Nowadays, it is seen that Korean entertainment is everywhere, but there was a long time when only a few of us knew about these gems being created by South Korea. It was during the 60s when Korean cinema began to pick up and create a different style than the country is currently known for, despite facing harsh censorship. During the '90s, many well-known directors began their journey in filmmaking. There are some Korean movies that stand out due to their significance in the film industry. These films have made an impact not only internationally but also domestically because of their influence.
1. The Handmaiden
The Handmaiden is a historical and psychological film by Park Chan-wook, released in 2016, starring Kim Tae-Ri, Cho Jin-woong, Kim Min-hee, and Ha Jung-woo. It was chosen to compete for the Palme d’Or in 2016. Park Chan-wook has gained a massive name in the directing world, which tapped the audience in a way his films haven’t before. It is an LGBTQ+ story set in Korea under Japanese colonial rule, where two women play a game with each other to eat what they want.
2. Memories Of Murder
It is a crime thriller movie released in 2003 by Bong Joon-ho, starring Song Kang-ho and Kim Sang-kyung. The film marks the rise of the actor Song Kang-ho; his performance was acclaimed worldwide. It was critically acclaimed for its screenplay, the cast's performance, editing, and tone. It’s a true story, following detectives as they figure out who the serial killer is before it's too late. Ever since its release in the early 2000s, the movie has continued to impress audiences across the years.
3. The Wailing
The Wailing is a horror film released in 2016, starring Hwang Jung-min, Kwak Do-won, and Chun Woo-hee. The film is one of the few horror films that has captured international attention in recent years. After the arrival of a stranger in a small village, the villagers seem to lose their minds and have been killing their loved ones. The local police station has started investigating this; one realizes that the stranger might be the reason behind this and might be an evil spirit.
4. Train To Busan
Train to Busan is an action film released in 2016, starring Gong Yoo, Ma Dong-seok, Choi Woo-shik, Kim Eui-sung, Jung Yu-mi, Kim Su-an, and Ahn So-hee. It is a zombie movie that has gained love from fans from all over the world. In May 2016, the film premiered in the Midnight screening of the Cannes Film Festival. Gong Yoo is a disgruntled worker who takes his daughter on a fast-speed train to Busan, where a zombie virus breaks out, making all the passengers struggle to survive. It was a massive success when it was released and sparked an entire franchise and also an upcoming remake in America.
5. Peppermint Candy
Peppermint Candy is a film released in 1999 by the director Lee Chang-dong, starring Sol Kyung-Gu, Kim Yeo-Jin, and Moon So-ri. The movie begins with the implied suicide of the protagonist. Time traverses back to reveal the six chapters in his life explaining why he committed suicide. It also documents the various periods of drastic changes in Korean history, showing how the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis and the Gwangju Massacre, impacted this person. It also won the Grand Bell Awards for being the best film in 2000. This movie put Lee Chang on the international map while paving the way for Korean cinema’s success.
Parasite is a black thriller film released in 2019 by Bong Joon-ho, starring Song Kang-ho, Cho Yeo-jeong, Park So-dam, Park Myung-hoon, Lee Sun-kyun, Choi Woo-shik, Jang Hye-Jin, and Lee Jung-eun. The movie is distinctly Korean but also broad enough to have its characters and themes applicable to the context of other countries. It tells the story of a poor and wealthy family, showcasing what it takes to survive, especially when the low-income family is trying to leech off the wealthy family's resources. The film became famous when it was released abroad, and also got the award for Best Picture.
Burning is a Korean-Japanese thriller film released in 2018, starring Yoo Ah-In, Jeon Jong-seo, and Steven Yeun. It was Lee's first film after his eight-year hiatus. It was the first Korean film to land the Oscar shortlist for Best International Feature Award. The movie at the Cannes Film Festival won the FIPRESCI International Critics Award. Lee Jong-su is a young delivery man who wants to be a novelist. One day, he runs into Hae-mi, his childhood friend. They both meet Ben, an enigmatic young man whom Jong-su is suspicious of, and starts to believe that Hae-mi is in danger.
8. I Saw The Devil
I Saw the Devil is an action film released in 2010, starring Choi Min-sik and Lee Byung-hun. Kim Soo-hyun is a NIS agent who is on the path of revenge after his wife is brutally murdered by Jang Kyung-chul, a psychotic serial killer. So starts the game of cat and mouse, which can only end when either one dies or gives up. The movie delves into the horror and thriller genre, which is a beloved one among Korean cinema. It also premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival in the US.
9. A Tale Of Two Sisters
It is a psychological horror film released in 2003, starring Im Soo-Jung, Yum Jung-ah, Moon Geun-young, and Kim Kap-soo. The films showed the world what a horror movie in South Korea could be about and delivered it righteously. After receiving treatment at a mental hospital, Su-mi returns home. Her stepmother seems to be the key to the ghosts haunting their home, but soon, things get darker from there, drawing both the sisters into a darker story about their family. It was the first Korean to be screened in an American theater.
10. The Quiet Family
The Quiet Family is a black horror film released in 1998 by Kim Jee-Woon, starring Park In-hwan, Choi Min-sik, Go Ho-kyung, Na Moon-hee, Song Kang-ho, and Lee Yoon-seong. The film is so renowned that it has a remake version made in Japanese, Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada. It tells the story of a family trying to run an Inn in the mountains. When one of their guests dies, instead of reporting it to the police they bury it.