Essays · Movies

Essential Korean Films To Quench Your Olympics Curiosity

Welcome to a genre of high emotion, plenty of gore, and new discoveries. 
I Saw The Devil
By  · Published on February 16th, 2018

Korean films people will most often reference are expected titles such as The Host, Oldboy, or Snowpiercer. That’s because Korean film didn’t really begin to make waves on an international scale until the late-90s. Korea was recovering from years of film restrictions that actually started to change a decade earlier. In 1987, the Motion Pictures Act allowed foreign film companies to work in Korea. This provided a whole new opportunity for artists to experiment in the medium of film.  

Korean film really started to blossom with the works of a few iconic Korean directors. Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho, Lee Chang-dong, Kim Ki-duk are a few of the most notable directors in Korean history and they all arrived during that period at the beginning of the century. There is a reason why there are so few Korean films of note and why these directors are constantly named. Thankfully, productions are becoming more frequent every year and Korean film is thriving. As the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea are underway, here are some of our selections of the best Korean film has to offer.

Peppermint Candy

Peppermint Candy

Exploring Korean cinema is something I’ve always intended to spend more time doing. My household is extremely fond of the culture. In fact, I learned about the prominence of Lee Chang-dong’s Peppermint Candy during an episode of the long running Korean variety show Running Man. Once I learned that it was from the director of Secret Sunshine I knew it wasn’t going to be a comedy by any stretch of the imagination. The movie is a look at various historical events in Korea between 1979 and 1999. Each chapter of Peppermint Candy occurs during a key event in South Korean history. Peppermint Candy follows the life of Sun-im who we discover has committed suicide. How does the film proceed without the lead? The scenes that follows all show earlier events in Sun-im’s life and how those events led to his demise. Holding the film together is the sound of an approaching train, foreshadowing Sun-im’s fate, while providing the narrative device that begins and ends each chapter. There’s no question that Peppermint Candy is a difficult film filled with great suffering, but that suffering shows a country on the precipice of great advancement and the story of a man born into tumultuous times. – Max Covill 

  1. Okja
  2. Peppermint Candy
  3. My Sassy Girl
  4. Oldboy
  5. The Good, The Bad, The Weird

I Saw the Devil

I Saw The Devil

Director Kim Jee-woon’s cat-and-mouse chase thriller is a story about revenge, but not in the traditional sense where it’s as simple as hunting someone down and offing them. The whole movie is essentially about an agent picking on the serial killer who viciously slaughtered his fiancée in order to prolong his torture. To do this, he hunts down our antagonist, makes him bleed, then lets him go for the process to begin again. Choi Min-sik is absolutely rotten to the core as the hunted murderer and deserves his torment, but I’ll be damned if he isn’t one of the best villains to ever grace the screen. The inclusion of cannibals adds some dark comedy to lighten the mood, but overall this is a grim, disturbing, and exhilarating experience that will drag you through the ringer by the teeth until the end credits roll. – Kieran Fisher

  1. I Saw the Devil
  2. Oldboy
  3. R-Point
  4. A Dirty Carnival
  5. The Host

My Sassy Girl

My Sassy Girl

While it was a record-breaking blockbuster in South Korea, American audiences might only recognize the title My Sassy Girl from a regrettable 2008 remake starring Elisha Cuthbert and Jesse Bradford. You’re better off watching a subbed version of Kwak Jae-young’s 2001 original romantic comedy starring Cha Tae-hyun as Gyeon-woo, a mild-mannered engineering student, and Jun Ji-hyun as simply “The Girl,” the volatile, uninhibited young woman who captures his affections. Their relationship is dysfunctional in a way that admittedly might seem uncomfortable – the Girl subjects Gyeon-woo to all manner of humiliations, and it’s hard to imagine their dynamic translating across a gender flip – but the leads sell their offbeat, almost grotesque chemistry with such heart and humor that their love seems written in the stars. The movie earnestly believes in its own romantic destiny, but it isn’t afraid to play with genre conventions – the Girl’s inventive fantasy sequences include affectionate parodies of period pieces and action thrillers. It’s a rom-com that’s both unreservedly bizarre and heartwarmingly sincere. – Aline Dolinh

  1. Euodong
  2. My Sassy Girl
  3. A Tale of Two Sisters
  4. Thirst
  5. I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK



I’m not shy about my love for Korean cinema, but while most of my favorites are dark, violent, and frequently twisted affairs, one stands out for the utter beauty of its love story. Kim Ki-Duk’s 3-Iron is a mesmerizing tale about a young man who breaks into empty homes for food, water, and a place to sleep. In exchange, he does their laundry, cleans floors, and fixes things he finds broken. His latest crash pad isn’t as empty as it looks, though, and as he goes about his business a woman watches from the shadows. She’s an abused wife, still bruised and cowering from her husband’s latest tirade, and the two begin to bond in their shared silence. I’ll let you discover where it goes from there on your own, but Kim works visible magic with his two leads as they build trust and communicate without a single word exchanged between them. Their performances, Kim’s camera, and a gently beautiful score tell us all we need to know about the growing strength of their love. – Rob Hunter

  1. 3 Iron
  2. Hide and Seek
  3. The Housemaid
  4. Hwayi A Monster Boy
  5. Sex Is Zero

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News Writer/Columnist for Film School Rejects. It’s the Pictures Co-host. Bylines Playboy, ZAM, Paste Magazine and more.