250 Best Korean Films of All Time: Audience Vote (50-1)
50. Extreme Job (2019)
With a global reputation for fine action films, off-the-wall comedy and even fried chicken, Extreme Job represents some manner of amalgamated Korean reference points for audiences. More than that, what Extreme Job mainly focuses on is that basic cinematic practice – simply having fun. Never taking itself too seriously, but landing gags, both verbal and physical, with perfectly pitched timing.
A police narcotics squad is the laughing stock of the station after another botched case. They have one last chance and start undercover surveillance of a drug gang from a chicken restaurant. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
49. The Yellow Sea (2010)
In the wake of the success of The Chaser two years prior, director Na Hong-jin and stars Ha Jung-woo and Kim Yoon-seok were swiftly reunited for another blood-splattered thriller. There is a frenetic energy to The Yellow Sea that never rests. Car chases, gang fights, desperate escapes. It allows neither the characters or the audience a moment to catch their breath as it hurtles along.
Gu-nam, a struggling Korean taxi driver with a gambling addiction living in China, is offered $10,000 by a local gangster to kill a businessman back in South Korea. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
48. Midnight Runners (2017)
Jason Kim (Kim Ju-hwan)
Afforded an international release and green-lighted for an Indian remake, this action-comedy film also has buddy movie elements, as Park Seo-joon and Kang Ha-neul star as two police university students who become best friends. After getting leave for a night clubbing the pair then witness a kidnapping. They quickly report the crime to a local police station, but the professional officers are otherwise consumed.
The pair decide to use the training they have mustered so far and go it alone instead of waiting for the sluggish police force to kick into action. However, this leads them down a darker path than expected.
47. Snowpiercer (2013)
A startling madcap spin on the dystopian future yarn, Snowpiercer feels as if we have been jettisoned directly into Bong Joon-ho's own beauty and bizarre brain – some never-resting wild train ride. When a failed attempt to halt global warming instead descends the planet into a new ice age, humanity’s last survivors are left onboard a circumnavigating train called the Snowpiercer.
Mad, wild, tense, Bong’s genre-scrambling approach to story-telling mashes together a violent action film, an off-the-wall science fiction outing, alongside dollops of black humour and slices of horror. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
46. The Call (2020)
There was disrupted cinematic output in 2020, largely curtailing discussions over the year’s finest performance as the pandemic had stolen the limelight. However, Jeon Jong-seo (Burning) makes a compelling case for performance of the year as the deeply demented Young-sook here, which also features a fine performance from Park Shin-hye, who plays the tormented Seo-yeon in this gripping horror-imbued thriller.
Seo-yeon has moved back into her family home where she starts to receive strange calls from a distressed girl. She is eventually able to establish the caller is in the same house, except in 1999. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
45. The Classic (2003)
Sandwiched between My Sassy Girl (2001) and Windstruck (2004), Kwak Jae-yong further established himself as the modern master of the Korean romance film with this fully-fledged melodrama. Praised for its cinematography and music, The Classic uses flashbacks alongside current developments to unpack notions of love and matching lives taking place in different eras.
The film tells the story of a daughter and her mother's parallel love stories, both played by Son Ye-jin who won Best New Actress awards at both the Baeksang Arts Awards and the Grand Bell Awards that year.
44. Time to Hunt (2020)
Almost certainly aided by a recent global release on Netflix to pick up enough surprise votes to make the Top 50, Director Yoon Sung-hyun takes us to a dystopian South Korea here where a differing moral code is at play. For Yoon, the film is a stark departure from his brilliant 2010 coming-of-age drama Bleak Night (No. 55), instead transiting to a highly stylised crime flick that proved ideal pandemic home watching.
With the Korean won suffering from a crash, a group of cons plot the infamous heist movie “one-last-job”, targeting an illegal gambling house with supplies of the more valuable US dollar. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
43. Castaway on the Moon (2009)
Hilarious, touching and stunningly shot, an obscure set-up provides a surprising means to muster a masterpiece. Seong-geun becomes a castaway on a deserted island on the Han River. He is spotted by Jung-yeon, a young woman with a long-lens camera who is living as a hermit in her parents’ home. As Seong-geun tries to survive, Jung-yeon starts to fall for this strange castaway.
A film about human connections and their importance. The absurdity of the human condition and the toil of its modern incarnation wrapped up within this profound romantic tale. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
42. On the Beach at Night Alone (2017)
This is a very personal film for Hong, more so than much of his other work. An actress, played by long-term onscreen collaborator Kim Min-hee, is wandering around a seaside town, considering her relationship with a married man. She spends time with her friend Jee-young discussing the relationship and tries to find her independence on her wave-bashed walks.
There is the usual collection of small talk that means more than the surface reflections indicate, but this is an immediate reaction to real-life developments for Hong and Kim that were so consuming tabloid pages at the time.
41. The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008)
In The Good, the Bad, the Weird, multi-genre directing Kim Jee-woon creates a Leone-inspired Spaghetti Western that borrows heavily from the classics while injecting a distinctly Korean feel. Set in the 1930s, bandit and hitman Park Chang-yi (the Bad) is hired to steal a treasure map when Yoon Tae-goo (the Weird), a petty thief, gets there first, and both draw the attention of bounty hunter Park Do-won (the Good).
A film of boundless fun and entertainment. A couple hours of Western action and visceral amusement. And further proof that Kim can turn his hand to any genre and instantly look an old hand. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
40. Right Now, Wrong Then (2015)
The highest ranked Hong Sangsoo film on the list, as it was on the critics' list, this is an intriguing examination of the fate of a potential couple’s romantic liaison over the course of a few soju-soaked hours. We follow arthouse director Ham Cheon-soo who has travelled to Suwon to screen one of his films. Killing time ahead of the next day’s screening, he spots the beautiful Hee-jung and starts a conversation.
We get this story twice, split in near equal measures across the film’s two hour run time, with various changes in the events in each day together, producing a contemplative work on human interactions. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
39. Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds (2017)
A film made for its cinema appeal, Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds is best enjoyed before the wide screen. That is not to lessen the visual aplomb that the films arrives with regardless of your screen size. A feast of CSI ingenuity, a two-hour plus rollercoaster of action and pictorial flourishes. Helmed by 200 Pounds Beauty (2006) director Yong-hwa Kim, who seems acutely aware of the various shades of audience-pleasing entertainment.
A hero fireman lands in the afterlife and, guided by a trio of stylishly dressed afterlife guardians, undertakes various show trials in the hunt for his reincarnation. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
38. New World (2013)
Sharp-suited, smart-mouthed and knife-wielding, New World provides a stylised addition to the gangster genre, combining the deep undercover cop trope with the crime organisation boss appointment arc. Undercover cop Lee Ja-Sung has infiltrated Goldmoon International, a vast corporate crime syndicate, who are left seeking a new leader when their boss dies in a suspicious car accident.
Starring Choi Min-sik (Oldboy) and Lee Jung-jae (The Housemaid), New World manages its various developments with pitch-perfect pacing, ensuring it is never flabby and always engaging. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
37. A Moment to Remember (2004)
John H. Lee (Lee Jae-han)
Based on the 2001 Japanese television drama Pure Soul, this is a tear-jerking romance and melodrama that is also a superb technical feat of direction and fine onscreen performances. Fashion designer Su-jin and construction site foreman Chul-soo have a chance encounter leading to a relationship and eventually marriage. When Su-jin receives an early-onset Alzheimer's disease diagnosis, the pair must face this fate together.
It is a film which shows the complexities of love and the challenges that many relationships face. What seems like another rom-com to throw on the pile eventually turns into some more meaningful and ultimately heart-breaking.
36. Thirst (2009)
In the wake of his blood-splattered Vengeance Trilogy and romantic comedy I'm a Cyborg, But That's Okay (No 83), Director Park opted to blend those elements together in the violent romance that is Thirst. Sang-hyun is a Catholic priest who is involved in a failed medical experiment leaving him with a vampire thirsting for blood. His moral framework is tested when he meets Tae-ju, the wife of a childhood friend.
It is, as ever with Park, a stylish and clever outing. It is also, as ever with Song Kang-ho, anchored with a brilliant lead performance. Together they produce an enthralling addition to the vampire canon. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
35. Swing Kids (2018)
In the vein of Korean cinema’s lust to scramble genres, Swing Kids is one of the most ambitious incarnations of this concept. Not just blending drama and comedy, or war themes with the musical genre, but taking repeated light-heartedness and curbing it with dark twists and turns. Its strength lies in taking none of these redirections in half measures – the music is done with great panache, while the war horrors are graphic and confronting.
Set in a Geoje prison camp during the Korean War in 1951, a dance team from the prisoners is formed as a showcase for Koreans coming round to the American way of life. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
34. The Man from Nowhere (2010)
A tense and raw action thriller which stacks the revenge narrative with heart and emotional punch. Tae-sik (played superbly by the illusive Won Bin) is a quiet, recluse and his only friend is So-mi, a young girl who lives in the neighbourhood with her mother Hyo-jeong. When So-mi is kidnapped, Tae-sik evokes his more violent past in an attempt to track her down.
You care, deeply, about the fortunes of Tae-sik and So-mi. When everyone from an underground army of enforcers and the police are closing in, you will them to safety with every breath. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
33. Miracle in Cell No. 7 (2013)
It took some measure of bravery to allow Lee Hwan-kyung’s Miracle in Cell No. 7 to traverse past the initial elevator pitch stage. A quirky comedy that hangs off the hook of a wrongful murder of a child by a mentally impaired father. The remit for offense and insensitivity seems too risky to chance for the screen, yet the film succeeds to pair off-kilter laughs with this dark and tragic event.
A mentally atypical father is separated from his daughter after being convicted of a child murder, but his daughter is smuggled into prison so the pair can be reunited. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
32. Okja (2017)
The second Director Bong film on the list is this razor-sharp yet sweet satire on environmentalism, animal ethics and corporate avarice. A drove of genetically modified super pigs have been created by Mirando Corporation, including Okja who lives in South Korea with the young Mija. After 10 years, Okja has won the breeding prize and must travel to New York, leaving a heartbroken Mija.
As ever with Bong, the film is a mixed assortment of differing feels, managing to be funny and sad, sweet yet dark, profound but entertaining. A neat bundle of jollification and intelligence. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
31. Forgotten (2017)
While horrors and thrillers often evoke supernatural forces and otherworldly monsters to get their chills and thrills, Forgotten instead plays on the primal comfort that you can always trust your family. What instead emerges is a disorientating new fear that either my family is up to something, or I am losing my mind. Two sides of the same petrifying coin, no solace to be found in either option.
Suspenseful and surprising, this thriller provides a twisting tale of desperation and loss as mysterious events plague an anxious student. The less you know, the better – just go and watch! READ OUR FULL REVIEW
30. House of Hummingbird (2018)
This masterfully crafted and contemplative coming-of-age drama representing a startling debut outing for Kim Bora. Set in the 1990s, it follows Eun-hee, a restrained 14-year-old attempting to juggle young love, a demanding education system, and a cold and sometimes violent family home life. Eun-hee attempts to construct her sense of self and purpose in the rapidly changing Seoul.
Patient, perfectly pitched and able to present soul-stirring interactions with maximal confidence, it is not all doom and gloom either, there is a warm-heartedness to it. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
29. The Throne (2015)
While having a royal linage may seems the dream ticket in life’s hereditary lottery, The Throne taps into the pain and suffering a reluctant future king suffers as they prepare for life as high ruler. Set in 1762, where traditions were forcefully realised, the real-life tale of the Crown Prince Sado, who lived during the reign of King Yeongyo, provides the ideal inspiration for this high production value film incarnation.
King Yeongyo has learned his heir, Crown Prince Sado, has conspired to assassinate him. The King orders Sado to be locked into a large rice box and deprived of food and water. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
28. 3-Iron (2004)
An almost wordless cinematic sonnet and an intoxicating romance tale, 3-Iron has just 1,579 words of dialogue. Instead, everything is unpacked in looks and actions, themselves often silent, to show the coming together of two lost souls. Loner Tae-suk rides around on his motorbike looking for empty houses to occupy for a few days when he meets Sun-hwa and the pair form a close bond.
There is another sense that this is a ghost story without ghosts. With the very much alive Tae-suk and Sun-hwa moving like ghosts – silent, haunting houses as they go, living in the shadows. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
27. My Sassy Girl (2001)
An instant blockbuster hit across East Asia, it spawned remakes in Japan, US, China, India, Nepal and the Philippines. Engineering college student, Gyeon-woo is struggling in love when he meets a drunk girl teetering close to a train platform edge before he pulls her away. From there, he starts to spend time with this feisty girl and a sporadic relationship of sorts begins.
This much-venerated rom-com bubbles with its own charisma. A melodramatic, engaging and funny classic that has permanently secured its place in the pages of Korean cinema history. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
26. Poetry (2010)
A melancholic view of aging and death, Director Lee challenges us and our notions of self in Poetry. Yun Jung-hie plays grandmother Mija, who lives with her churlish 16-year-old grandson, Jong-wook. Mija is diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer's disease and she begins attending weekly poetry reading sessions. What seems to be a story about the battle against her memory and a desire to write poetry then takes a tragic turn.
The film is also deeply mysterious. It is — as with all of Lee’s work — stunningly beautiful, but there is an enigmatic notion to the film. Like a puzzle too sagacious to solve at the first attempt, Poetry must be consumed, considered and then consumed again and again. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
25. The Witch: Part 1 - The Subversion (2018)
While it is usually Korean cinema doing the subverting with its genre-mashed approach to such films, the word takes on a multi-faceted meaning in this gentle-build then rapid action outing. As stated in the title, this is the first part of an ongoing narrative arch, but this part itself can be divided into two different paced approaches – a tense mystery turned blood-splattered action thriller.
A young girl named Ja-yoon escapes a remote laboratory after a violent altercation. Years later as a teenage she gradually rediscovers her powerful former self. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
24. 1987: When The Day Comes (2017)
The third Jang Joon-hwan film on the list after Hwayi: A Monster Boy (No. 250) and Save the Green Planet! (No. 53), the director shifts towards the political thriller space with this outing which was inspired by the real-life events that led up to the June Democratic Uprising in Korea and were sparked by the controversial death of a student protester that took place during a police interrogation.
A stellar cast includes Kim Yoon-seok, Ha Jung-woo, Yoo Hae-jin, Kim Tae-ri, Park Hee-soon and Lee Hee-joon, who combine to produce a high-thrills outing that won several awards.
23. The Housemaid (1960)
The film which changed a nation’s cinema forever, Kim Ki-young's masterpiece on morality and lust is a filmmaking tour de force of festering threat. Composer Kim Dong-sik Kim decides to hire a housemaid to help his pregnant wife. He hires Myung-sook who behaves oddly from the outset, catching rats with her hands, spying on the composer, and trying to seduce him.
Hitchcockian, but in no sense derivatively so, it is a modern thriller in black-and-white classic robes. No comprehension of Korean cinema of any era is possible without its viewing. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
22. Oasis (2002)
The story of an impossible romance, a brave and powerful piece of breath-taking filmmaking from Lee Chang-dong. Released from prison after serving a sentence for manslaughter, Jong-do seeks out his family in Seoul. Jong-do also visits the family of the man he killed in a hit-and-run three years prior, meeting the man’s sister with cerebral palsy, Gong-ju. Soon Jong-do and Gong-ju form an increasingly close bond.
When Jong-do and Gong-ju connect, the way they have been marginalised by their own families matters less in each other’s company. A sad, powerful, profound and important piece of cinema. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
21. Secret Sunshine (2007)
The master of the emotional drama, in Secret Sunshine the concept of grief offers Lee Chang-dong an expansive canvas to colour the shades of agony that loss provides. Shin-ae has upped-sticks from Seoul with her son Jun after the death of her husband in a car accident. Heading to Miryang, her husband’s birth town, the pair seek a fresh start from the memories of loss in Seoul, but tragedy seems intent on following her.
Jeon Do-yeon produces a career best performance, enough to make her the first and only Korean ever to win Best Actress at Cannes as the much-tortured Shin-ae in this devastatingly powerful film. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
20. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
An atmospheric, psychological horror which offers a subtle and dread-building reimagining of an often-told Korean folktale. Inside a mental institution, teenager Su-mi is being treated for shock and psychosis. She is then released, returning to her countryside family home to live with her younger sister Su-yeon, their father and their stepmother Eun-joo, where nightmares and ghosts arrive as family tensions rise.
A dark, unique and suffocating view of bereavement and woe, A Tale of Two Sisters was the highest-grossing Korean horror ever at the time, including a release in US cinemas. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
19. Little Forest (2018)
One of the figureheads of the emergence of several superb female filmmakers in Korea, Yim Soon-rye’s Little Forest is based on the manga series of the same name by Daisuke Igarashi. After failing her test to become a teacher, Hye-Won, turns her back on the busy city life in Seoul and moves to her hometown in the countryside to heal her emotional wounds with her long-time friends.
This is not a film of conflict, it is about how letting go can be the best way to set us free. There is lots of cooking, eating and talking, and it is all the better for it. A simple, warm hug of a film. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
18. The Chaser (2008)
Na Hong-jin's very grim thriller provides an uneasy and frustrating voyage into the ticking-clock chase to save a captured woman. Its real-life inspiration certainly sets the appropriate tone. Korean serial killer Yoo Young-chul killed 20 people, chiefly sex workers and rich older men, between 2003 and 2004. In The Chaser, we are presented with a genuinely sinister screen serial killer in Yeong-min.
Joong-ho is a dishonest former detective who now works as a pimp and is facing financial trouble after two of his girls have disappeared. This leads him in a race against time to find Yeong-min. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
17. A Taxi Driver (2017)
While the cinematic version of the revolutionary experience is often focused on the charismatic rebel leader, A Taxi Driver instead pays homage to the humble citizens who make such uprisings possible. The perfectly cast Song Kang-ho is Man-seob, a cabbie who becomes the reluctant hero of the 1980s Gwangju Uprising.
Heartfelt and impassioned, the film takes the real-life German journalist Jürgen Hinzpeter’s interactions with driver Kim Sa-bok, who enabled visuals of the Gwangju Uprising to reach a global audience. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
16. Peppermint Candy (1999)
Yet more Lee Chang-dong on the list, Peppermint Candy is a masterful reverse chronology plunge into the defining life events of a desperately broken man. We open on Yong-ho placing himself in front of a speeding train and from there we jump backwards, trying to understand what or who, drove him to this final act. These leaps back tie in with various importance historical events in Korea.
We journey from the financial crisis of the 1990s, to the military government and student protests of the 1980s. To these events, Yong-ho is a victim as his life is punctuated by his own country’s issues. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
15. Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring (2003)
Tranquil beauty combines with a lingering sense of doom in this stunning portrait of human nature and the consequences of our actions. The film is split into five chapters, the title seasons, jumping several years each time to tell the life stories of our central characters, an apprentice Buddhist who we see grow older and his sage master who live on a tiny floating monastery.
The narrative of the film is about monks, but the life lessons and festering emotions are universally applicable to humans. Low-key but profound, a film as stunning as its Jusanji Pond location. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
14. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)
The first instalment of the Vengeance Trilogy is habitually startling and repeatedly horrific. Stylishly assembled, as always from Director Park, the resolve of the audience is tested in this blood-splattered offering. Ryu, a deaf mute, is laid off from his factory job. In desperate need to fund his sister’s kidney transplant, he plots the kidnapping of a young girl, bringing the girl’s father into this fraught situation.
There is plenty of Director Park mastery throughout, the stylish shots, the gory violence that is still elegiac and the twists of fortune which linger in every new scene. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
13. The Host (2006)
It is difficult to think of a better mixing pot than the genius of director Bong Joon-ho, a commentary on US-Korean relations, and a giant creature mutated by chemicals dumped in the Han River that hunts people at will. When formaldehyde finds its way into the river, a large amphibious creature grows and after consuming the river's fish, jumps onto land to go human hunting.
Boisterous, funny, action-packed and loaded with enough social commentary to keep a pub conversation going all night, The Host is a monster movie like no other from a director like no other. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
12. A Bittersweet Life (2005)
Director Kim has a varied career of playing with genre devices across a range of film types and he encapsulates the stylish crime caper perfectly here. Kim Sun-woo is a hushed but brutal enforcer at a hotel owned by Kang, who goes on a business trip and asks Sun-woo to look after his girlfriend Hee-soo. Sun-woo dutifully cares for her but he finds himself becoming enchanted by the girl.
Kim even makes the violence poetic and deep, combining Shakespearean tragedy with highly stylised, modern action, switching from the bloodstained action to the film’s more tender moments. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
11. Lady Vengeance (2005)
The final instalment of Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy further amplifies the stylised violence offering up a confronting, sometimes shocking, but wildly entertaining film. Lee Geum-ja is a reformed female prisoner after serving 13 years inside for the kidnap and murder of six-year-old schoolboy. In prison she became a role model for other inmates but on release she seeks the true culprit behind the crime which sent her away.
Geum-ja, coloured in that iconic red eye shadow, is fuelled by fury and is pursuing a revenge she must fulfil, even if it will offer her very scant personal fulfilment. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
10. Joint Security Area (2000)
A touching buddy movie hidden in a military thriller, Park Chan-wook’s breakout hit has enough emotional depth to swallow a continent. At the demilitarized zone, two North Korean soldiers are killed at their border house. The incident fractures the delicate relationship between North and South, with a special investigation launched to discover what has happened to defuse the national tensions.
The highest-grossing film in Korean cinema history at the time, it established Director Park as the country’s new film-making superstar. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
9. The Wailing (2016)
Staggering, sublime and a journey of ever-increasing screw-turning tension. The light-hearted cop-capers of the first act, give way to a second act focused on exorcism, before the final act is a whodunit cliff hanger centered instead on a who-is-the-demon mystery. Hapless rural police officer Jong-goo investigates when a mysterious disease starts to spread among villagers as a stranger moves into the area.
Boasting a highly developed story that surprises throughout, the early sniggers of the film’s lighter-hearted opening seem a distance memory by the time The Wailing is through with you. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
8. Mother (2009)
Mother is deeply dark, but still funny and tender. A perfectly measured narrative, yet baffling surprising. A family drama, a murder mystery and a chilling thriller. Uncategorised by usual genre conventions and all the better for it. After Do-joon is accused of murdering a local girl, his extremely protective mother attempts to prove his innocence, stopping at nothing to clear his name.
A film about the monomaniacal love of a tenacious mother, it is one of Bong’s most emotionally raw and thrilling films, anchored by two superb lead performances by Kim Hye-ja and Won Bin. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
7. Train to Busan (2016)
While this action-horror mash-up is about rapid-hunt zombies terrorising desperate train passengers, it also provides a vast array of social commentary. On a train (to Busan!) there is a workaholic father, his daughter, a husband and his pregnant wife, and a baseball team. As the train departs, an infected woman jumps on, attacks a train attendant, and the infection is soon spreading through the carriages.
Social responsibility, rapid industrialisation, responsibilities towards the elderly and the social pressures applied to South Korea’s youth are all assessed as zombies sprint wild. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
6. I Saw the Devil (2010)
Jaw-droppingly violent, revenge is best served repeatedly in this unflinching and blood-lashed outing. It places two of modern Korean cinema’s finest actors – Lee Byung-hun (A Bittersweet Life) and Choi Min-sik (Oldboy) – face to face as an intelligence agent undertakes a relentless pursuit of the sadistic serial killer who had killed his pregnant fiancé.
We witness the vicious circle of attempting to gain redemption, and how unfulfilled this leaves our protagonist. A shock and awe project, where those who can handle shocks they will adore the awes. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
5. Burning (2018)
There is no double victory for Burning after it previously topped Korean Screen's critics' poll, but it still find itself in the Top 5 again here. Released the year before Parasite went on its unprecedented awards snaring expedition, Burning was the South Korean entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, but failed to be nominated. Lee Chang-dong adds thriller elements to his staple of slow-burn character studies here.
It follows deliveryman Jong-su, his childhood friend Hae-mi and the enigmatic Ben. Jong-su grows suspicious that Hae-mi might be in danger in this chilling and potent mystery thriller masterpiece. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
4. The Handmaiden (2016)
Departing from the ultra-violence of the Vengeance Trilogy, Park Chan-wook instead uses a Victorian crime novel to loosely inspire a sexualised and visually absorbing masterpiece. Set in 1930s Korea, a period of Japanese occupation, the film is split into three parts. We first see a young woman hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress living as a hermit in a countryside estate.
Smart, sexy, stylish and surprising, almost every shot is as decadently created as the riches on screen. We witness Park’s ability to stylise every frame as the story twists and turns through our fingers. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
3. Parasite (2019)
A dark satire which exposes Korea’s class divide and serves up a peerless cinematic experience, Parasite won nearly 200 international awards, including four Oscars and the Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. It tells the story of two families at opposite ends of the capitalist spectrum, the struggling Kim family and the affluent Park clan, who see their worlds collide.
A perfect storm of a film. Superbly directed by a filmmaker at the peak of their powers, wonderfully acted by an ensemble cast, beautifully shot, while providing a punch of vital social commentary. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
2. Oldboy (2003)
This twisted revenge tale brims with stylized action and offers a visceral stomach-churn of ultra-violence that leaves you utterly breathless. Oldboy a profoundly influential watershed contribution to modern Korean cinema. Oh Dae-su, played by the always-brilliant Choi Min-sik, wakes in a hotel-style prison room that will entrap him for the next 15 years. On his release, he sets upon his revenge path to find his captors.
It stunned audiences at Cannes, receiving an extended standing ovation and then propelling Korean cinema into a new stratosphere of global recognition. Things have not been the same since. READ OUR FULL REVIEW
1. Memories of Murder (2003)
A rural crime mystery focused on the obsession of the detectives and their fear of failure, and the very best Korean film of all time according to the Korean Screen audience. Based on the real-life Hwaseong serial murders which took place between 1986 and 1991, rural detective Park Doo-man is instantly overwhelmed as the bodies of two women are found. Alongside his violent partner Cho, a competent detective from Seoul, Tae-yoon, joins them as they desperately scramble to catch the killer.
It is the trio of detectives that are the emotional core of the film. You feel Park’s envy at Seo’s proficient approach and as obsession grows to solve the case, such feelings of inadequacy fest and grow. READ OUR FULL REVIEW