A picture of actors Kim Go-eun and Jung Hae-in in the South Korean romance movie Tune in For Love

The Best Korean Movies on Netflix

The South Korean culture wave has become an indomitable force across all genres of entertainment. And while its most prominent ambassadors are definitely K-Pop and K-Dramas, the power of their movie industry is not to be underestimated.

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Korean cinema is finally getting the recognition it deserves, with Bong Joon-ho’s 2019 film Parasite winning four Academy awards and countless more accolades. If you’d like to explore the incredibly rich world of South Korean cinema on your next movie night, here’s a guide to the best titles currently streaming on Netflix. From light-hearted rom-coms to carefully constructed critiques of modern society and gut-wrenching crime dramas, we’ve got it all.

20th Century Girl (2022)

The cinematic debut of director and writer Bang Woo-ri, 20th Century Girl depicts the lives, loves and struggles of teenagers in South Korea in 1999. Na Bo-ra (Kim Yoo-jung) promises her best friend Yeon-du (Roh Yoon-seo) that she will find out everything she can about Yeon-du’s crush Baek Hyun-jin (Park Jung-woo) while Yeon-du is away in the United States for heart surgery. In a typical case of mistaken identities, Bo-ra ends up falling in love with that very same boy. This romantic drama will have you reaching for the tissues.

Okja (2017)

The second of Bong Joon-ho’s (Snowpiercer, Parasite) works to really break into the Western pop culture discourse, Okja revolves around the titular “super pig” and Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun), the girl who raised her. Once Okja is taken away from Mija’s farm to the United States, Mija does everything in her power to rescue her from the clutches of the meat industry. The film is both touching and brutal, and will stay on your mind long after the end credits roll.

Love and Leashes (2022)

Directed by Park Hyun-jin, Love and Leashes stars Seohyun, a member of the iconic K-Pop group Girls’ Generation, and Lee Jun-young as co-workers who end up exploring the world of BDSM together. The film is based on the webtoon Moral Sense by Gyeoul. Lighthearted in tone, this romantic comedy has garnered much positive attention and praise for how it depicts the BDSM community and subculture.

Space Sweepers (2021)

Considered the first South Korean sci-fi blockbuster, Space Sweepers is as space western as they come. The movie, directed by Jo Sung-hee, is set in a not-so-distant future where the Earth has become uninhabitable. The film follows a crew working on behalf of mega corporation UTS as they clean space of debris. When the crew discovers a child robot that could potentially be a weapon of mass destruction, they must navigate various parties trying to get their hands on it.

High Society (2018)

Directed by Byun Hyuk, High Society delves deep into the world of South Korea’s elite, just as the title suggests. The film follows the story of a married couple, college professor Jang Tae-joon and gallerist Oh Soo-yeon (played by Park Hae-il and Soo Ae, respectively) who would do anything to join the upper ranks of society. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before they discover how those upper ranks will use whomever they need, and then discard them without a second thought.

The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure (2022)

As the title suggests, The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure is a period adventure film following a crew of pirates doing what pirates do best: sailing the seas and searching for long-lost treasures. Set in Goryeo, it follows a man and a woman—the best swordsman in the kingdom and the captain of a fearsome pirate ship, respectively—as they discover that the royal family’s treasure has disappeared without a trace and set out to get their hands on it. Of course, one thing that’s certain about treasures is that there’s never only one crew looking for it, and so there will be battles on the horizon.

Sweet & Sour (2021)

Another romantic comedy, Sweet & Sour follows a couple as they drift apart. Jang-hyuk (Jang Ki-yong) and Da-eun (Chae Soo-bin) met when he was a patient in the hospital where Da-eun worked, and have been together ever since. But a new job leaves him with long commutes and less time for Da-eun, who grows more and more frustrated. Throw in a new coworker for Jang-hyuk, Bo-yeong (Krystal Jung), and you have the recipe for a crisis. Lee Gye-byeok’s film features a nice twist at the end that seals the whole story quite nicely.

JUNG_E (2023)

JUNG_E is set in a dystopian version of the 22nd century where humans are forced to live in space because the Earth is no longer habitable, and where these space shelters are actually engaged in a civil war. The story follows a mercenary captain who signs up for war to afford her young daughter’s medical care. After the mercenary ends up in a coma, an institute that specializes in AI convinces her family to clone her brain. The project is continued by that very same daughter, now a grown woman.

Time to Hunt (2020)

A dystopian thriller written and directed by Yoon Sung-hyun, Time to Hunt follows a group of friends as they plot a heist to escape their respective miserable situations, caused in part by a massive crash of the South Korean won. Of course, things don’t go as they planned. The movie premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2020, making it the first South Korean film to be screened in the Berlinale Special section.

Silenced (2011)

Based on real events that took place in the early 2000s, Silenced follows the story of art teacher Kang In-ho (Train to Busan‘s Gong Yoo), who takes up a new post in a school for deaf children. As he gains their trust, they reveal that they have been physically and sexually abused by other members of the school staff for years. In-ho fights to bring these injustices to light as he takes on corruption and cover-ups. The movie was a massive success in South Korea, sparking a national conversation that led to the case being reopened. A month after the film premiered, legislative reform was passed which abolished the statute of limitations for sex crimes against minors or people with disabilities.

Kill Boksoon (2023)

If you loved the balance of normal life with assassin work of Spy x Family or Mr. & Mrs. Smith, then you should definitely check out Kill Boksoon. The titular Bok-soon is one of the most skilled contract killers in the game and her services are extremely sought after. At the same time, she’s also the single mother of a teenage daughter who attends a prestigious private school and knows nothing of her mother’s profession. She’s also balancing a relationship with a colleague, another skilled killer who has however failed to make his career progress as much as Bok-soon’s. Things start to precipitate when she’s assigned a very sensitive job that she is not happy about carrying on.

Wish You: Your Melody From My Heart (2021)

A still somewhat rare thing for South Korea, Wish You is a queer romance between two young men trying to make it in the music industry. The film, directed by Seong Do-joon, centers on Kang In-soo (of boy band Myname), a street busker and aspiring singer; and Yoon Sang-yi (Sang Lee), a keyboardist who sees one of In-soo’s videos and recommends him to his label. The two end up working together and start developing feelings for one another.

Psychokinesis (2018)

The second feature film from Yeon Sang-ho, the director of the acclaimed Train to Busan, Psychokinesis is a superhero story that follows a bank security guard who drinks water from a mountain spring that was affected by a meteor and obviously, in perfect superhero fashion, gains telekinetic powers. He decides to use them for good and help his estranged daughter and her neighborhood fight off a merciless construction company that wants to raze the entire area.

Dream (2023)

Dream stars one of South Korea’s most beloved leading men, Park Seo-joon, as a football player who is put on disciplinary probation after an incident and ends up having to coach a special category team that has never handled a ball or been on a field before and who will have to complete in their own World Cup. And the star-studded cast doesn’t end at Park Seo-joon: the film also includes Lee Ji-eun, better known as IU, who stars as a young aspiring director who follows the team to make a documentary about them.

Tune in for Love (2019)

Directed by Jung Ji-woo, Tune in for Love stars Kim Go-eun and Jung Hae-in, of Guardian: The Lonely and Great God and Snowdrop fame respectively. The movie is set in the 1990s, as the financial crisis of 1997 sweeps through Eastern and Southeastern Asia. The two main characters—Kim’s Mi-soo and Jung’s Hyun-woo—cross paths time and time again as they fall in love, even though the timing never seems right.

(featured image: Netflix)


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Author
Benedetta Geddo
Benedetta (she/her) lives in Italy and has been writing about pop culture and entertainment since 2015. She has considered being in fandom a defining character trait since she was in middle school and wasn't old enough to read the fanfiction she was definitely reading and loves dragons, complex magic systems, unhinged female characters, tragic villains and good queer representation. You’ll find her covering everything genre fiction, especially if it’s fantasy-adjacent and even more especially if it’s about ASOIAF. In this Bangtan Sonyeondan sh*t for life.