Rating The 10 Most Popular Korean Movies

Fan of Train to Busan or The Man From Nowhere? Check Out These Other Korean Fan-Favorites
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Korean cinema has been talked about within its own communities and film-lovers alike but it really became global in 2019 when Parasite won the Best Picture at the Oscars in February 2020. It became the first non-English film to win the award. Household names such as Bong Joon-Ho, Park Chan-Wook, and Lee Chang-Dong are major directors in the Korean film world. They have created some of the best well-known movies such as Old Boy and The Handmaiden. That is the beauty of Korean filmography, there are movie genres for everyone but when they go dark, they go dark.

Fans and critics alike compose the best-of list that has a wide variety of Korean films to recommend. What this list will do is take any films that overlapped and rate them myself. In all transparency, two of the films on this list I've watched years ago but could not leave them out and decided to re-watch them. Maybe the re-watch will give me a different perspective than the one I had before. 

Sites such as High on Films, Cinemablend, Rotten Tomatoes, and Collider were used to examine how popular the movies on the list were and whether they were on multiple lists from each site. 

Let's forge ahead with this review. I did my best to make sure these reviews are spoiler-free.

Here are the ratings of the 10 most popular Korean movies:

1. A Bittersweet Life

A Bittersweet Life
Image Source: Instagram

Rated 100% with 90% audience score and came out #22 out of 30 lists on High on Films.

Things go wrong for a high-ranking mobster when he doesn't proceed by his boss's orders (IMDB).

A Bittersweet Life was a great watch. Actor Lee Byung Hun does vengeance roles well as you will see with I Saw The Devil. While the film was good and definitely entertaining to watch, I feel his other films were much better. However, I rated it pretty high because his acting was phenomenal. The range of emotions from being scared to betrayed was executed well. Plus it didn't have one of the typical cliche endings I expected.

Final Ratings: 8/10

2. I Saw The Devil

I Saw The Devil
Image Source: Instagram

Rated 81% with 87% audience score, came out #19 out of 30 lists on High on Films. #4 Cinemablend.

A secret agent exacts revenge on a serial killer through a series of captures and releases (IMDB).

Revenge at its finest. I Saw The Devil was highly satisfying to watch. Probably one of the best Korean revenge-based films. The acting was superb and watching to see how the good guys would get the villain was the best part. Beware it can be pretty graphic with all the blood and gore. So be prepared for that.

Final Ratings: 9/10

3. Oldboy

Oldboy
Image Source: Instagram

Rated 82% with a 94% audience score, came out #23 out of 30 lists on Rotten Tomatoes.

After being kidnapped and imprisoned for fifteen years, Oh Dae-Su is released, only to find that he must find his captor in five days (IMDB).

Oldboy is not for the faint at heart. Gritty, gory, and at times downright revolting, it was an experience to watch. There is a major plot twist in that movie that you will DEFINITELY not see coming. It will make you question why you will continue to watch the film because you have to see it to the end.

Final Ratings: 8/10

4. Mother

Mother movie
Image Source: Instagram

Rated 96% with 88% audience score, came out #11 out of 30 lists on High on Films.

A mother desperately searches for the killer who framed her son for a girl's horrific murder (IMDB).

Mother has been on my watch list for years. Huge fan of Actor Won Bin from The Man From Nowhere fame - the first Korean film I've ever seen. Let me just say, my initial assumptions about who the killer was, was not correct. This movie takes you for a thrilling ride, making you question everyone who even pops up in a scene. It also makes you ask yourself "What would I have done in this situation"? It was riveting and I couldn't look away from the screen. A definite must-watch!

Final Ratings: 8.5/10

5. The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden movie
Image Source: Instagram

Rated 95% with 91% audience score, came out #8 out of 30 lists on Rotten Tomatoes, #9 on High on Films & #5 on Cinemablend.

A woman is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress, but secretly she is involved in a plot to defraud her (IMDB).

As a fan of dark themes and subject matters in Korean cinema, I wasn't too surprised when the film explored the more sensual side of human relationships. It was how it was filmed that made it less erotic and more sensual, beautiful even at times.

The storyline had so many twists and turns that you aren't expecting. It was refreshing to watch these twists come to life as in most films you can see it coming from a mile away. Director Park Chan Wook is an exceptional filmmaker. The way he captures certain scenes with the actors looking as if they're looking at the camera, where you can feel their emotions through the scene. It was beautiful and made the movie that much better. I can see why this is a fan favorite in Korea. It is a more mature film, and most likely won't be for everyone, but it is definitely worth the watch. 

Final Ratings: 8/10

6. Parasite

Parasite
Image Source: Instagram

Rated 98% with a 90% audience score, came out #3 out of 30 lists on Rotten Tomatoes, #1 on Cinemablend.

Greed and class discrimination threatens the newly formed symbiotic relationship between the wealthy Park family and the destitute Kim clan (IMDB).

The movie deals with classism and social hierarchy. How an entire country can forget about those living in the poor, under-developed slums while the middle and rich class live in a society with lesser worries.  

Now, the best way to enjoy this film is to cluelessly get into it, its charm is to watch it progress and unfold in many satisfying, unexpected ways.

One of the quotes from the many reviews I read after watching the film. Parasite is a film best watched going in blind as you get more enjoyment from not knowing anything. It's a dark comedy in its purest form but also intertwines mystery, suspense, and horror all wrapped in this feature.

Final Ratings: 9/10

7. The Wailing

The Wailing
Image Source: Instagram

Rated 99% with an 82% audience score, came out #4 out of 30 lists on Rotten Tomatoes, #9 on Cinemablend & #4 on High on Films.

Soon after a stranger arrives in a little village, a mysterious sickness starts spreading. A policeman, drawn into the incident, is forced to solve the mystery in order to save his daughter (IMDB).

As someone who doesn't usually watch horror/thrillers like this, The Wailing was actually pretty sad. More so a thriller than a horror film. The ending did give me a lot more questions since I wasn't sure which theory was right, but once I read up about it, it all came together. If you like horror/thrillers where nothing is what it seems, you have to pay attention to the littlest details, and you like slightly ambiguous endings, The Wailing is definitely for you.

Final Ratings: 8/10

8. Poetry

Poetry
Image Source: Instagram

Rated 100% with 86% audience score, came out #1 out of 30 lists on Rotten Tomatoes, #10 on Cinemablend & #1 on High on Films.

A sixty-something woman, faced with the discovery of a heinous family crime and in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, finds strength and purpose when she enrolls in a poetry class (IMDB).

Poetry was a simple story and one that was much needed after watching so many intense and emotionally wrought films. Poetry is quiet, so quiet at times you want to scream for more dialogue but alas, it wouldn't be the film it was. Many times throughout watching this film, I couldn't understand the actions of the main lead. It took me until finishing the movie and reflecting on everything, that I realized it was another "What would you have done" scenario. It also helps to know and understand Korean culture, because you will expect things to be done according to Western standards, and that will never happen.

Final Ratings: 7.5/10

9. Burning

movie Burning
Image Source: Instagram

Rated 95% with an 80% audience score, came out #7 out of 30 lists on Rotten Tomatoes, #8 on High on Films & #8 on Cinemablend.

Jong-Su bumps into a girl who used to live in the same neighborhood, who asks him to look after her cat while she's on a trip to Africa. When back, she introduces Ben, a mysterious guy she met there, who confesses his secret hobby (IMDB).

In Burning there are two different scenarios for what happens at the end of the movie. One more obvious scenario than the other but both are equally important. The movie is exactly what its title tells you, it's a slow-burning-character-based film. If you prefer movies revolving around a plotline and are fast-paced, I wouldn't recommend this movie. If you like films with lots of symbolism and emphasis on conversations, then Burning would be to your liking.

Final Ratings: 7/10

10. The Housemaid (1960s ver) 

The Housemaid (1960s ver) 
Image Source: Instagram

Rated 100% with 77% audience score

A man's affair with his family's housemaid leads to dark consequences (IMDB).

Wow. The original version of The Housemaid was very interesting, to say the least. Going into the movie, I didn't know anything about the plot except that it involved a housemaid disrupting the lives of a family through the husband. And that makes the movie more enjoyable to watch not knowing the whole story. I'm glad I watched the original first so I'll know what to expect with the 2010 version.

Final Ratings: 7.5/10

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The Housemaid 2010

The Housemaid 2010
Image Source: Instagram

Rated 69% with 54% audience score, came out #30 out of 30 lists on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Housemaid (2010) almost feels like a completely different film in regards to the original. The story progress is extremely slow and nothing really happens until 40-50 minutes into the movie. Somehow, the director felt it was a good idea to have all the buildup resolve in the last 20 minutes of the film. In short, don't waste your time watching this film, especially if you're a fan of the original.

Final Ratings: 5/10


Wrap Up

I wanted to give more attention to Korean cinema for those who have never dabbled in that side of entertainment. There are plenty more brilliant films by Korean directors that weren't showcased on this list, but I hope this was enough to get more people to watch Korean films.

Fan of literary fiction novels, green tea, roller skating, and watching dog videos.

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