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10 Best Movies to Watch From Korea

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From Park Chan-wook (maker of Oldboy) comes The Handmaiden, a great movie in line with his now mastered style of portraying the beautifully weird. A rich Japanese lady isolated from the world accepts a new handmaiden, a shrewd young Korean girl with hidden motives. The men around them, full of greed and lust, complete the grand Victorian tale of deception, romance or lack thereof, and dark humor. You will find yourself at times screaming "what?", and at times bewildered by the general aesthetic of the film including clothes, traditions, and the stunning nature of both Korea and Japan. If you love cinema, you can't miss this movie. It's just too big of an achievement.

9.2

Director Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer) does something quite amazing with the $50 million budget Netflix gave him: he makes a simplistic movie. But man, is it good. Okja tells the story of a “super pig” experiment that sends genetically modified pigs to top farmers around the world. In Korea, a farmer’s granddaughter forms a special relationship with one of these super pigs (Okja). When the company who originally ran the experiment want their pig back (performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton) – the two find an ally in an animal advocacy group led by Jay (Paul Dano). This is a straightforward movie, but nevertheless it is entertaining and full of thought-provoking themes and performances from an excellent cast.

8.0

A zombie virus breaks out and catches up with a father as he is taking his daughter from Seoul to Busan, South Korea’s second-largest city. Watch them trying to survive to reach their destination, a purported safe zone.The acting is spot-on; the set pieces are particularly well choreographed. You’ll care about the characters. You’ll feel for the father as he struggles to keep his humanity in the bleakest of scenarios.It’s a refreshingly thrilling disaster movie, a perfect specimen of the genre.

8.0

Snowpiercer is an under-the-rader post-apocalyptic thriller that offers the grittiness that many times only Asian cinema may achieve. South Korean director Joon-ho Bong forces audiences to forget that Chris Evans was ever a Marvel superhero, as he leads a revolt of his fellow “low-class” citizens against the self-appointed gentry in a train that contains all remaining members of the planet. With immersive environments and a layered script, this film melds together social commentary and moral discourse in a visually arresting and vastly entertaining package.

7.9

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Vague statement alert: Burning is not a movie that you “get”; it’s a movie you experience. Based on a short story by Murakami, it’s dark and bleak in a way that comes out more in the atmosphere of the movie rather than what happens in the story. Working in the capital Seoul, a young guy from a poor town near the North Korean border runs into a girl from his village. As he starts falling for her, she makes an unlikely acquaintance with one of Seoul’s wealthy youth (played by Korean-American actor Steven Yeun, pictured above.) This new character is mysterious in a way that’s all-too-common in South Korea: young people who have access to money no one knows where it came from, and who are difficult to predict or go against. Two worlds clash, poor and rich, in a movie that’s really three movies combined into one - a character-study, a romance, and a revenge thriller.

7.7

Twinsters is a documentary about a young Asian American actress, Samantha Futerman (also co-director), who is contacted over the internet by a young French-Asian woman, Anaïs Bordier, who has been shown a video of Samantha on the internet — and cannot believe their remarkably similar physical appearance. After initial perplexity and uncertainty, Samantha and Anaïs are soon embroiled in excited correspondence and travel to meet one another in their respective countries — eventually confirming via DNA testing that they are in fact long-lost twin sisters given up for adoption 25 years earlier in South Korea. A remarkable true story with a wonderfully beating heart, Twinsters does a lovely job of not just spelling out the amazing story of the sisters’ unlikely connection, but also finding and exploring the growing love and affection between both the two girls, as well as their extended families and groups of friends. A truly touching and humanistic film-viewing experience.

7.5

In rural Korea a policeman starts to investigate peculiar and violent events that most of the people in his village attribute to the arrival of a new Japanese resident. As the occurrences keep multiplying, and different perspectives in the film are shown, you start to lose touch with reality in the face of what can only be described as genius film-making. As critic Jada Yuan puts it, the film operates on a level “that makes most American cinema seem clunky and unimaginative”. For this reason, and while The Wailing is a true horror flick with a great premise, it’s also more than just that: it boosts a mind-boggling, interesting plot that will have you thinking about it long after the credits roll. Protip: grab the person next to you and make them watch this movie with you so you can have someone to discuss it with after!

7.5

I Saw the Devil is a South Korean psychological thriller/horror film. IT IS NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART!!! It has a lot of blood and gore that could make even the strongest stomachs turn. A young woman is kidnapped from her car while waiting for a tow truck and the kidnapper murders her far from her car and scatters her body parts around. Her fiancé, a secret service agent of the National Intelligence Service, sets out to track down her murders and extract his revenge. If you're looking for a thrill ride, look no further- but don't say we didn't warn you.

7.2

I didn't know anything about the movie before watching it (this was my husband's pick for 'one of us picks something that the other knows nothing about' night). It is Korean, sweet, funny, touching, unique, odd, poignant. I think the fact I knew nothing about the movie when I watched made it even more enjoyable so I hesitate to write more details in this review! Since watching it I have read that an American remake may be in the works, so I would recommend watching it before there is too much info out there about what is destined to be a less charming and successful version

7.0
Also see: The Very Best
The Very Best are our staff picks, they're all rated 8.0 and above. Here, we selected a few for you.

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Understated in budget and purpose but huge in its impact: Short Term 12 is passionate and immaculate film work. Lakeith Stanfield and Rami Malek had their start here, but it is Brie Larson who truly shines. She plays a social worker at an at-risk youth center, one which exists in real life and has the same name: Short Term 12. This is one of the best and most pivotal movies of the past 20 years, perfectly portraying the ups and downs of life, going from uplifting to depressing and back as well as everything in-between - like life itself.

10

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You will not come out of this movie the same person you were going into it. Get ready to cry your eyes out, scream in anger, and rejoice that such a powerful love can exist in our world. DO NOT READ ANY SPOILERS OR SUMMARIES BEFORE VIEWING! This loving documentary about the father of a young boy is one of the best movies of this decade.

9.9

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A movie which will catch you from the first second, with one of the best movie beginnings of all time, up until its outstanding end. It is a slow-burning and calm film with nonetheless a very powerful impact. Incendies is guaranteed to be one of those movies you will never forget. The story is about Jeanne and Simon who, to fulfill their mother's last wishes, must journey to her birthplace in an unnamed Middle-Eastern country. There they discover her tragic and sad past life, and unveil a deeply disturbing secret which will change their lives forever. The movie contains a series of flashbacks telling the story of the mother, Nawal Marwan, while the rest is from the viewpoint of her children.

9.9

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Six vignettes that test the limits of psychotic human extremes are masterfully woven with layers of irony and satire. Each story begins in a relatable situation, but the characters propel themselves into an incomprehensible circumstance. Lovers of dark comedy will be delighted, shocked, and awed by this emotional thrill ride all while laughing their asses off. Truly, nothing more needs to be said about this film, so sit back and let the insanity ensue.

9.9

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In the mood for an impeccably crafted real-life thriller? This movie is for you. On the way out of a nightclub, Victoria runs into four raucous German men who convince her to hang out with them. She is from Spain and has been temporarily living in Berlin. Her German isn’t great, but her English is passable. She shares some drinks with her new friends and strikes up a flirtation with one of them. But what starts out as light-hearted hijinks at 4:30 am eventually swerves into darker and more dangerous territory, as Victoria is coerced into participating in her German companions’ dangerous plans. While the plot may sound like your standard-issue crime drama, Victoria turns out to be something a little different, due to the thrilling and unusual way it was filmed – in a single shot. The “one take” filming process could be viewed as a stunt, but in this case, it works wonders to serve the story. The tension built from the tightrope walk of the actors and filming crew adds to the ratcheting tension of the storyline. Laia Costa gives an astounding lead performance. There is not a single scene in Victoria where she is not present, and the movie would simply not work without her. A crazy, awesome movie.

9.8

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Once again, Mads Mikkelsen gives us an unforgettable performance in this Danish thriller. Lucas is a new teacher in a small town. He is just starting a new life after a divorce and the loss of his last job. One day, a child from the class he is teaching accuses him of an unforgivable act. The lie will spread throughout the small community and will tear Lucas' life apart. The Hunt, or "Jagten" in its original version, is one of those rare thrillers that will haunt you for days, and make you question everything in its aftermath. Extraordinary!

9.8

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Winner of an Oscar and a Golden Globe among endless accolades, A Separation is a movie about an Iranian couple faced with the decision of leaving the country for better opportunities or staying to take care of a sick parent. If you’ve ever been curious about the humans of Iran beyond the politics, and by cultural extension, humans of Middle-Eastern countries, watch A Separation. But hold it, “An interesting foreign movie” is not how A Separation should be viewed (it’s not Slumdog Millionaire). A Separation is delicate, complex, and no one is truly a bad guy: it perfectly depicts the delicate interaction between high moral standards and the realities of underdevelopment in the Muslim world: how many bad people are only good people running out of options.

9.7

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The true story of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old black man on the last day of 2008, where his will to change is challenged by his past and the police. You’ve probably read and heard a lot about young black men's’ encounters with the police, and for this reason, you might feel like skipping this film. Don’t. Produced by Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker, it is compassionate and powerfully told, that it surpasses the sadness of its subject matter to be a celebration of life. It is an extraordinary film and important watch.

9.7

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Mommy is a movie that aims straight for the heart and doesn't miss. It's about a mom who tries to take care of an unpredictable teenager. The story is often joyous and funny but its true brilliance is reached while you are being punched in the guts. This is the more impacting with perfect the performances from the cast, the elaborate soundtrack and Canadian director Xavier Dolan's impeccable staging. Think of Mommy as the most beautiful heartbreaking movie you will ever watch, it will hurt, but it's almost impossible to regret watching it.

9.7

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A wealthy paraplegic needs a new caretaker. His choice is surprising -- an ex-con down on his luck. Both of their lives are changed forever. Based on a true story, it is funny, touching, and very surprising.  It will have you rolling on the floor laughing one minute and reaching for your hankie the next. Intouchables is one of those perfect movies, that will easily and instantly make anyone's all-time top 10 list.

9.6
That's all for the 10 Best Movies to Watch From Korea.
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