The Hallyu Wave may have brought romantic and comedy Korean dramas to the spotlight, but there’s another type of motion picture that deserves just as much attention and love: Korean thriller movies.
It’s no secret to movie enthusiasts that Korean Cinema is renowned for producing high-quality action thrillers. If the Academy Award-winning movie Parasite (2019) is anything to go by, Korean Cinema has a gift for creating masterpieces that grip your heart through genius storytelling and filmic quality.
Given the sheer volume of heart-stopping thriller movies, it may be difficult for the uninitiated to find the right one that can introduce them to the beauty of Korean Cinema. If so, have a look at what are considered as some of the best Korean Cinema has to offer.
1. Oldboy (2003)
If you wish to dip your toes into Korean Cinema, there’s no other movie that sets the tone better than Oldboy. A true cult classic, Oldboy is a 2003 neo-noir action thriller film directed by cinematic genius, Park Chan Wook.
We follow the story of Oh Dae Su, a kidnapped man who was finally released after an imprisonment of 15 years. Despite the apparent freedom, he finds himself still trapped in a web of conspiracy and violence. To make sense of the years wasted, he embarks on a quest for vengeance, where he also falls in love with an attractive lady, Mi Do.
An elaborate yet seamless combination of humour, irony and grotesqueness, Oldboy is a cinematic masterpiece that has cinch its spot as one of the best films of the 21st century.
2. Memories of Murder (2003)
If Parasite (2019) was your first introduction to Bong Joon Ho, let us introduce you to his other masterpiece: Memories of Murder (2003). This crime drama film is loosely based on a true story that took place between 1986 and 1991, about Korea’s first serial murders.
Memories of Murder tells the harrowing story of detectives Park Doo Man and Seo Tae Yoon on their hunt for a sadistic serial rapist and murderer that has been terrorising Gyeonggi province.
On top of his brilliant storytelling, Bong’s desire fueled his dedication in identifying the mysterious murderer, infusing the film’s overall tone of desperation. In fact, the film has imprinted the Hwaseong serial murders into the public’s consciousness as a brutal case, one that has finally been solved only just recently.
3. I Saw the Devil (2010)
Hot on the heels of the aforementioned cult classics is another masterpiece, I Saw the Devil, directed by Kim Jee Woon and written by Park Hoon Jung.
This 2010 action thriller film follows Kim Soo Hyun, a NIS Agent, who embarks on a quest for revenge to avenge his fiancée, killed by a psychopathic killer, Jang Kyun Chul.
If the sight of blood and torture offends you, this movie may not be for you. Receiving a “Restricted” rating twice, this movie’s content is grisly enough to turn the general public away. Even then, due to Kim’s ability to capture it beautifully on film, the movie becomes so viscerally engaging that it’s almost impossible not to have your eyes glued on the screen.
4. The Handmaiden (2016)
Another Park Chan Wook’s masterwork, The Handmaiden is a 2016 South Korean erotic psychological thriller. This film is inspired by Sarah Water’s novel, Fingersmith; except instead of the Victorian era Britain, the setting has been changed to Korea under the Japanese colonial rule.
The film follows a young woman, Sook Hee, who is hired to serve as a handmaiden to Japanese Heiress Lady Hideko. She does all of this all whilst secretly scheming to trick her out of her fortune.
This film is voluptuously beautiful, occasionally perverse and horrifically violent. A marvellous work of art, The Handmaiden serves as Chan’s summation of his career to date.
These films are simply 4 thriller masterpieces that have made a name for themselves in Korean Cinema. If these cinema classics have managed to awaken the thriller film buff in you, rejoice, for there are so many, much more!
What Korean Cinema does so well (apart from the obvious storytelling and filming) is imbuing idiosyncratic cultural nuances into their films. Not only does this make it more engaging, but it’s also the underlying reason why English remakes can’t reach the same quality and success.
Truly immerse yourself in Korean Cinema by bypassing the cultural barrier! Enrol yourself in a Korean language course in Singapore and take a deeper dive into what makes Korean Cinema great.