As an avid movie watcher (read: my life revolves around watching movies), it pains me to see my when friends and family refuse to watch a film because it’s not in English.

By limiting yourself exclusively to English movies, you’re missing out on some amazing gems. If you’re worried about having to read captions and getting distracted from the movie because of it, well don’t. Trust me, captions will not impede your movie watching experience.

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Korean cinema is not an underground or indie scene anymore. It has transformed into a powerhouse over the last 2 decades. As K-pop’s popularity continues to grow, it’s only natural that Korean cinema will soon find a new audience too.

Through this post, not only you’ll find content that you had been longing for, you’ll get to act hip and snobby to your friends. It’s a win-win.

Before we venture into the marvelous world of Korean films, I want to get provide some context that will enhance your movie-watching experience. Korean cinema, not unlike their culture, has been shaped and influenced by different traditions and customs. Their rich history organically blends into the staple of Korean cinema: realism. The movies are true-to-life in every sense of the phrase.

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The scenes often provide a mixed bag of emotions. Tragic moments are sprinkled with flashes of absurdity. Some bits will make you laugh out loud and swiftly hit you with a sinking feeling. Their refreshing takes on classical themes will leave you wanting for more, and with merit. They are just that good.

Prepare yourself for you just might fall in love with Korean Cinema like I have.

Here’s my Beginner’s Guide to Korean Films.

1. Oldboy (2003)

Action –> Crime/Revenge

What It’s About: Oh Dae-Su is kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years without explanation. One day he is suddenly released and he seeks his captor and the reason behind his imprisonment. While seeking revenge, Dae-Su discloses deep secrets from his past. Via imjuststoned

Why Watch It: One of the greatest masterpieces of all time, Oldboy is not for everyone. All the more reason to watch it today. Oldboy showcases an astonishing fight scene, all filmed in one single take. If the horror-thriller combo is your thing, then check out this mindf*ck. You’ll be feeling a bunch of emotions at the end, waste-of-time will not be one of them. *Watching alone recommended. Definitely not a date-night movie, unless ya’ll into weird things.

2. The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008)

Action –> Comedy

What It’s About: A kimchi western (i.e., Korean spaghetti western) following the story of two outlaws and a bounty hunter in 1930s Manchuria and their rivalry to possess a treasure map while being pursued by the Japanese army and Chinese bandits. Via imjuststoned

Why Watch It: Over-the-top yet delightful story coming from the legendary Jee-woon Kim. The Good, The Bad, The Weird hits all those notes that I talked about. Adventurous, funny, quirky, heartfelt. It brings everything together. The breathtaking choreography mixed with a stellar cast (features Kang-ho Song from Memories of Murder fame, scroll below) is the recipe for success. It’s as outrageous as engaging. Straight-up fun.

3. My Sassy Girl (2001)

Romance –> Comedy

What It’s About: A young engineering college student (Tae-hyun Cha) becomes involved with an egoistic young girl (Ji-hyun Jun) though a chance encounter.  Based on a series of true stories posted by Ho-sik Kim on the Internet describing his relationship with his girlfriend, which were later transformed into a best-selling book and an eventual 2008 American remake of the same name.

Why Watch It: Very similar to the classic, Amelie, My Sassy Girl did it perfectly what Hollywood usually fails at. Cheesy? Yes. But in all the right places. Rom-coms might not be for my friend here, but they totally do the trick for me. Next weekend, pick up some Häagen-Dazs, get comfy, and embrace the 15-year-old white girl in you. You will not be disappointed.

4. Memories Of Murder (2003)

Drama –> Mystery

What It’s About: In 1986, Park (Song Kang-ho) and Cho (Kim Roi-ha) are two simple-minded detectives assigned to a double murder investigation in a South Korean province. But when the murderer strikes several more times with the same pattern, the detectives realize that they are chasing the country’s first documented serial killer. Relying on only their basic skills and tools, Park and Jo attempt to piece together the clues and solve the case in this thriller based on true events. Via uIowaFlimClub

Why Watch It: Bong Joon-Ho is the master of crafting dark and cynical moments. Memories of Murder is no exception. Often touted as the Korean Zodiac, Memories of Murder is much larger than that. Better direction, better script, more coherent, and yes, less jarring. Memories of Murder is a complete Crime and Mystery Drama. Everything about this film is phenomenal. The actors, the music, character arcs, on-screen chemistry, complexity of the plot. Flawless. I can’t sell it more than that. You owe it yourself to watch it.

5. Train to Busan

Horror –> Action/Drama

What It’s About: As a zombie outbreak sweeps the country, a dad and his daughter take a harrowing train journey in an attempt to reach the only City that’s still safe. Via Netflix

Why Watch It: Train to Busan showcases a unique, and realistic take on the boring Zombie apocalypse genre. The build-up and pacing is fantastic, the pay-off totally worth it. Besides the key horror elements, the action is great too. It’s gritty and digs itself out of the cliché zombie plot rather quickly. It doesn’t really re-invent the wheel but with a good script and a solid cast (shout-out to Su-an Kim), it doesn’t need to. The direction is airtight, nothing feels extra or out of place. Go in with zero expectations and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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Produced By: Rahul Dua

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