Korean drama addicts know that the only way to satiate one's appetite for more K-drama content is to either unplug the TV and/or disconnect the Internet so you can't stream shows anymore. (This seems drastic, I know, but as someone who has watched more than half a dozen K-dramas in just the span of one month, the need for consumption is real.) And I wholeheartedly support your addiction. When you've finished making your way through all the Korean shows, tune into some good ol' fashioned Korean movies. (Bonus: Most Korean movies come in right under that two-hour mark.)
From classics like Train to Busan to newer pieces like Tune in For Love, Korean films, like K-dramas, offer an escape into worlds with intense plot twists and cheesy scenes (which we love). Browse the list of our top Netflix Korean movie recs below, then sit back with some snacks and hit the play button.
Train to Busan
This classic Korean movie focuses on a work-obsessed and divorced father, Seok-woo, whose daughter's birthday wish is to spend the day with her mother in Busan. The two board a train to Busan, not knowing that an ill woman also managed to get on. She turns out to be a zombie who starts attacking, and thus infecting, everyone else on board. (Yes, that took a drastic turn, but that's South Korean shows/films for you.) The movie largely takes place on the train, though you'll be enthralled for the full 117 minutes as father and daughter try to survive along with fellow passengers. Will they ever make it to Busan? This is one of the most iconic South Korean films ever made and received rave reviews upon release in 2016.
This 2017 movie is directed by Bong Joon-ho, so you know it's worth a watch. Without revealing too much, here's the plot line: The Mirando Corporation is obsessed with breeding super pigs and sends them to farmers around the world to be raised. For 10 years, Mija has been raising Okja in the mountains of South Korea; one day, Okja is crowned the "best super pig" by the corporation and is scheduled to be taken to New York City. Devastated, Mija sets out on a journey to save her friend and in the process exposes the evildoings of The Mirando Corporation. This movie boasts a powerful ensemble cast with the likes of Tilda Swinton, Lily Collins, and Jake Gyllenhaal.
If you like movies like Inception, give this 2017 South Korean film a watch. The story centers around investigative journalist Dae-ho whose son is kidnapped with little chance of rescue. Three years pass, and Dae-ho learns of a new form of therapy that allows people to relive important memories through lucid dreams. His friend conducts the therapy on him, allowing Dae-ho to go back to the day his son was kidnapped. Dae-ho finds a new trail of evidence and, accompanied by Detective Song, who was on the case three years ago, sets out on a journey to uncover the truth.
Tune in for Love
Nurse the emotional void left in your soul by Crash Landing on You by tuning into another heart-wrenching love story. This 2019 movie begins in the '90s during the Asian financial crisis. Writer Mi-su and Hyeon-woo meet as teenagers while working in a bakery over Christmas. As time passes, obstacles in adulthood separate them from each other, though the pair always look for ways to reunite. However, one of them holds a secret that might completely destroy their relationship. The film spans across a decade and has a nostalgic tone, plus a beautiful soundtrack. By the end of the film, you're guaranteed to shed a few happy and sad tears.
Night in Paradise
If you like Asian gangster movies, this one's got a lot going for it. Mobster Park Tae-goo (Uhm Tae-goo) flees to Jeju Island after he suffers a brutal family tragedy, with killers hot on his trail. There he meets Kim Jae-yeon (Jeon Yeo-been), terminally ill, with secrets of her own—who also knows her way around a gun. This will become important later. Directed by Park Hoon-jung (New World), who's mastered the dark and violent crime genre, the film's got some soft, quiet scenes, followed by intense action that includes (no spoilers) one of the craziest shootouts in recent memory.
Directed by Yeon Sang-ho (who also directed Train to Busan), Psychokinesis is a superhero movie that centers on bank security guard Suk-Hun. After drinking water from a mountain spring that was struck by a meteor, Suk-Hun finds himself with telekinetic superpowers. His estranged daughter, Roo-Mi, runs a fried chicken restaurant that is under threat of being taken over by a construction company—which is controlled by the mafia, which also wants to kick the neighbors out of the area. A confrontation takes place between the thugs, Roo-Mi, and her mother. Suk-Hun attempts to use his newfound powers to rescue his daughter from the mafia as well as the neighborhood. Will he succeed?
The 2017 thriller received an 8.2 out of 10 rating from MyDramaList and stars Jung Woo-sung and Kwak Do-won. It's described as "equal parts Bad Boys and The Raid" with a "Tom Clancy adaptation." How the story unfolds: A military coup takes place in the near future in North Korea, where Eom Chul-Woo, a former agent of the North Korean Special Forces, has orders to execute two leaders who are planning a coup d'état on Victory Day. The leader of North Korea and Eom Chul-Woo escape to South Korea. Eom Chul-Woo and a South Korean government official, Kwak Chul Woo, now have carry out a secret operation to prevent a Korean war.
Described by Netflix as "offbeat, raunchy, and romantic," this 2015 movie is about Korean teens raised in other countries who travel to Seoul to learn about their cultural heritage at a summer camp set up by the government. The film is set in 1986 and explores the teens' coming-of-age, as well as their grappling with issues such as race and identity. It's based on the true story of what director Benson Lee experienced as a teen when he participated in a similar government-sponsored program.
Make some popcorn and get ready to settle in with this mystery thriller from 2017. The story follows Jin-seok, who witnesses his brother Yoo-seok's abduction. After 19 days, Yoo-seok returns home one night with no memory of what happened, which leads the family to believe he repressed those horrid memories. Soon after, Jin-seok realizes that both his parents and brother are acting very strange and attempts to seek help but ends up getting kidnapped by his "brother." Jin-seok is then thrown into a confusing murder plot and attempts to clear his name while battling whatever has gotten hold of his parents and brother. Creepy AF? We think so.
The Drug King
This true-story drama centers around a small-time narcotics dealer Lee Doo-sam (played by Song Kang-ho), who eventually becomes the infamous king of narcotics in Korea in the '70s. In addition to selling drugs in Korea, he also exported to Japan and smuggled diamonds and other items. In the movie, Jo Jung-suk plays a Seoul prosecutor who wants to bring Lee down, and Bae Doona plays a lobbyist who helps Lee climb the drug dealing rungs to become the top dog.
"The Korean thirst for movies about government and corporate malfeasance continues unabated in Pandora," wrote The Hollywood Reporter. When an earthquake strikes a small Korean town that houses a rundown nuclear power plant, it causes an explosion that quickly affects Jae-hyeok, who lives in the town, and his lover Yeon-joo, who works at the plant. The situation spirals out of control, and it's up to Jae-hyeok and his coworkers to return to the nuclear power plant in order to save everyone.
This movie tells the story of a married, middle-class couple. The husband, Jang Tae-ju, is a respected college professor, while his wife, Oh Su-yeon, is an esteemed curator of a famous art gallery. The story follows the pair as they aim to achieve their upper echelon goals: Jang Tae-ju wants to have a political career and Oh Su-yeo wants to become the director of her gallery. Together, the two hope to gain acceptance into high society and are prepared to do anything it'll take to get there.
This movie is based on the short story Barn Burning from The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami, a world-renowned Japanese writer. The South Korean psychological mystery drama follows a guy named Jong-soo who runs into Hae-mi, a girl who used to live in his neighborhood. She asks him to watch her cat while she's in Africa and when she returns, Hae-mi introduces Jong-soo to a guy named Ben who she met here. Ben then tells Jong-soo about his hobby: Every two months, he burns an abandoned greenhouse—and there are plenty in Jong-soo's town. When Hae-mi seemingly disappears, Jong-soo, who has always liked her, starts to suspect foul play. Everything that follows will leave you clutching your blanket in suspense.
Illang: The Wolf Brigade
Sci-fi lovers will dive right into this 2018 film. The movie is set in 2029, with North and South Korea getting ready for a unification after years of preparation due to political and economic pressure. South Korea creates a special unit force known as the "Wolf Brigade," (those cyborg-looking people in uniform), which tries to stop an anti-reunification terrorist group called "The Sect." For some historical context, according to Variety, this movie is "based on Mamoru Oshii's Kerberos Panzer Cop manga, whose 1999 anime adaptation, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, serves as a direct blueprint for this film's stunning opening and climax."
For another Bong Joon-ho masterpiece, check out this 2013 sci-fi movie. The year is 2031 and Earth is covered in snow and ice thanks to a disastrous plan to combat global warming. A train called Snowpiercer perpetually circles the world while carrying passengers who are divided into first class and coach. To free the coach passengers from the awful conditions they suffer on this train, Curtis Everett (played by Chris Evans), who resides in the lower-class section, plots a revolt against the first class passengers. Meanwhile, a Korean man named Namgoong Min-Soo has insider knowledge of how to bypass the security systems of the train. You won't have to keep the subtitles on throughout the entire film, since 85 percent of the dialogue is in English. (This movie marked Bong Joon-ho's first foray into producing an English-language film.)
Kingdom fans, you'll definitely want to tune in to this one. Rampant is a 2018 period film set in the Joseon dynasty, where exiled Prince Lee Chung (played by Crash Landing on You's Hyun Bin) and his countrymen band together to battle zombies known as night demons. It all starts when soldiers try to raid a European ship and one of the guys is bitten by zombies who are on board. He brings the infection back to his village, where it quickly spreads. The zombies in this movie "crave human meat and blood, are attracted by sounds, repelled by sunlight, and are stopped by decapitation or piercing of the heart."
Because there's no such thing as too many K-zombie thrillers, #Alive takes place during a zombie apocalypse and follows livestreaming video gamer Oh Joon-woo as he attempts to stay, yes, alive amid all the madness happening outside his apartment. Fortunately, he soon catches sight of another uninfected survivor, Kim Yoo-bin, in a nearby apartment, with whom he strikes up a very socially distanced friendship. Finally, they attempt a daring escape, but you'll have to tune in to see whether they make it to safety or succumb to the bloodthirsty hordes of zombies waiting eagerly on the streets below for new people to infect.
Time to Hunt
Heist fans, this one's for you. Jun-seok is something of an amateur, less suave Danny Ocean who recruits his friends to pull off daring heists. Their latest target is an illegally run gambling house, and though Jun-seok and his friends are successful in robbing the gambling den of plenty of money and incriminating security footage, the people who run the sketchy business aren't exactly thrilled about the messy heist. They hire a hitman to track down and kill the heist's crew members one by one, sending the thieves racing to stay one step ahead of the assassin by any means necessary.
What Happened to Mr. Cha?
In a very meta twist, legendary South Korean actor Cha In-pyo plays an outsize version of himself in this 2021 film. As an actor past his prime and growing more irrelevant by the day, he embarks on a series of increasingly ridiculous stunts in an attempt to recapture the level of widespread fame and adoration he held earlier in his career. "In doing so, he crosses the boundaries between his real self and the fictional character in the film. He peppers his characterization with the outgoing, relatable, and intense aspects of his own personality, while delivering snippets of fresh ideas and hearty laughter," per Netflix. Even more fun: Cho Dal-hwan, known for his highbrow acting roles, plays Cha In-pyo's sidekick.
This psychological thriller basically answers the question of what would've happened if, rather than Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock using the magic time-traveling mailbox in The Lake House to start up a (very) long-distance romance, a serial killer had used it instead to torture their next victim. Jeon Jong-seo and Park Shin-hye, respectively, play those two main characters, who are able to contact each other 10 years apart through a cordless phone in the house where they each spent their respective childhoods. Though their calls start off helpful, with each giving the other enough information to improve their lives, things quickly take a turn, with the killer taking advantage of their multi-year connection to commit murders without attracting police attention and, ultimately, kill her long-distance phone pal. Though the movie seemingly closes on a happy ending, be sure to stick around for the two end credits scenes for the full story.
Billed as South Korea's first blockbuster space film, Space Sweepers focuses on a group of strivers trying to make ends meet as humans leave an uninhabitable Earth to live in utopian space colonies. The debt-ridden "space sweepers," led by Vincenzo's Song Joong-ki, work as scavengers picking up debris from the wealthy colonies. On a mission, they discover a young child named Dorothy, who turns out to be an android containing a nuclear weapon. The group's initial plan to sell Dorothy to the highest bidder gets upended as they start to bond with the adorable android. Space Sweepers is perfect for anyone who likes their sci-fi epics with a bit of heart.
The Witch: Subversion
If you ever wished Stranger Things would just focus on Eleven escaping from the lab, with the violence dialed up a few notches, then definitely check out The Witch: Subversion. In the award-winning 2018 film, a young girl is presumed dead after a violent laboratory accident. Instead, she was adopted and had a loving, normal childhood until her forgotten powers re-emerged. When she accidentally reveals her powers during a singing competition, she must then fight off her evil creators while looking for a cure to sickness caused by her powers. Come for a kick-ass heroine, stay for Parasite's Choi Woo-sihk in a surprising role.
Sweet & Sour
A romantic comedy that shows both the bliss and tough times in a love story, Sweet and Sour may interest fans of Sally Rooney books or shows like Netflix's Lovesick. Da-eun, a nurse, and Jang-hyeok, an engineer, immediately click when they first meet at her job in Incheon. They have a sweet and loving relationship until Jang-hyeok gets a new job in Seoul with a long commute that strains their relationship. It also doesn't help that Jang-hyeok begins to bond with a co-worker at his new job, who's played by f(x) singer Krystal Jung. With an ending that has made waves among viewers, Sweet and Sour has been lauded as a realistic depiction of modern relationships.
Quinci LeGardye is a Contributing Culture Editor who covers TV, movies, Korean entertainment, books, and pop culture. When she isn’t writing or checking Twitter, she’s probably watching the latest K-drama or giving a concert performance in her car.
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