16th February 2022

With Parasite becoming the first foreign film to win Best Picture at the 2020 Academy Awards, we bring you other great movies that may have slipped under your radar. Rowen Carey has pulled together his top 5 Korean thriller classics.

For some, the repetitive nature of some Hollywood films can become exhausting, and really burn out some moviegoers. I was in the same position, until I started to broaden my film horizons and explored movies from other countries, specifically Korea. Korean cinema is a breath of fresh air, if you feel swamped by big, soulless, cash-in Hollywood flicks. With the release of the immaculate Parasite directed by Bong Joon-ho, there is no better time to explore a new culture and vision of Korean cinema.

In this article, I’ll delve into some examples of prime Korean cinema so you can get started on your viewing journey.

5. Parasite (2019, Dir. Bong Joon-Ho)

As stated before, Parasite is one of the highest rated films of 2019, and as of writing this, a serious Academy Award contender. It follows a dangerously poor family, who find any possible way to scam and save a buck, when their son lands a job tutoring a very rich family. It explores themes of classism, family trauma and is dark sense of humor makes it a fun watch for those with similar tastes. Some other films by this director like Snowpiercer (2013), The Host (2006) and Memories of Murder (2003) are also worth checking out, and if you like lead actor Kang-ho Sung, you’ll be pleased to know that he is frequently involved in most of Joon-ho’s productions. Parasite walked away with Cannes Film Festivals most prestigious prize, the Palme d’Or, and recently nominated for 3 Golden Globe awards.


4. The Wailing (2016, Dir. Na Hong-Jin)

The Wailing is for those who want more of a serious-toned light horror/thriller film. The film follows a mainly incompetent policeman, who tracks down a mysterious new villager that is believed to be responsible for a series of mysterious sicknesses happening around his small mountain town; until his daughter succumbs to it, he realizes there might be something more spiritual afoot, and investigates further in the mystery. The cinematographer, Hong Kyung-pyo, hits it out of the park as this film looks incredible, highlighting the dilapidated misty town, and the surrounding vegetation. The way its shot makes the bland and drab surroundings, build into the atmosphere and vibe of the film. Definitely recommended as a test film for your new 4K TV.


3. I Saw The Devil (2010, Dir. Kim Jee-Woon)

A masterclass in revenge cinema, I Saw the Devil delivers on a gripping narrative, strong performances all around, and all the gore that comes with a movie like this. It follows a vicious serial killer, who’s actions are so vile sparing neither women or children, yet he has managed to evade police for years. After killing the wrong person, he is tailed and toyed with a special agent, who is hellbent on exacting his revenge. A movie not recommended for the faint of heart, the level of gore in this film can be stomach-churning for someone not accustomed to movies like this. The films gore isn’t cartoonish over-the-top, its realistic enough to be off-putting and paint a picture in to the sadistic acts of a serial killer.


2. Train To Busan (2016, Dir. Sang-Ho Yeon)

The film that brought an interest of Korean films to the West, Train to Busan is a zombie thriller, with an emphasis on the characterization of the survivors, and what would possibly happen in such an outbreak. One part 28 Days Later, another part Snakes on a Plane. You follow a group of characters stuck on a train during a zombie outbreak, the zombies are fast and ruthless, yet there is a clear set of rules laid out in the film. This is directors Sang-ho Yeon’s first live-action film, yet he has managed to breathe new life into an otherwise tired and treaded concept. After viewing, be sure to check out Seoul Station by the same director, that works as a sort of prequel to Train to Busan.


1. Oldboy (2003, Dir. Park Chan-Wook)

A timeless classic, Oldboy is one of my personal favourite films of all time, and just a fantastic piece of modern film. With a dark and gripping narrative, and touting one of the most iconic fight scenes in cinema, Oldboy (if not already on your watchlist) should be on your TV right now. It was remade for Western audiences by Spike Jones, but do not watch that version, as its not very good (or as good as the original). It follows a man who is kidnapped and placed in isolation for 15 years, when he escapes, he’s led to find out that there was more to his kidnapping than he had thought, and his reconnection with his lost family is his only drive.


And there’s our 5. What do you think? Any you’re oing to check out? Any you think we’ve missed out. Let us know in the comments below…