Is there anything you’d rather be doing than sitting around doing nothing? It may be a good idea to start with Korean films. Action movies from South Korea are some of the best in the world, often topping out Hollywood’s offerings (which seems to be clogged with unoriginal sequels as of late).
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What do you want to know about these movies? Take a look at this list of the best Korean action movies. From gangsters using axes to spies shooting at one other to zombies, we’ve compiled an assortment of action films. The majority of the films on this list have been updated for 2020, but we also recommend a few movies from the early 2000s that you should still watch.
11. The Berlin File
I highly recommend The Berlin File to fans of action-packed spy thrillers like theJason Bourne series. As a North Korean spies in Berlin, Ha Jung-woo and Jun Ji-hyun (of My Sassy Girl fame) play Ha Jung-woo and Jun Ji-hyun, respectively.
To avoid being punished by the North Korean authorities, the pair goes rogue after an arms trade with Middle Eastern militants goes bad. After a period, both South and North Korean agents begin to pursue them, as well as other agencies such as the Mossad and the CIA. Everything you’d expect from a high-quality espionage film can be found in The Berlin File, from gunfights to rooftop chases to massive explosions.
10. The Chaser
The Chaser, a dark and bloody thriller, is packed with exciting action and interesting characters. A former police detective who became a pimp, Eom Jong-hoo (played by Kim Yoon-seok) is the film’s protagonist. A serial killer (Ha Jung-woo), who also appeared inThe Berlin File, kidnaps one of his daughters while he is searching for her. Eom has just a limited amount of time to bring down the serial killer.
The Chaser contains a fair amount of blood and gore, but it isn’t gratuitous or overbearing. With tremendous care, the film constantly keeps you on the edge of your seat; it develops, releases, and then creates tension with remarkable precision. He also has a terrific sense of dry humor, which functions as a release valve for tension and allows you to connect with his complicated personality.
9. A Hard Day
As you watch Korean films, you may notice that corrupt cops are a recurrent theme.
Ko Gun-su, a dishonest detective, is the protagonist of A Hard Day. After accidently killing a homeless guy, Ko tries to cover up the incident. He’s tasked to find him, but it turns out that the homeless man is a convicted murderer.
As Detective Ko finds himself in an increasingly precarious position, it dawns on him that he’s part of a far broader scheme. With drug deals, explosions, blackmail, and hidden money stashes, you’ll never get bored as a spectator.
Don’t be put off by the fact that it was released in 1999.
One of the best Korean action films ever made, Shirire was a watershed moment in Korean filmmaking. It’s a must if you want to get into Korean films.
Spies from the South Korean government are hunting a female North Korean assassin in the fictional city of Shiri. The South Koreans learn that North Korean operatives linked to the assassin have buried deadly bombs throughout Seoul. This complicates the investigation. South Korea’s capital is on edge as a nail-biting series of encounters between the spies takes place.
Shiri was South Korea’s first Hollywood-style action blockbuster. Western espionage movies (like the James Bond series) and Hong Kong action flicks are significantly influenced by this film, which is set in a familiar yet distinct Korean setting
Shiri demonstrated to the world that Korean films could be both critically acclaimed and popularly embraced. With today’s success in Korea’s film industry, it all started with the popularity ofShiri. In addition to Choi Min-sik, Song Kang-ho, and Hwang Jung-min, several of South Korea’s most famous performers and directors appeared in or received inspiration fromShiri, including Choi Min-sik, Song Kang-ho, and Hwang Jung-min (Ode to My Father).
7. Steel Rain
Another North Korean spy thriller is on the market. Eom Chul-woo (played by Jung Woo-sung) is a North Korean spy who ends up in South Korea when his country faces a coup d’etat inSteel Rain. For Eom and Kwak Chul-woo, a South Korean bureaucrat, a plot that threatens nuclear war on the Korean peninsula must be stopped.
Steel Rain was released at a perfect time in December 2017 when tensions between North Korea and the United States were at an all-time high. With people from the CIA and State Department as well as an abundance of American weapons, the film captures these conflicts very well. Though at its core, it’s a North-South story, it’s one of the most current and engaging depictions of the struggle.
It’s safe to say that Veterans, the highest-grossing Korean film of 2015, is a hit. Chaebol heir Jo Tae-oh (Hwang Jung-min) has a haughty demeanor, and Seo Do-cheol (Hwang Jung-min) is an unorthodox detective who begins investigating him (played by Yoo Ah-in).
Jo is a typical bad boy who is fuelled by his father’s wealth. In spite of Detective Seo’s best attempts, the fast-driving thief seems to get away with his crimes. I think he’s an embodiment of the elites that many South Koreans have grown to hate.
Witty banter and action-packed combat are only some of the elements of Veteran, which tells the tale of a common man taking on an upper-class villain. In comparison to many of the other films on this list, this one is a cheerful action-comedy. For those who prefer their conflicts to be lighthearted, Veterans is a good choice.
5. The Good, the Bad, the Weird
LikeWesterns? The Good, the Bad, and the Weird is a fantastic Western produced in Korea. The film’s title is based on Sergio Leone’s 1966 spaghetti western, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which was a huge success.
Manchuria, occupied by Japan at the beginning of World War II, is the setting of the film (Korea also under Japanese occupation then). It’s fascinating to see how Japanese imperialism mirrored many features of Western imperialism in this video, which is a must-see for historians of contemporary East Asia. As the Japanese Empire’s “Wild West,” Manchuria became a haven for outlaws and bloodshed as well as settlers.
As an analogy for those who aren’t historians, think of a movie like The Good, the Bad, and the Weird. For the main characters in this film, Jung woo-sung (a bounty hunter), Lee Byung-hun (a hitman), and Song Kang Ho (a robber) are South Korea’s most famous actors. On screen, they battle one other as well as Imperial Japanese soldiers to find a treasure map’s mysteries.
An understatement: The film features gunfights, train robberies and horse chases as well as a number of other action sequence. Stunts are spectacular, and the quirky personalities of the characters combine with a fun soundtrack to give for one of the most enjoyable moviegoing experiences you’ll ever have.
4. Train to Busan
There’s no better place to get your zombie on thanTrain to Busan. For the first time in South Korea’s history, a big-budget zombie film was released in 2016. One of Seok-promises woo’s to his daughter Su-an is that he will transport her from Seoul to Busan, where he works as a hedge fund manager. However, a zombie outbreak sweeps over South Korea as the train speeds toward Busan.
To save Su-an, Seok-woo will have to fight both zombies and other passengers’ darker inclinations (especially an asshole-ish corporate boss). Besides being a zombie movie, Train to Busani is also a narrative of father-daughter bonding, as well as a social reflection on callous elites and government inefficiency in Korea. This is a picture that has plenty of action, suspense, and heart.
3. The Man From Nowhere
Like Liam Neeson’s Taken, but better, The Man from Nowhere is a great thriller. Cha Tae-sik, an ex-special forces soldier, is played by Won Bin in the film. Pawn shop owner Cha has only one buddy, a girl named So-mi, who lives right next door to him. So-mi is abducted one day by a band of ruthless criminals after her heroin-dependent mother steals cocaine from them.
Cha is heartbroken by the loss of his sole companion, so he decides to rescue So-mi on his own. For this, he is forced to use all of his special forces training and experience in the dark underbelly of drug dealers. After all, he has the power to be really violent. When it comes to action flicks, there isn’t much room for depth or humanity. In spite of this, there are still many well-choreographed fight scenes in the film. It’s all worthwhile, however, when you have a character as complex and selfless as this one.
The Man from Nowhere can be streamed on Amazon.
This is a must-see for everyone who has not yet seen “Oldboy,” one of the best and most popular Korean films ever. Choi Min-performance sik’s in the film significantly established Park Chan-and wook’s Park’s careers in Korean cinema. In the wake of the film’s premiere, Quentin Tarantino praised it, and Hollywood remade it with Josh Brolin in 2013. (the original is still better).
When Oh Dae-su was imprisoned for 15 years in a hotel room, he had no clue as to why. During the opening sequence of Oldboy, Oh is released from prison and sets out to solve the secrets surrounding his confinement. As he investigates further, he uncovers an intricate web of intrigue involving dangerous gangsters and someone from his past.
This is great and excellent, given the amount of shadowboxing Oh did while incarcerated. If you’re not a fan of violence, Oldboy isn’t for you. There are some gruesome battle scenes, and there are also certain plot points that aren’t safe for the office. With its breathtaking cinematography, well-structured plot and engaging characters, Oldboy ranks alongside neo-noir classics like Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction (now you know why Tarantino liked it).
Even if you’ve already seen Oldboy, the “Vengeance Trilogy” continues with this film. Two additional films by Park Chan-wook touch on the same idea of revenge: Sympathy for Lady Vengeance and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. They may not be as well-known as Oldboy, but they’re still rather fantastic.
1. A Bittersweet Life
A Bittersweet Life, a Korean action film that will not only delight you, but also touch your soul, tops our list. Actor Lee Byung-hun made his fame as Kim Sun-woo, a mob enforcer played by Lee Byung-hun in this film. Kim is a quiet man who does everything his boss, Mr. Kang, asks of him. Mr. Kang, suspecting his mistress of infidelity, dispatches Kim to follow her about.
In the beginning, Kim tackles the task with an air of detachment, but gradually gets enthralled by the woman’s beauty and emotional complexity. Kim begins to reevaluate the meaning of his own life when he realizes how empty and lonely it is in comparison to hers.
A Bittersweet Life is a film that has a fist, a brain, and a heart in it. Cinematography and choreography are complemented by stunning set design in this film’s fight sequences. In this game, every shot is a painting, and every battle is a dance. A Bittersweet Life uses voiceovers to convey Kim Sun-artistically woo’s philosophical ideas when she would otherwise remain silent in the film. The film’s central question is how beauty and cruelty are related and how they can coexist together.
All in all, this is a film that will leave you thinking about the purpose of life after you’ve finished watching it. Every time you watch it again, you’ll find something new to learn from it.