You've heard of K-pop, shorthand for Korean popular music. Now get ready for K-wave, or "Hallyu," the name for the "wave" of Korean media, including films, that has swept the world since the 1990s.
Even before Bong Joon Ho’s film Parasite achieved global recognition in 2019 by becoming the first non-English language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, South Korea had a dynamic movie industry driven by the peninsular country’s dramatic economic, cultural and social history.
This list of the best Korean films includes required classics and newer releases in many genres, including psychological thrillers, nightmare-inducing horror movies, romantic comedies and smoldering dramas that are unique to Korean cinematic and narrative aesthetics.
For those just starting your journey into the world of Korean cinema, try watching the films chronologically, starting with Kim Ki Young’s femme fatale melodrama, The Housemaid (1960). Don’t miss classic early 2000s films like Park Chan Wook’s Oldboy (2003) and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), along with Bong Joon Ho’s Memories of Murder (2003), before moving onto contemporary films.
Diving into South Korean cinema opens a window into the country’s unique point of view shaped by rapid economic growth, technological innovation and the legacy of colonialism and war — while also providing peak entertainment with the national cinema’s talent for storytelling. Wherever you are in your Korean cinema journey, you’re in for a treat with this list of incredible Korean films.