Unsurprising to literally anyone with taste, South Korean film Parasite swept the 92nd Academy Awards on Sunday. The dark comedy, directed by the one and only Bong Joon Ho, was hailed by many as an unparalleled cinematic success. But record-breaking box office sales aside, Parasite artfully touched on class divide and family hierarchy in a way that made it fully deserving of its coveted best director, best picture, best international feature film, and best original screenplay awards. #BongHive was even trending throughout the ceremony as fans celebrated the wins. To have Parasite, and its entire cast and crew, recognized at the Oscars was indeed monumental.
However, just because it’s taken the Academy Awards (a local affair, as Bong Joon Ho implied) so long to recognize the good work coming out of South Korea doesn’t mean it’s necessarily new news. South Korea has been a center for groundbreaking cinema for quite some time, and the country’s influence is undeniable. Hopefully, the wins racked up by Parasite will encourage movie lovers to venture further into South Korean–produced works — even if it means reading those one-inch subtitles.
To celebrate Parasite’s wins, here are seven other South Korean films for you to watch next.
Oldboy (directed by Park Chan-wook)
When you search top South Korean films, Oldboy dominates every list — and for good reason. It is the second chapter in Park Chan-wook's The Vengeance Trilogy and one of the most critically acclaimed films to date. The plot follows the release of the protagonist Oh Dae-Su (played by Choi Min-sik) after an unexplained 15-year captivity in an unmarked, inescapable room. As Dae-Su tries to figure out who abducted him and why, the story becomes unimaginably twisted as past and present blend together in horrific synchronicity. "Suspenseful" and "shocking" don't even come close to describing the neo-noir action thriller, and its eventual resolution will undoubtedly be talked about for decades to come.
The Wailing (directed by Na Hong-jin)
If you’re a fan of existential horror in the realm of A Quiet Place and Bird Box, 2016’s The Wailing is a must-watch. The film follows a father racing against time and the supernatural (a monster that has no roots, bringing with it an incurable illness sweeping across a rural town) to save his infected daughter. It’s a subtle but powerful type of horror that draws on lore, and Na Hong-jin delivers just the right amount of fear, mystery, and sentiment to bring it to life.
Poetry (directed by Lee Chang-dong)
A tearjerker that is deserving of every accolade its won (including best screenplay at Cannes and multiple best actress awards), Poetry follows a 66-year-old grandmother, Yang Mi-ja (played by Yoon Jeong-hee), who is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease while raising her violent grandson (who has been accused of rape). Shortly after, Mi-ja stumbles into the art of poetry and feels inexplicably drawn to the language and community. The drama is melancholic, the film beautifully shot, and the themes touch on the female experience through a variety of complicated characters. It deserves to be seen and felt on every level imaginable.
Snowpiercer (directed by Bong Joon Ho)
Fans of Parasite and Chris Evans can rejoice because in Snowpiercer, our former Captain America finds himself with less-than-favorable odds in Bong Joon Ho’s dystopia. Snowpiercer is set in a postapocalyptic world where our heroes, anti-heroes, and villains (and good luck telling who is who) are aboard a train divided by class. Without spoiling too much: There is revolt, there is violence, and there is commentary on classism and climate change. Additionally, the cast consists of Song Kang-ho, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Go Ah-sung, Ed Harris, Jamie Bell, and John Hurt. Everyone say thank you, Bong Joon Ho.
Heart (directed by Jeong Ga-young)
Not to be undone by the men, South Korea is also home to some incredible female directors. Heart by Jeong Ga-young follows the trajectory of a filmmaker’s love life as she navigates a tricky relationship with a married man in a completely unorthodox and unpredictable fashion. Fans of Fleabag’s deadpan, candid humor will love Heart and what Ga-young has done to make it digestible, realistic, and a journey worth following. In short: Support female directors because no one can write women like they do.
House of Hummingbird (directed by Kim Bo-ra)
If Little Women and Boyhood have taught us anything, it’s that coming-of-age narratives are universal. House of Hummingbird, Kim Bo-ra’s directorial debut, follows a 14-year-old girl seeking love and escape in Seoul. The film explores themes such as blooming sexuality, first heartbreaks, and the role art plays in self-expression and identity. Bo-ra’s take on adolescence, particularly centered in the female narrative, rings as timeless and true, particularly as it champions the heart and minds of young women everywhere.
Train to Busan (directed by Yeon Sang-ho)
Walking Dead who? Just kidding; we’re no longer pitting good entertainment options against each other in 2020. Train to Busan is an action film set in the midst of a zombie apocalypse in modern time. It’s the premise of a real-life nightmare for people afraid of both zombies and family time: A family goes on a train to Busan only to realize there’s a virus outbreak that’s turning everyone into the living dead. Yeon Sang-ho’s ability to take a popular horror trope (rest in peace, iZombie) and turn it into something new and shocking shouldn’t be overlooked. Add this to your queue ASAP.
My Little Bride (directed by Kim Ho-jun)
A hill that I will die on: Korean rom-coms don’t get the recognition they deserve. Yes, there’s a number of great psycho-thrillers and horror films to satisfy anyone’s cinematic heart, but South Korea can also make a mean romantic comedy that would leave Nora Ephron speechless. Case in point: My Little Bride. The 2004 film has everything a good romantic comedy needs: a love triangle, an arranged marriage, and enough chemistry to warrant a warning of some sort. Kim Ho-jun was given all the ingredients of success and made a masterpiece with them. Chef’s kiss all around.
The Handmaiden (directed by Park Chan-wook)
To save the best for last (a personal opinion, but a correct one), The Handmaiden is a well-crafted but uncommon blend of horror and romance set in the 1930s. It starts out with a con within a con and changes narratives throughout the film, leaving viewers in a perpetual state of suspense and disbelief (as expected from Park Chan-wook). But what’s really striking about The Handmaiden is the intimacy between the two leading ladies — their love story and their liberation. It’s rare to have heart be the center of horror, but The Handmaiden pulls it off so beautifully that it should be a required watch for all film lovers.
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