Although Parasite‘s amazing success has brough Korean films to an international audience, they’re still a lot less popular than K-Dramas. They shouldn’t be! These films are the best of the best that Korea has to offer and will hopefully start you on your Korean film journey!
These 12 movies have won numerous awards including Best Film at the Baeksang Awards! Let these be an inspiration for your weekend movie nights.
2010 – Take Off
This film is centered around the trials and tribulations of the first Korean national ski jump team. In 1997, Muju county bid to host the 2002 Winter Olympics. The IOC judges responsible for picking the host city wonder how Korea could host the Winter Olympics without having a national ski jump team. A Korean ski jumping team is quickly formed.
This film was the second most attended film in South Korea in 2009. True to the story, Korea didn’t know much about professional skiing at the time of this film, so it mostly served to introduce the sport to the country and support the Olympic team. It won Best Film and Best Actor.
2011 – The Man From Nowhere
Cha Tae Shik (Won Bin) lives a quiet life running a pawnshop with his only friend being the young girl, So Mi (Kim Sae Ron), who lives next door. So Mi’s mother, Hyo Jeong (Kim Hyo Seo), is a heroin addict and steals drugs from a fierce gang one day. Crime lord Oh Myung Gyu (Song Young Chang) sends his subordinates, Man Seok (Kim Hee Won) and Jong Seok (Kim Sung Oh), to get back the drugs from Hyo Jeong, kidnapping her and So Mi. Tae Shik vows to rescue them.
This film is a Korean classic and is often on the list of recommended films to foreigners journeying into Korean movies. It was well taken by international audiences and even received an amazing 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. It won Best Film.
2012 – Unbowed
Professor Kim Kyung Ho (Ahn Sung Ki) insists that a math question for the 1995 university entrance exam is wrong. Later, he ends up not being re-hired at his university and starts a lawsuit against them. By January 12, 2007, Kyung Ho’s lawsuit is decided against him, and three days later, the judge from the trial is shot with a crossbow.
Despite the film having an extremely low budget, it became a national hit as the outrage in the film spread to the viewers. It even received a 13-minute standing ovation at the 2011 Busan International Film Festival premiere. It won Best Film and Best Actor.
2013 – Masquerade
Amid national chaos, tyrant King Gwanghae (Lee Byung Hun) orders his trusted councilor Heo Kyun (Ryu Seung Ryong) to find a royal body double. He hires Ha Seon, a peasant who looks the same as the King. When King Gwanghae collapses from poison, Ha Seon reluctantly becomes King. He must save the country from collapse, avoid assassination, and pull off the biggest hoax in history.
Masquerade remains the ninth highest-grossing film in Korea to date and swept the entirety of the 49th Grand Bell Awards, receiving 15 awards in one night. At the Baeksang Awards, it won Best Film and Best Director.
2014 – The Attorney
Based on real-life events, Song Woo Seok (Song Kang Ho) got tired of working as a regional judge and decides to work as a lawyer specializing in real estate and taxation. In 1981, Woo Seok took his high-school friends to a small restaurant he frequents and drunkenly brags about his accomplishments, leading to a fight. During a group study, Park Jin Woo (Im Shi Wan) and some of his book club members were captured, wrongfully accused of being a North Korea sympathizer suspected of holding illegal meetings. After hearing that Jin Woo went missing, Woo Seok gets anxious, investigates, and finds Jin Woo imprisoned under false charges. He becomes determined to make a change in his nation and protect the oppressed.
As the 15th highest-grossing film in Korea, this movie gained wild success within only 10 days after release. It won the Grand Prize, Best Film, and Best New Director.
2015 – Revivre
Mr. Oh (Ahn Sung Ki) is in his mid-fifties and is a successful marketing executive at a major cosmetics company. He struggles to juggle work and caring for his ailing wife, whose health deteriorates due to brain cancer. During this time, Mr. Oh also becomes aware of his growing feelings for Chu Eun Joo (Kim Gyu Ri), the much younger, newest addition to his marketing team. When his wife passes away, Mr. Oh is conflicted between grief and passion.
Based on a popular short story, this film truly brought the drama to the awards. It won Best Film and Best Supporting Actress.
2016 – Assassination
During the Japanese occupation, an agent is tasked with assembling a group to assassinate a Japanese commander and a Korean collaborator. They must also free three prisoners from Shanghai. However, the Japanese are tipped off, and a notorious hired assassin is sent to take out the other assassins first.
This film remains the 8th highest-grossing film in Korea to this day and the highest-grossing film of 2015. The suspense and action truly captivated the audience. It won Best Film.
2017 – The Wailing
In a seemingly peaceful village, a series of mysteriously violent deaths occur. Police conclude that poisonous mushrooms are to blame. However, Officer Jong Goo (Kwak Do Won) hears a rumor involving a nearby Japanese man who the villagers suspect. While investigating, Jong Goo finds a witness who has seen the man at the crime scenes. To his despair, his own daughter begins to experience the same symptoms the others did before they died. While an exorcism is being performed on his daughter, he sets out towards the mountains for answers.
One of the now-classics of Korean horror, this movie received critical and commercial acclaim as well as a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes. It won Best Film.
2018 – The Fortress
In 1636, Qing China invaded Korea, and the King (Park Hae Il) and the Korean court flees the capital to take shelter in the Namhan Fortress, located in treacherous mountains. The Qing army, led by General Yong Gol Dae (Heo Sung Tae), surrounds them, leaving them stranded in the cold without food. For a truce, the Qing general proposes sending the Crown Prince as a hostage. The King must make a grave choice when deciding to give in or fight back.
Although released during Korea’s Chuseok holidays, it received one of the highest sales in the first few days of release. It won Best Film.
2019 – The Spy Gone North
In 1993 Korea, the only country where the Cold War continues, tensions about nuclear weapons escalate. Park Seok Young, an arm major in the South Korean military intelligence, infiltrates the North Korean nuclear facility, disguising as a South Korean businessman. While the North Koreans trust him, Seok Young learns of secret deals between the two Koreas.
In a time where stories about North Korea are gaining popularity, it’s easy to see this gem as a winner. It has a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and rocked the box office, beating out every film out at the time. It won Best Film and Best Actor.
2020 – Parasite
Kim Gi Woo (Choi Woo Shik) is a young man living with his unemployed, low-income family in a semi-basement. One day, his friend Min Hyuk (Park Seo Joon) tells him that he is leaving to study abroad and that he can replace him as the tutor of a rich family. Yeon Gyo (Cho Yeo Jung), the lady of the rich house, accepts Gi Woo as a tutor for her daughter, and he uses Yeon Gyo’s naivety as a chance to employ his other family members.
Parasite made history by becoming the first-ever foreign language film to win Best Picture at the Oscars and the first-ever South Korean film to receive an Academy Award. With hundreds of achievements, this film truly deserves to be at the top. For the Baeksang Awards, it won the Grand Prize, Best Film, and Best New Actor.
2021 – Samjin Company English Class
In 1995, Lee Ja Young (Go Ah Sung), Jung Yoo Na (Esom), and Shim Bo Ram (Park Hye Soo) are friends and co-workers at Samjin Company their good at their job, but due to their high school background, they’re at the bottom of the company. One day, the company announces that any employee that receives a score of 600 or higher on the TOEIC exam will receive a promotion to assistant manager. The girls attend Samjin Company English Class in order to study hard to win the promotion. Meanwhile, Lee Ja Young notices sewage from a Samjin factory affecting the environment, makes a report to the company, but is ignored. Together the girls unveil the corruption in their company.
This film topped the box office for 6 days immediately after its release and continues to do quite well. It won Best Film.