It’s truly the golden age for Korean films. And since Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite won big in the Academy Awards early in 2020, it’s like a door was opened and now more and more of the world are discovering the mega talent of Korean filmmakers — that has long been there, waiting to be discovered, we might add.
If you love a good, suspenseful film that will make your heart race, the hair at the back of your neck stand, and that will blow your mind, you’ve come to the right place. We can’t promise all of the good ones will be here (where do you even start for that?), but the good ones that we do know of are. Be sure to read until the end of the list, because #2 and #1 are really just some of the best films you’ll ever see. Yes, they’re that good.
Ready for a suspenseful movie marathon this weekend? Read on!
9. The Witch: Subversion (2018)
Director: Park Hoon Jung
A young girl with special abilities escapes a scientific facility, ending up bloody at the property of an old couple. She loses her memory, and they take her in and raise her as their own. Ten years later though, when she ends up in a talent show, her past comes back to claim her. The Witch: Subversion is a great thriller, full of action, mystery, and a whole lot of blood. You think you’ve got the story figured out, until you realize, you don’t. This movie is smarter than it may seem.
8. I Saw The Devil (2010)
Director: Kim Jee-woon
I Saw The Devil is one of those movies where it’s hard to tell who the good guy and who the bad guy is. In a desire to seek revenge for his murdered fiancee, a man, who is also a skilled Secret Agent, goes on a hunt for “justice.” He captures the perpetrator, but after brutally beating him, lets him go. Why? Well, the real game begins after that, and it’s up to you to find out. This 2010 thriller is as violent as movies can go, and if a good murder mystery is your cup of tea then you’re gonna love this.
7. Memories of Murder (2003)
Director: Bong Joon Ho
Ho’s second film as a director, Memories of Murder is based on the case of South Korea’s first high profile serial killer. The mystery killings happened between 1986 to 1991, and the killer was only identified in 2019 — 30 years after the gruesome incidents. There were 10 female victims — all raped before killed. Knowing this film is based on a real case makes it darker than other murder films, but if you’re curious to see Bong Joon Ho’s interpretation of the events, this is definitely worth the watch.
6. Dream (2008)
Director: Kim Ki-duk
Dream might just be one of the most chilling films you’ll ever see, but not because of ghosts or gore (there are none) — it’s just full of complexities. For one, its lead actor, Joe Odagiri, is Japanese and speaks entirely Japanese in the film, while every other character responds to him in Korean. Yet this disconnect in language wasn’t touched on even once, and everyone went about as if they understood each other clearly. But perhaps that’s the point — this film’s title is Dream, after all, and often times while dreams can be baffling, they can also be enthralling.
5. Mother (2009)
Director: Bong Joon Ho
This film shows the length a mother will go to protect her child. In this Bong Joon Ho film, a mentally-challenged man, Do Joon, becomes a prime suspect in a murder of a woman after he is the last person seen in the location of the crime. His loving mother believes her son didn’t do it, and when no one would listen to her, decides to take it upon herself to prove her son’s innocence. Themes of perversion also play a role, and though it can sometimes be uncomfortable to watch, it is also what makes Mother the dark, intelligent film that it is.
4. Oldboy (2003)
Director: Park Chan-wook
The tale of Oldboy is the kind of horror you never wish to happen in real life. A drunk is one day abducted, and wakes up in a cell. There is no way to escape, and ends up spending the next 15 years of his life in that small room, with only a lonesome TV as his company. One day, he was released. But there’s a catch — he was tasked to find his abductor in five days. Oldboy is complex and intelligent, much more than just another action film.
3. The Wailing (2016)
Director: Na Hong-jin
The Wailing received numerous film awards, and critics have nothing but good things to say about this film. And neither can we. If you want something more than just suspense, The Wailing offers it all — suspense, mystery, and real horrors. It’s not about ghost stories; it’s something more horrific than that. The film is also intelligent in the way it unfolds its mysteries, making you question how you missed earlier clues. It’s a fun film to watch, but a friendly tip: don’t watch it alone.
2. The Handmaiden (2016)
Director: Park Chan-wook
Another brilliant film from Park Chan-wook, same director as Oldboy, comes the passionate, mysterious, and erotic The Handmaiden. A con man comes up with an elaborate plan to seduce, marry, and steal the fortune of a young, beautiful heiress. To help execute his plan, he hired a young lady to be the new handmaiden of the heiress. But a bond forms between the two, while many more dark mysteries, treachery, and disturbing events unfold. Aside from the captivating story, The Handmaiden is also a visual pleasure, with beautiful 1930s design. A true modern classic.
1. Burning (2018)
Director: Lee Chang-dong
It was difficult to decide whether Burning or The Handmaiden should take the top spot as both are a masterpiece, but Burning takes home the cake for this reason — the brilliance of its simplicity. No cheesy drama, no action, no fancy effects or Hollywood glitter — just plain, powerful, intelligent writing. Fans of Haruki Murakami might see some resemblances in the themes of the film and the author’s books, and it’s because Burning is actually inspired by Murakami’s short story “Barn Burning.” Korean-American actor Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead) also stars in this film, and showcases brilliant acting.
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Which of these films have you seen? Which one is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!
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