best korean movies, films, k-movies, you ah-in
A scene from Park Chan-wook movie The Handmaiden. Photo: Courtesy of Yongfilm

10 Best Korean Films of All Time According to Critics

And no, ‘Parasite’ isn’t number one.

This article originally appeared on i-D.

Korean culture—known as Hallyu—has dominated popular culture for the past half-decade, but the best Korean movies have been a core part of the global arthouse cinema circle for far longer than that. That being said, even some of the most lauded, arguably historical Korean movies have only made their mark recently in the West. In the early 2000s, around the same time Oldboy cracked the global box office, critics looked back through the years of Korean cinema they had missed, discovering directors like Kim Ki-young and Yu Hyun-mok. Now, the heavyweights are instantly recognizable: Bong Joon-ho of Parasite fame, of course; Park Chan-wook, the character behind Oldboy and other lethal, romantic classics. 


The Korean movie website Korean Screen surveyed 158 critics from 28 countries, asking them which movies from Korea they considered to be the best of all time. You can check out the full list of 100 here, and see what they opted for as the top 10 below. 

best korean movies, films, k-movies

10. Aimless Bullet (1961)

In a portrayal of post-war Korea, two hapless brothers—trying their best to support their ill mother and sister, the latter forced to turn to sex work—confront a society stacked against them with devastating consequences. 

9. Peppermint Candy (1999)

A tale told in reverse, this Lee Chang-dong-directed film plots the path taken by a suicidal man up to the fateful moment when he prepares to take his own life, showing us the dark events that led him there.

8. Poetry (2010)

Also directed by Lee Chang-dong, this labyrinthine story is about a woman developing early on-set Alzheimers and joining a poetry reading class to maintain her brain power. All the while, a violent family drama involving her grandson slips into her life. The combination of her disease and this disaster cause chaos.

7. The Housemaid (1960)

Another 60s classic, Korean Screen says this film “changed a nation’s cinema forever.” This story, about a composer who hires a housemaid to help him care for his pregnant wife, is shaped by its Hitchcockian tinges.

6. Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring (2003) 

Following an apprentice Buddhist and his sage master, this film about the universal experience of the human condition breaks itself down into stages, traversing us, the viewer, through the seasons of life. 


5. The Handmaiden (2016)

A modern classic from Park Chan-wook, this 1930s-set film follows the complex relationship between a handmaiden and a Japanese heiress living in occupied Korea. A brazen and decadent queer masterpiece.

4. Oldboy (2003)

Another Park Chan-wook hit, his international breakout Oldboy is a smart and violent revenge tale, about a man who—when he is finally freed from 15 years of confinement—sets out to inflict his wrath on those who wronged him.

3. Memories of Murder (2003)

Based on the Hwaseong serial murders in the 80s and 90s, this movie—Bong Joon-ho’s sophomore film—sees three detectives gather together to solve the case of a serial killer sweeping South Korea. 

2. Parasite (2019)

The famed Oscar-winner responsible for reigniting an interest in Korean culture in the West, Bong Joon-ho’s film about a breadline family quietly infiltrating a wealthy family’s home remains one of the most lauded in movie history—period. 

1. Burning (2018)

Lee Chang-dong adapted this Haruki Murakami short story for the screen, turning it into a two-and-a-half-hour sprawling epic. This film starts simply: a man runs into a woman who once lived in his neighborhood. She’s leaving town for a while and asks him to care for her cat. But when she returns, she comes with an enigmatic new love interest, whose hobby changes the shared trajectory of their lives forever.

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