5 Korean Thrillers That Outclassed Hollywood

To be honest, I myself am a Hollywood fan. By Hollywood fan, I meant that I’ve grown up watching the Home Alone series on every Christmas, Julia Robert on Valentine days and emptied buckets of popcorn over Nolan, Cameron and Spielberg movies. Yes, I’m that kinda Hollywood movie lover who can spend the entire day by playing five Hollywood flicks back to back and never leave the couch (except for…. Ahem! Ahem!).

But, after watching Korean movies (obviously South Korean), it can be said that Hollywood has a real rival. Their splendid cinematography, attention-gripping storytelling, noteworthy music sense, and the realistic role-playing even makes them superior to Hollywood cinema at certain points. And when it comes to the genre of thrillers, Korean movie simply tops the list.  If thriller means giving the viewers a perfect amalgamation of feelings like anticipation, excitement, sheer suspense and anxiety, then bingo, Korean movies are just the synonym.

So without further ado, here’s a list of top 5 Korean thrillers that outshone even Hollywood and are a must watch for every thriller lover.

  1. I Saw the Devil, 2010

My Rating: 9/10

Director: Kim Jee-woon

Considered to be one of the best performances of Choi Min-sik and one of the most talked about Korean thriller movies, I Saw the Devil is all about suspense, mystery, revenge, killing and extreme depiction of violence and even cannibalism.

The story revolves around a serial killer who not only murders women but also scatters their severed body parts around. When the killer ends up murdering the wife a well-trained secret service agent, the agent becomes obsessed with the murderer and eventually tracks the killer down. The storyline may seem same as other thriller movies, where the close one of a victim finally catches the killer and punishes him, but in this case, the story is much more than that.

The stark depiction, the gradually rising plot complication, and the intense narration make I saw the Devil a thriller masterpiece. The subtle portrayal of the sadistic murderer shocks the viewers at moments and even scares the hell out at times.

  1. Oldboy, 2003

My Rating: 8.5/10

Director: Park Chan-wook

Choi min-ski, one of the most critically acclaimed and talented actor in South Korea, is widely known for his role in Oldboy, the second installment of Park Chan-wook’s The Vengeance Trilogy. This neo-noir action-suspense mystery thriller is undoubtedly one of the best Korean thrillers and revenge stories.

The movie tells the story of a man who was kept imprisoned for 15 long years without any explanation and finally released one day. While he sets off to take revenge on his captor; he uncovers the atrocities he himself had committed in the past and the terrible consequences of them. This movie with its brilliant plot, most unexpected twists, engaging storyline, great screenplay and violent action scenes is certainly not for the faint-hearted.

  1. The Chaser, 2008

My Rating: 8.5/10

Director: Na Hong-jin

The Chaser is based on the real-life serial killer of Korea, Yoo Young-chul. Though it’s a directorial debut of Na Hong-jin, it has done true justice to the genre which it belongs to i.e. action thriller.

An ex-detective who works as a pimp presently, finds some of his girls missing. After realizing that all of his missing girls were contacted by the same customer before going missing, he sets out to track down the customer and also to find his girl who is supposed to be with the man that time. All hell breaks loose when he finally met with the customer and realizes something is really really wrong with him.  The immense struggle to catch the killer, the raw and powerful emotions with an unexpected twist, in the end, make The chaser a brilliant watch.

  1. Memories of Murder, 2003

My Rating: 8/10

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Those who think of this movie only as a crime drama, know that you think wrong. A crime thriller of the highest order, Memories of Murder is a fast pacing, intriguing suspense story that is full of jarring turmoils of emotions, intense screenplay and realistic crime depiction.

This darkly humorous and unpredictable thriller depicts the story of two small-town detectives who struggle to solve the murders of young women, all of whom had been murdered in a similar way. When an expert from the capital, Seoul, joins the detectives, another murder takes place, forcing all the investigating officers suspect a serial killer running loose.

With fantastic visuals and excellent plot execution, Memories of Murder is both terrifying and intensely attention gripping at the same time. Rest assured that you won’t regret watching this thriller.

  1. A Tale of Two Sisters, 2008

My Rating: 7.5/10

Director: Kim Jee-woon

When it comes to the thriller genre, director Kim Jee-woon definitely knows the drill as he has some of the best Korean thrillers to his credit, A Tale of Two Sisters being one of them. Having received both commercial and critical success, this movie is a brilliant example of the psychological thriller genre. Be it the heart-wrenching drama or the gripping tale of horror, A Tale of Two Sister beautifully orchestrates all the aspects of the thriller genre and overshadows many of the Hollywood psycho-thriller movies.

This divisive and harsh psychological thriller begins with two sisters attempt at coping with the household once they return from a mental institution. While their acclimatization becomes more and more difficult with the isolated house by the lake, they also start seeing the ghost of their late biological mother. Filled with a number of terror moments, the tout storyline deftly portrays the constant anguish and the growing tension between the characters. The apparitions of a long-hair figure even lend a classic horror element to this otherwise engaging tale of suspense, mystery, and thrill. As the plot proceeds, so does the disturbing events and the hauntings, giving a clue to a dark past of the family.

Thriller is a genre in movies that covers many subgenres such as crime thriller, mystery thriller, psychological thriller, action thriller etc. And Korean movies have undoubtedly excelled in almost all the subgenres of thriller movies and have given us some of the best experiences of watching thrillers.

However, it doesn’t stop here as Korean movies also offer some of the most memorable romantic films as well as horror flicks. To know more about them, stay tuned to my next blog post and don’t forget to share your favorite Korean thrillers in the comment below.

About The Author


Debaki Pramanick

Debaki Pramanick

Debaki is a freelance writer by choice, a movie buff by interest and an avid travel enthusiast by love. She likes to explore different mountain terrains and have a passion for hiking and trekking. Also a nature lover, she likes to document her trekking experiences with her photography works, bringing out the most alive, and fascinating stories from the mountains.

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