Critics Consensus: A visually stunning and contemplative piece of work.
Synopsis: A young Buddhist apprentice is mentored by an aging monk (Oh Yeong-su) at a secluded monastery in the Korean wilderness…. [More]
Directed By: Kim Ki-duk

 

THE HANDMAIDEN (2016)
95%

#8
Critics Consensus: The Handmaiden uses a Victorian crime novel as the loose inspiration for another visually sumptuous and absorbingly idiosyncratic outing from director Park Chan-wook.
Synopsis: With help from an orphaned pickpocket (Kim Tae-ri), a Korean con man (Ha Jung-woo) devises an elaborate plot to seduce… [More]
Directed By: Park Chan-wook

 

BURNING (2018)
95%

#7
Critics Consensus: Burning patiently lures audiences into a slow-burning character study that ultimately rewards the viewer’s patience — and subverts many of their expectations.
Synopsis: Jong-soo runs into Hae-mi, a girl who once lived in his neighborhood, and she asks him to watch her cat… [More]
Directed By: Lee Chang-dong

 

HOTEL BY THE RIVER (2018)
95%

#6
Critics Consensus: Hotel by the River finds writer-director Hong Sang-soo revisiting familiar themes from fresh perspectives — and telling a story that potently distills his unique creative strengths.
Synopsis: Convinced he’s on the verge of death, an aging poet invites his two bickering sons to an isolated hotel for… [More]
Directed By: Hong Sang-soo

 

MOTHER (2009)
96%

#5
Critics Consensus: As fleshy as it is funny, Bong Joon-Ho’s Mother straddles family drama, horror and comedy with a deft grasp of tone and plenty of eerie visuals.
Synopsis: A widow (Kim Hye-ja) resides with her mentally challenged son (Won-bin) in a small South Korean town, where she scrapes… [More]
Directed By: Bong Joon-ho

 

THE WAILING (2016)
99%

#4
Critics Consensus: The Wailing delivers an atmospheric, cleverly constructed mystery whose supernatural thrills more than justify its imposing length.
Synopsis: Suspicion leads to hysteria when rural villagers link a series of brutal murders to the arrival of a mysterious stranger… [More]
Directed By: Na Hong-jin

 

PARASITE (2019)
98%

#3
Critics Consensus: An urgent, brilliantly layered look at timely social themes, Parasite finds writer-director Bong Joon Ho in near-total command of his craft.
Synopsis: Greed and class discrimination threaten the newly formed symbiotic relationship between the wealthy Park family and the destitute Kim clan…. [More]
Directed By: Bong Joon-ho

 

THE AGE OF SHADOWS (2016)
100%

#2
Critics Consensus: The Age of Shadows justifies its imposing length with a richly detailed period drama whose sprawling size is matched by strong acting, impressive craft, and narrative depth.
Synopsis: Korean resistance fighters smuggle explosives to destroy facilities controlled by Japanese forces…. [More]
Directed By: Kim Jee-woon

 

POETRY (2010)
100%

#1
Critics Consensus: Poetry is an absorbing, poignant drama because it offers no easy answers to its complex central conflict.
Synopsis: At the end of her life a woman searches for new meaning…. [More]
Directed By: Lee Chang-dong

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