top of page
250 Best Korean Films of All Time: Audience Vote (100-51)
100. A Hard Day (2014) 
Kim Seong-Hun

This film does not just charge through its runtime, but offers an adrenaline-laden roller-coaster where every development flows directly into the next peak of conflict. Even the most ostentatious of action films allow the odd resting and reflection scene, but the sufferer of the title’s ‘hard day’, Detective Ko Gun-su, can barely rest his lungs before panic descends on him once again.

A homicide detective, played by Lee Sun-kyun (Paju, Nobody's Daughter Haewon, Parasite), tries to cover-up his own crime and is tormented by a mystery eyewitness. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

99. I Can Speak (2017) 
Kim Hyun-seok

Korea’s storied, and sometimes traumatic past, provides cinematic power once again for YMCA Baseball Team (2002) and C'est Si Bon (2015) director Kim Hyun-seok. Also assistant director on The Isle (2000) and screenwriter for Joint Security Area (2000), Kim has an uncanny skill for taking the nation’s scar tissue and fleshing out poignant films. The film’s final act signals a neck-breaking U-turn on the film’s earlier pitch.

A comedy turned seminal emotional drama with genuine power, a cranky elderly busybody befriends a young civil servant as her deeply traumatic past resurfaces. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

98. Exit (2019) 
Lee Sang-geun

What emanates from disaster movie Exit is the vastly 21st nature of its developments, relying on Seoul’s hyper-connected population and love of advanced technology to hurtle the story forward and aid our similarly trapped heroes. We witness mobile phones torches being used to send SOS signals, while phone cameras and YouTube channels live-stream dramatic action to others.

A toxic gas floods the streets of Seoul and a pair of amateur climbers must clamber from its ever rising threat in a film about moral dilemmas and the very notion of sacrifice.  READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

97. Ode to My Father (2014) 
Yoon Je-kyoon

A ticket-stub selling tour de force in South Korea, Ode to My Father is a vital demonstration of the major events which are weaved into the country’s fabric. That portrayal is achieved by following Yoon Deok-soo, played superbly by Hwang Jung-min (The Wailing, New World) in his adult years, but then leaps back to various vital moments in Korea’s history which have also sculpted Deok-soo’s life.

Ode to My Father is still deeply engaging and vitally important, regardless of where you are located. A fine way to honour the many major events which have coloured the history of Korea. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

96. A Brand New Life (2009) 
Ounie Lecomte

The power of the filmmaker in allowing you to lean into the fabric of their lives is writ large in Ounie Lecomte's affecting and powerful debut. An autobiographical view of Lecomte’s own journey from abandonment to eventual adoption has no need for a series of gargantuan awards season scenes. Having lived the often heart-breaking reality of the situation, Lecomte is acutely aware of the deep narrative value of her story.

The otherwise happy nine-year-old Jinhee has her world rocked by being taken out of Seoul to a rural Catholic orphanage and left without so much as a farewell from her father. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

95. One Fine Spring Day (2001) 
Hur Jin-ho

This Hur Jin-ho film is subtle and subdued, with the highs and lows of love expertly portrayed here. Showing love as an explosion that can just as rapidly die out. During a recording trip to snares the mummers of nature, sound engineer Sang-woo meets radio host Eun-soo. The pair form a close bond, but while their relationship flourishes at first, road blocks between the two starts to derail their love.

Unhurried and often demonstrating the power of silence to make us understand the connection between characters, this is a romance which provides a candid view of the trappings of love. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

94. Veteran (2015) 
Ryoo Seung-wan

The power of the wealthy to tread a different line to the Orwellian masses is a tale as old as currency, but in the ‘money talks’ modern era we see how workers’ pitted against corporate millionaires are ill-matched. However, the potential saviours in this outing from the Crying Fist and The Unjust director is a slice of Korean society often portrayed in films as being equally corrupt and power-drunk – the police force.

After a collaborator is seriously injured a renegade detective, played by the always enigmatic Hwang Jung-min, takes on an arrogant young business heir, pitched perfectly by Yoo Ah-in. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

93. The Admiral: Roaring Currents (2014)
Kim Han-min
download (5).jpg

Kim Han-min followed up 2011’s War of the Arrows with another pitch in the period-action-war space. The liberty that victory allows in yarn-spinning is more than evident when the real-life 16th century heroics of Admiral Yi Sun Sin are unpacked in action-zooming and special effects-laden cinema glory. An unabashed two-hours-plus missive that can be comprehended as a celebration of historical Korea.

This historical retelling sees a surly Choi Min-sik and his fleet of 12 warships battling the impossible odds of taking on Japanese uber-navy’s 300-plus vessels. READ OUR FULL REVIEW

92. The Quiet Family (1998)
Kim Jee-woon

In 1998, you could not quite have anticipated what those involved in The Quiet Family would go on to achieve. There’s Choi Min-sik five years before Oldboy (2003), Song Kang-ho before Memories of Murder (2003) and Parasite (2019), while this was the debut feature for Kim Jee-woon, a versatile director who would make A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), A Bittersweet Life (2005) and I Saw The Devil (2010).

A family has moved from the city to a mountain-side house which they convert into a lodge for hikers. When their first ever lodger turns up dead the next morning the family decide to bury the body. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

91. Microhabitat (2017)
Jeon Go-woon
2017 - Microhabitat.jpg

Endearing yet powerfully bittersweet, Microhabitat is a film that is almost instantaneously captivating and charming. 30-something Miso, played superbly by Esom, is informed that her rent is rising. She sits down to count the pennies and decides that she is not willing to forego the cigarettes and whisky, but paying no rent seems appealing and she goes sofa-surfing with old friends instead. 

The debut feature for Jeon Go-woon who has mustered a masterful piece of filmmaking – genuinely funny, yet stoic and powerful, while blending styles and tones with ease. READ OUR FULL REVIEW

90. Unforgettable (2016) 
Lee Eun-hee

A teen romance which spirals into much more, Unforgettable, also known as Pure Love on its local shores, is a film of two emotional halves. At first, a sun-tinged summer flick of young people doing what they do best – enjoying themselves and pushing the boundaries. Our final act injects darker elements as despite youth bringing the feeling of care-free abundance, sometimes the real world has different plans.

A radio DJ receives a letter penned some 23 years before, from his first love. The impact of its content sends us back to its origin time of 1991 where we join the japing of five young teens. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

89. On Your Wedding Day (2018) 
Lee Seok-geun

The road to romantic fulfilment is pathed with conflict and despair – or so the story goes in most romantic comedies. On Your Wedding Day attempts to shift this narrative though, more closely aligning with the ‘tis better to have loved and lost’ adage instead. The truth is, for most of us anyway, our first love is not our final love. Or perhaps defining love. It is the training wheels version of the experience.

Charming and sometimes subversive rom-com shows flashbacks of a former couple and how their on-off relationship was plagued by misfortune and circumstance. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

88. Han Gong-ju (2013)
Lee Su-jin

Han Gong-ju is based on the Miryang middle school girls rape incident in 2014 where at least 41 male high school students gang raped several middle school and high school girls over the course of 11 months. Our central character here is Gong Ju, played brilliantly by Chun Woo hee, who provides a restrained though deeply emotionally involved portrayal of a victim of an horrific sex crime trying to piece her life back together.

Harrowing and empathy-inducing, it powerfully illustrates concepts of victim mistreatment and blame culture. Han Gong-ju does what great films do – holds a mirror to the injustices of the real world. READ OUR FULL REVIEW

87. Memoir of a Murderer (2017) 
Won Shin-yun

Filled with gritty and surprising thrills that Won Shin-yun has crafted from Kim Young-ha’s bestselling book, it is also anchored superbly with another star-turn by Sol Kyung-gu (Peppermint Candy, Oasis, Silmido, Hope). Memoir of a Murderer has many of the trademark Korean thriller tropes, but does plenty to be inimitable too, producing something that is lushly dark and superbly shot.

A former serial killer (Sol) with Alzheimer’s suspects his daughter’s new boyfriend may possess a flair for his murderous bygone craft and battles his memory to put the pieces together. READ OUR FULL REVIEW

86. The Divine Fury (2019) 
Kim Joo-hwan

All global cinema on exorcism lives in the shadow of a certain US masterpiece from the 70s and in The Divine Fury the atmospheric religious overtones of other exorcism films is pitched alongside bare-chested six-pack bulging action fighting. So kudos to Kim Ju-hwan, who previously directed Midnight Runners (2017), for managing to create the world’s first MMA-exorcism cross-over film.

An MMA fighter, who is undefeated and driven by the rage of his parents’ death, develops a mysterious injury and becomes entwined with an exorcism priest. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

85. The Villainess (2017)
Jeong Byeong-Gil

Highly-stylised, vivacious action thriller boasts some inexplicably brilliant set pieces and outlandish stunt work. One of the more enjoyable side elements of watching The Villainess is attempting to fathom quite how they manage to achieve some of the action on display. Sook-hee has been trained as a killer from a young age and then coerced into being a sleeper agent for Korea’s intelligence agency.

Featuring one of the most breath-taking opening scenes in the history of Korean cinema, strap yourself in for enough high-octane action, wild stunts and ultra-violence to keep you going for weeks. READ OUR FULL REVIEW

84. Night and Day (2008)
Hong Sangsoo

An artist that sometimes finds himself in the wilderness, Hong Sangsoo is in typical self-referential form in Night and Day by depicting an artist in the wilderness. Not quite a wilderness though, it is the bohemian streets of Paris where a painter should be able to find plenty of artistic inspiration, but instead returns to another common Hong theme – the pitifulness of mediocre men and their single-track sexual minds.

Feelings of exile are combined with notions of global connections, as the painter has fled to Paris to escape arrest in his home country and discovers the Korean community there instead. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

83. I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK (2006)
Park Chan-wook

Tasked with following up the international success of the Vengeance Trilogy, Park Chan-wook provided this dippy rom-com of peculiar proportions, with no better setting for his manic story-telling than the blue-tiled walls of a mental institution. Young-goon believes she is a cyborg and is institutionalised when she meets Il-soon, a young man with schizophrenic kleptomania who becomes fascinated with her.

The film is as characteristically stylish as ever though, combining auteur-level framing with surrealist visualisation to create something habitually Park-like in the process. READ OUR FULL REVIEW

82. Il Mare (2000)
Lee Hyun-seung

Romance films habitually depend on the onscreen chemistry of our lovers to make us care and invest in their quixotic fortunes, but in Il Mare, our two potential love interests not only fail to share the screen, they are not even located in the same year. Instead, Eun-joo and Sung-hyun can communicate through a beach house mailbox while living in separate timelines two years apart.

Novel and boasting exquisite long-shot cinematography, Il Mare has secured itself a cult following and decades later it still provides an innovative, time-scrambled take on the romance trope. READ OUR FULL REVIEW

81. Tune in for Love (2019)
Jung Ji-woo

There is a stable of Korean cinema that manages to illustrate Korea’s seminal historical events as the film leaps between such landmarks. This is usually done in more serious works such as Peppermint Candy (1999) and Ode to My Father (2014), but in this sweet and gentle outing we jump from the IMF crisis of 1997 through to the more affluent 2000s. We also witness an elongated will-they-won’t-they romance.

These passage of time transitions are held together by the love, but failure to reach relationship status, of Kim Mi-soo and Cha Hyun-woo, who seem destined to never quite make it. READ OUR FULL REVIEW

80. Moonlit Winter (2019)
Lim Dae-Hyung

Melancholy and wistful, a pitch-perfect script gives emotional clout to a pensive tale of a love left to yearn due to societal pressure. Yoon-hee lives with her high school student daughter Sae-bom. She receives a letter from Jun, but Sae-bom also reads it and discovers her mother’s secret past. The pair then head to Otaru, a sleepy village in Japan, where possible reconnection from the past is on the cards. 

Often low-key, coasting along on its own vibes, it is a film comfortable enough in its own skin to do so. Yet, this is a work about the power of love to persist, across borders, into time. READ OUR FULL REVIEW

79. The Truth Beneath (2016)
Lee Kyoung-mi

The public posturing, the mania with polling data and the sliding moral compass to snaffle votes makes the modern democratic election an ideal backdrop to this missing persons thriller scripted by Crush and Blush (2008) director Lee Kyoung-mi and Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, The Handmaiden). The pair previously shared scripting duties on Lady Vengeance (2005) and combine here to similarly impressive effect.

A desperate mother searches for her missing daughter in the midst of her politician husband’s electioneering, but the hunt is complicated by a serious of strange developments. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

78. The Woman Who Ran (2019) 
Hong Sangsoo

One of Director Hong's most recent films and the 24th he has made overall, The Woman Who Ran is another work of subtle social interaction, which is characteristically low-key and conversationalist. Gamhee is spending time without her husband for the first time in five years owing to him being away on a business trip and she decides to visit some friends on the outskirts of Seoul.

Despite the breezy and natural conversations between characters, these all speak to a larger issue bubbling under the surface and we gradually start to piece together the hopes and anxieties of Gamhee. READ OUR FULL REVIEW

77. Welcome to Dongmakgol (2005)
Park Kwang-hyun

This film relies on many of the ingredients which sets Korean cinema apart. Firstly, it is a uniquely Korean story, playing on both the historical event of the Korean War and the tensions between the two nations, one that is often built on propaganda-fueled suspicions. Secondly is that ability to fuse comedy with drama, to blend laughs with tension. This is all achieved by bringing together opposing bands of soldiers in a single remote village.

Soldiers from the North and South stumble into a secluded village of naive and loveable characters during the Korean war and despite their distrust for each other must work together.

76. Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War (2004) 
Kang Je-gyu

Venomous, jaw-dropping battle scenes litter this often melodramatic war film. The battles display the true horror of war – brutal, loud, disorientating. Predominantly set in 1950, cobbler Jin-tae and his bright younger brother Jin-seok are close siblings in Seoul. When the Korean War breaks out both are enlisted to fight on the frontline, but their tight relationship is tested by the stresses of battle. 

This is a profound anti-war film simply by demonstrating the blood-stained terror of fighting in one. It is one of the most immersive war films ever made, placing us in the trenches too. READ OUR FULL REVIEW

75. The Attorney (2013)
Yang Woo-suk

The authoritarian Chun Doo-hwan regime of the 1980s and its battle with a new generation of Koreans is the real-life backdrop to a film which enables one of Song Kang-ho’s finest outing and certainly his staidest performance. Inspired by the real-life ‘Burim case’ in 1981 where 22 students, teachers and office workers who were part of a book club were arrested without warrants and charged without evidence of being North Korea sympathisers.

While the film’s bulk is on these issues, this is also about Song’s character – Song Woo-suk – based on the real-life Roh Moo-hyun, who eventually served as the ninth president of South Korea. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

74. Io Island (1977)
Kim Ki-young

A mysterious and intriguing outing from legendary director Kim Ki-young and gets the better of Kim’s Woman Chasing the Butterfly of Death (No. 202) which appears further down on the list. In Io Island, also known as Iodo, an investor who is planning on building a tourist resort undertakes an investigation into the legends of Io Island and the mystery around a death.

Like much of Kim’s work, Io Island is startlingly ahead of its time, a truism that applies to his films from any decade. This is a mysterious, disorientating and sometimes truly disturbing piece of cinema. READ OUR FULL REVIEW

73. My Annoying Brother (2016)
Kwon Soo-kyung

The family unit – so integral to much of Korean cinema – is stripped back to two warring brothers here, their parents long since deceased. Without other family members to referee their spats and console those most hurt, we are given a raw, unblemished look at how brothers interact. The brotherly love is often an unspoken one. Kind words are rare, insults are common. But such connections are strained much further here.

Doo-young is a national Judo athlete who goes blind after damaging his optic nerves. His estranged older brother Doo-shik then uses the tragedy to get paroled from prison. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

72. The Day He Arrives (2011) 
Hong Sangsoo

Another black-and-white, meta, self-referential Hong entry on the list. Film department professor Sang-Joon heads to Bukchon so he can meet film critic friend Young-ho. When Young-ho does not answer his calls, he wanders around, bumping into an actress he knows and swigging down booze by himself before joining a group of film students who recognise the former director-turned-professor. 

It may have a brief running time, but The Day He Arrives is dense in its exploration of coincidences and connections. How meaningful human interactions are never more than a glass of soju away. READ OUR FULL REVIEW

71. Silenced (2011)
Hwang Dong-hyuk

Based on Gong Ji-young's 2009 novel, The Crucible, Silenced provides one of cinema’s core and most important functions – highlighting the plight of the wronged and bringing their woes to the public conscience. Silenced has managed to not just highlight the real-life events that took place at Gwangju Inhwa School for the hearing-impaired in the early 2000s, but sparked legislative reform to ensure it does not happen again.

In Hwang Dong-hyuk’s film, Kang In-ho has landed a new role as the art teacher at a school for hearing-impaired children, but soon learns the kids are victims of sickening physical and sexual abuse. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

70. Pieta (2012)
Kim Ki-duk

Referencing the Italian language notion of piety and signifying the depiction of the Virgin Mary cradling the corpse of Jesus, Pieta mixes Christian iconography with brutal shock violence to craft an unsettling mix. Kang-do is a brutal loan shark debt enforcer devoid of empathy. Suddenly a middle-aged woman, Mi-son, starts to follow him everywhere claiming to be his long-lost mother. 

Pondering the importance of a material figure, Pieta makes for an unnerving and engaging watch that still manages to develop in equally surprising and fascinating ways. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

69. A Werewolf Boy (2012) 
Jo Sung-hee

The storied history of the Korean melodrama continues here with Jo Sung-hee’s follow-up to 2011’s End of Animal. The open-endedly titled ‘A Werewolf Boy’ is a genre-mashing effort which strides across fantasy, romance and family drama. It is probably the romantic core of the story which carries its true emotional weight, teaming up teen love angst with an outsider story of acceptance.

A fairytale meets bittersweet fantasy romance, a feral orphan is taken in by a rural family and must learn to integrate and battle prejudice in his strange new surroundings. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

68. The Age of Shadows (2016)
Kim Jee-woon

Kim Jee-woon has established a filmmaking career where he has dipped into almost every genre imaginable. In The Age of Shadows, the spy genre – complete with alleyway whispers and paranoid looks over the shoulder – is given the local treatment by revisiting those period strains between Korean and Japan. It also features two of Kim’s long-term acting collaborators in Song Kang-ho and Lee Byung-hun.

Set in 1920s occupied Korea as a resistance movement attempts to destabilise Japanese rule, a Korean police captain considers changing sides after the death of former classmate. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

67. The King and the Clown (2005)
Lee Joon-ik

Adapted from the Korean stage play Yi, a brief passage from the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty which fleetingly names the king’s favourite clown was the spark of inspiration here. Director Lee Joon-ik manages to pick-up this spur and produce something multifaceted in its mood and themes. Smattered with physical comedy, it is an emotional drama filled with impressive visual aplomb.

A Joseon dynasty king, played by Jung Jin-young, allows a court clown, the impressive Kam Woo-sung, and his troupe to openly mock him with performances within his royal court. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

66. Be With You (2018)
Lee Jang-hoon

The camera focus is softened, the star cast has been assembled but in this sweet love tale we find a central character falling victim to the classic heart-breaking death before matters have barely started to develop. The kicker is a reappearance from the grave. The returning spirit here is Soo Ah, a mother who passes away but promises to return during the next rainy season. Waiting is husband Woo Jin and their adorable young son Ji Ho.

The star power of Son Ye-jin and So Ji-sub coalesce here on this melodramatic fantasy that successfully tread a line between being deeply sad and truly uplifting. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

65. Inside Men (2015)
Woo Min-ho

Politicians and journalists habitually find themselves at the bottom of public trust surveys. In Inside Men these ostracised societal figureheads are paired together and portrayed as corrupt influencers meddling in an election. Such a coupling offers easy access for audience backing as once again Korea’s cinematic lens is turned towards the country’s issues around power and corruption.

A disgruntled henchman and ambitious prosecutor held back by his working class background target a presidential hopeful and his newspaper editor ally. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

64. The World of Us (2016) 
Yoon Ga-eun

What further separates The World of Us from its coming-of-age predecessors is its ability to feel less an adult view of childhood and more a legitimately child-view of this world. The film’s gaze is almost exclusively on the children – adults are characters on the periphery, often out of focus in the background or darting out of the door to work. The children’s teachers can usually be heard, but not seen.

This is a simple yet profound take on juvenile angst and educational pressure as a 10-year-old outcast makes a summer friend before a return to school threatens their relationship. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

63. Set Me Free (2014)
Kim Tae-yong

Independent cinema’s ability to view into the cracks of society and shed light on its trapped souls takes us to the group home – a residence for children unable to live with their parents. To take nothing from the importance of such homes – or the dedication of those that work within them – Set Me Free still offers a candid view of the emotional torment that some children face.

Choi Woo-shik excels as in a restrained take on the difficulties of life in a group home as high school student Yeong-jae, a teen faces expulsion back to his troubled father. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

62. The Man Standing Next (2020)
Woo Min-ho
image-w1280 (44).jpg

In the wake of the 1979 death of Park Chung-hee, the third President of South Korea, the chief investigator of the assassination famously concluded it was "too careless for a deliberate act and yet too elaborate for an impulsive act." Such ambiguity of planning and motivation provides an intriguing set-up for Woo Min-ho's tense dramatisation of the 40 days before the assassination.

The assassination of President Park gets a dramatic retelling here, inspired by the non-fiction bestseller Directors of Namsan, depicting President Park’s infamous final days. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

61. Masquerade (2012)
Choo Chang-min

Lee Byung-hun shines in the dual role of paranoid King Gwanghae and his look-alike hired to off-set assassination fears during Korea’s Joseon Dynasty. His first role is the ceremonial but increasingly obnoxious King Gwanghae, who has been driven into a sea of paranoia by his overflowing fears of being assassinated, ordering his Secretary of Defence to find him a double to ease his assassination concerns.

He finds Ha-sun, an acrobat and lewd joker, who looks remarkable like the king (exactly so for us with Lee playing this role also), who can cover for the king when he is out of the palace. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

60. The Spy Gone North (2018) 
Yoon Jong-bin

Many spy films focus on distance past conflicts and tensions, but Korea has plenty of material from more recent decades. One such period from the not-too-distance past is the North-South relations of the 1990s, where tight elections in the South took place as it continued to sweat over the nuclear weapon developments of its neighbours to the north.

Loosely based on the story of Park Chae-seo, a South Korean agent who infiltrated the North’s nuclear facilities, this slick spy thriller offers a tension-filled view of North-South relations. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

59. Seopyeonje (1993)
Im Kwon-taek

Another Director Im film on the list is a work of profound cultural importance, demonstrating the significance of Pansori and reactions to growing Japanese and Western musical influences.  A family’s father, Yu-bong, is determined to pass down his Pansori skills to his adoptive children Song-hwa and Dong-ho, but his draconian teaching starts to tear the family apart.

The film does a superb job of demonstrating the power of Pansori, as the depth of the characters' sadness is realised when we hear and see their emotional performances. READ OUR FULL REVIEW

58. Kim Ji-young: Born 1982 (2019)
Kim Do-young

Cho Nam-joo’s feminist fiction of the same name broke records in 2016, as the second Korean language novel to sell over a million copies. For the first time in her own decades-long career, seasoned actress Kim Do-young helms the film as a director. This portrait of everyday life illustrates the paradox of Korean womanhood: to bear too much and too little expectation at once at home and at work respectively.

Shining a light on contemporary feminism in Korea, it follows a mother juggling work, family and entrenched gender discrimination alongside societal stereotypes. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

57. Hope (2013)
Lee Joon-ik

Harrowing and immeasurably powerful, if the best films make you feel something, then Hope is one of the very best. Even if those feelings are deeply difficult to experience due to the subject matter exposed. Based on the true story of the infamous Nayoung Case in 2008 which shook South Korea, it is a tale of how an unspeakable horror bought together a family and its community. 

So-won is an eight-year-old living with her parents. A walk into school changes the lives of the entire family when she is kidnapped, sexual assaulted and beaten nearly to death by a stranger. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

56. Chilsu and Mansu (1988) 
Park Kwang-su

The debut feature for Park Kwang-su, a man often credited with deeply influencing the emergence of the New Korean Wave. The film is set as Korea is experiencing increased democratisation and billboard painter Chilsu feels his fortunes are improving as he falls in love with Jina. He also has an evolving friendship with the switched-on Mansu. However, the pair’s working class connections continue to hold them back.

As with much of Park’s work, the anger that Chilsu and Mansu eventually feel represents the fury of the working classes who remained marginalised from the Korean economic improvements. READ OUR FULL REVIEW

55. Bleak Night (2010)
Yoon Sung-Hyun

At just 29-years-old, writer-director-editor Yoon Sung-Hyun has produced a film-academy graduation project that possesses the confidence and mastery of an old hand refining long-term skills and issues. The Korean Academy of Film Arts can take a slice of credit for honing the skills of the likes of Bong Joon-ho and Im Sang-soo and it will delight in the ability of Yoon to come out of their blocks with this dark but powerful debut.

Aggressive but ultimately broken high school student Ki-tae suddenly commit suicide, leading his father desperate for answers and seeking the truth behind his son’s tragic motivation. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

54. Sunny (2011)
Kang Hyeong-cheol

One of the highest grossing films in Korea, Sunny is a film filled with heart. It is funny, yet tender and effecting. Na-mi is a wealthy housewife, but despite her comfortable life she finds herself feeling unfulfilled. She is then set on a mission to reunite her group of high school friends in middle-age. The film then flicks between the present day task and back to the 1980s when they were younger.

Funny, heartfelt and often bittersweet, we are assisted here by such a likable group of characters to make us invested in their fortunes. A rush of nostalgia that draws audiences into its embrace. READ OUR FULL REVIEW

53. Save The Green Planet! (2003)
Jang Joon-hwan

Often disturbing, regularly hilarious and always beautifully crafted, this bizarro tale has a cult following but can be considered a genuine tour de force after landing 53rd on this list. Byeong-gu believes that aliens from the planet Andromeda are about to attack Earth, so alongside his girlfriend Su-ni, they kidnap the CEO of YooJae Chemical Company, Kang Man-shik, who they suspect of being a top-ranking extra-terrestrial.

A set-up so obscure it seems difficult to take seriously, but then it becomes a rift on mental health, torture ethics and the toll of suffering. From the lunacy rises something of genuine profoundness. READ OUR FULL REVIEW

52. The Great Battle (2018) 
Kim Kwang-sik

Director Kim Kwang-sik departs from the rom-com inflections of his My Dear Desperado (2010) and crime thriller Tabloid Truth (2014) to produce a work in the cinema stub selling sweet spot of taking a famous event from Korean history and giving it a big screen retelling. Featuring visually expansive battle action, the Tang forces in 645 AD attempt to sack the Ansi Fortress but are foiled by its fearless inhabitants and military smarts.

Aided by wonderful cinematography by Nam Dong-geun and smart effects, a film not out-of-step with its title, what we witness is a sprawling and relentless display of battle. READ OUR FULL REVIEW 

51. Aimless Bullet (1961) 
Yu Hyun-mok

Hastily banned by the military government due to its bleak portrayal of post-war Korea, this is certainly a wretched affair. Pure disconsolateness in cellular form. We follow the forlorn fortunes of brothers Cheolho and his younger sibling Yeongho. Their mother is bed-ridden by trauma due to the war and their sister has turned to prostitution. These strands of desperation will force one of the brothers into an equally hopeless act.

The film, also titled Obaltan, is a perfect outing of realist cinema. As a message, it even more perfectly packages the collective anxiety of post-war Korea and delivers it full-force with no apology. READ OUR FULL REVIEW

bottom of page