Over time, South Korea has presented cinephiles with masterful movie experiences. After the release of films like Parasite and The Handmaiden, in particular, Korean cinema has garnered a hefty group of thriller-genre lovers in the West. Of course, all-out horror films from the country are exceptional in their style, which, instead of solely relying on jump scares and grotesque creatures like other traditional horror cinemas, plays more with the human mind, leaving the audience with a sense of prolonged fear.
Films like The Host and The Call have been proclaimed globally by viewers, and the list below will include top-notch horror films produced in South Korea that you need to watch. While Halloween might be a few months away, summer scares are also incredibly popular. Here are some great Korean horror movies to expand viewing habits, showing how great horror films come from all over the globe.
9 The Call
Based on the 2011 British and Puerto Rican film The Caller, the 2020 South Korean horror film The Call will mess with your head only to blow your mind in the end. Directed by Lee Chung-hyun, the film revolves around Kim Seo-yeon (Park Shin-hye), who visits her mother in her worn-out childhood home. It’s here that she finds a cordless and receives a call from Oh Young-sook (Jeon Jong-seo), who lives in a different time. After connecting through the call, the lives of these two women change drastically. Meanwhile, the audience gets to experience time travel, thriller, and fantasy from the very beginning of the feature.
With a gripping storyline, the leading characters take viewers to the past and, more significantly, leave them hanging as the suspense builds till the very end. Besides the intriguing twists and turns, the performances by Park and Jeon are also top-notch, adding another reason why The Call is a must-watch. For her performance, Jeon also received the Best Actress – Film Award at the 57th Baeksang Art Awards.
Despite its fairytale-like title, Bong Man-dae’s Cinderella is not a happily-ever-after, with a prince charming coming to rescue the girl. Instead, this 2006 supernatural horror film is a thrilling take on South Korea’s unhealthy obsession with plastic surgery in order to fit beauty standards.
Cinderella follows Yoon-hee (Do Ji-won), a plastic surgeon doctor who lives a happy life with her well-behaved and obedient daughter, Hyun su (Shin Se-kyung). However, after Hyun-soo’s friends — also her mother’s patients — start to commit suicide, Hyun-soo begins to unravel horrors from the past that her mother kept hidden from her.
Park Chan-wook’s film Thirst is a thriller-horror that beautifully displays a fresh take on the vampire movie. Garnering positive reviews from critics and audiences, Thirst won the Jury Prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival and was also nominated for the Palme d’Or. Park Chan-wook was lauded by renowned film critic Roger Ebert. Thirst also become the ninth most successful film in South Korea in 2009.
The film follows Sang Hyun (Song Kang-ho), a warm-hearted priest who, as a result of a failed medical experiment, turns into a vampire. However, after his haunting transformation to a vampire, the film adapts a dark and gruesome take as well. Things change when Sang Hyun becomes a blood monster, and to quench his thirst, he starts volunteering at a hospital. There, he meets his childhood friend and his suffering wife, whom he later falls in love with.
6 Train to Busan
Zombie films experienced a renaissance thanks to The Walking Dead, and Korean studios took notice. Train to Busan is one of their most thrilling offerings. Written and directed by Yeon Sang-ho, the film follows a group of passengers trapped on a train during a sudden zombie outbreak. With no way to know what is happening, tensions rise, and alliances form as everyone looks out for their survival.
Gong Yoo plays the lead as the workaholic father trying to protect his daughter. The film also features Ma Dong-Seok and Jung Yu-mi as part of the core crew of survival, doing everything to keep the zombies on the train at bay. It’s an intense movie with plenty of emotional gravitas.
5 I Saw the Devil
Revenge stories rarely make a point of being over-indulgent, but that’s precisely what happens in this little masterpiece. Written by Park Hoon-Jung and directed by Kim Jee-Woon, I Saw the Devil is a dark and visceral movie following a law enforcement agent, played by Lee Byung-hun, as he seeks revenge on a sadistic serial killer who raped and killed his fiancé. It’s a game of cat and mouse with unique displays of graphic violence and psychological torture. This film is not for the faint of heart, as the story works as an unflinching exploration of vengeance, with a gritty atmosphere and a thought-provoking examination of revenge.
#Alive is a film released at the height of the pandemic, so it was a relatable story for many people worldwide. This contemporary tale was written by Matt Naylor and directed by Cho Il-hyung. The story tapped into multiple tropes of the digital age. The story is centered around a young man, played by Yoo Ah-in, who finds himself trapped in his apartment during a mysterious outbreak that turns people into violent zombies.
With limited resources and communication, he’s forced to face the challenge of surviving isolated until a neighbor notices him across the street, and they begin to plot their survival. It’s a great story showcasing the usefulness of technology and social media as a force for good.
3 A Tale of Two Sisters
Helmed by Kim Jee-woon, A Tale of Two Sisters is inspired by a folklore originating from the Joseon Dynasty. The psychological horror-thriller masterfully captures the bittersweet tale of two sisters, Bae Su-mi (Im Soo-jung) and Bae Su-yeon (Moon Geun-young), who, after returning home from a mental institution, start to face disturbing events caused by their stepmother and the ghosts haunting their house. The sisters must go through a gripping and scary path to find out the troubled history of their family, as well as the reason behind their sufferings.
The twists and turns and the performances delivered by the entire cast are truly remarkable, and the ending might leave viewers impressed and shocked at the same time. A Tale of Two Sisters is the highest-grossing Korean horror film, and also the first-ever in the genre to be screened in American theaters.
2 The Wailing
Coming from proclaimed director Na Hong-Jin, The Wailing not only incorporates horror, but also zombies, thriller, dark magic, and mystery. The unbeatable plot line follows Jong-goo (Kwan Do-won), who starts to investigate a series of mysterious murders in a remote Korean village to save her daughter. The film brilliantly carries the suspense and horror until the very end, without any jump scares and devils, making it different from the stereotypical horror cinema. As stated by Vox, The Waling is the most unsettling Korean horror film in years.
1 The Host
Bong Joon-ho of 2019’s superhit film Parasite helmed The Host, for which he got the inspiration from a local news article about an S-shaped fish found in the Han River. The film showcases the events after dumping chemical substances in the Han River causes the birth of an amphibious monster who, years after being conceived, displays himself to the locals and causes a bloodbath.
In between the horror, Park Gang-du (Song Kang-ho) loses his daughter to the monster. Later, along with his family, he battles the monster to save his daughter despite the borders getting shut down by the government. In addition to strong-willed characters, The Host presents strong visual effects, effective direction, and a plot for everyone to become engrossed in. The film can be enjoyed by people of all ages, including kids who love to watch action as well as horror. Owing to its many amazing factors, The Host successfully made it to Empire’s The 100 Best Films of World Cinema list.