13 Best Movies In Korean On Kanopy

Staff & contributors

Find the best Korean-language movies to watch. These movies in Korean are: highly-rated by critics, highly-rated by viewers, and handpicked by our staff.

Poetry is a masterpiece from one of South Korea's most cherished movie directors, Lee Chang-dong. The simple story follows the everyday life of a grandmother, Mija, who works as a caretaker for a living. To fill her inner emptiness, she decides to join a poetry club with other grandmothers in her neighborhood. Meanwhile, as Mija deals with her own financial and health problems, she struggles to connect with her teenage grandson — only to find out that he is keeping a dark secret. If you are familiar with Lee Chang-dong works, then you know that the movie will tug at your heartstrings. But if you aren't, prepare to be moved.

This Park Chan-Wook classic is the third part of a trilogy of films around the theme of revenge, following Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy. While ultimately unique, Lady Vengeance is a thriller set in a prison, in the vein of films such as the Japanese action drama Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion. After being framed and wrongly convicted for murder, our protagonist seeks out the true perpetrator of the crime –– but more than anything else, she seeks vengeance. 

This film’s run time is 115 minutes and every second is essential. There is often gratuitous violence perpetrated by men against women in film, however Lady Vengeance takes back control and for that reason it remains one of my favorite revenge films.

What goes well with a love story? Creative architecture. Columbus the movie is such a great and genuine exploration of this idea, filmed in Columbus the city - a weird experimental hub for architecture that actually exists in real life! After his architect father goes into a coma, Jin (John Cho), a Korean-born man finds himself stuck in Columbus without a foreseeable end. In Korean tradition when a parent dies, the son should be in the same place physically otherwise they can't mourn. While waiting to see what will happen to his father he meets Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), an aspiring architect herself, who's also stuck in Columbus because of her mother. This is a beautiful movie with real-life issues and situations, to be especially appreciated by viewers who don't mind a slow narrative in exchange for a meticulously-crafted movie.

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.

It’s 1994, and Seoul is facing massive, rapid changes. The unrest is reflected by a lot of its residents, including Eun-hee, a disaffected teen with a less-than-stellar home and school life. She manages to get by with the help of friends and lovers, that is until they change too, and Eun-hee is forced to grapple with the volatility of it all. 

Sensitively told and genuinely captivating, House of Hummingbird is a stellar debut by writer-director Kim Bo-ra. Her command shines in how young actress Park Ji-hoo dynamically portrays Eun-hee, in how the story meanders but never loses footing, and in how each frame displays a quiet gorgeousness as the primary colors of her youth pop against the faded backdrop of urbanized Seoul. The delicate balance of all these elements is sure to evoke a sincere, profound feeling in every viewer. 

In the West, South Korean film is largely defined by the ingenious (oft violent) bombast of directors like Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) and Bong Joon-ho (Parasite), but there is a quieter tradition championed by director Hong Sang-soo that is just as imaginative and worthy of your time. This fascinating film serves as a perfect entry point to a director whose filmography is full of similar riches.

A film director arrives in town to deliver a lecture, and having some time to kill, ends up sharing a day with a stranger. This simple set-up recalling Before Sunrise leads down a charming and quietly romantic route that would be delightful on its own, but Right Now, Wrong Then is about much more than just a chance encounter. It’s a film more concerned with how little moments here and there can change everything, and how much our lives are governed as much by chance and timing as the choices we make.

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.
When Russian director Vitaly Mansky is commissioned by the North Korean government to make a documentary about an average Pyongyang child, he follows their every guideline. Except the end result, Under The Sun, is the complete opposite of what they had intended. For example starting every take earlier than they thought, he makes the documentary about the watchdogs around the child and other mechanisms of propaganda. He uses quiet storytelling to expose how brainwashing in a fascist regime takes place, and how the people caught in it function. May just be the smartest, most important film you can watch on North Korea.
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!

Romantically pairing up AI with humans is hardly new, and I'm Your Man is aware of that. Instead of spending way too much time explaining the advanced tech that makes the perfect mate possible, the movie zeroes in on its charismatic leads Tom the robot (Dan Stevens) and Alma the indifferent academic (Maren Eggert). Tom is the curious, humanoid automaton who is designed to worship Alma, and Alma is the disillusioned human who is conflicted with the authenticity of her growing feelings for Tom. I'm Your Man is smart and empathetic enough to stay afloat amidst its swirling genres and ethical dilemmas, but it is mostly the chemistry between Tom and Alma that anchors it to the love story that it actually is. 

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.

If you like movies without plot, you'll love Korean master Hong Sang-soo's work in Grass. Sang-soo likes to write the script for his characters and not the other way around: he hires actors, then writes a script that would fit them every morning of the shoot.

The result is a personal movie that feels improvised and experimental, despite being quite simple: it's about a small café and a woman who observes the interactions of the guests.

A cynical down-on-his-luck Seoul taxi driver is hired by a German journalist to go to another town called Gwangju. What seemed like an easy and overcompensated journey at first takes him into the heart of a city under siege by the military. This is in fact the student uprising that will be a very important event in South Korean history, known as 1980 Guangju Democratic Uprising. Both the journalist and the taxi driver confront life-threatening situations as they find themselves at the center of the movement. A true-story-based movie, it's a heartfelt and entertaining political drama about one of the bleakest chapters of modern Korean history. In 2018 it was the country's official submission to the Oscars.