Korean movies to watch after you've seen 'Parasite'

A guide to the world of Korean cinema for newcomers

Remember when “Parasite” shocked the world and won the Oscar for Best Picture? I do. Those were some good times. For the average moviegoer, the film could have been their introduction to Korean cinema. The movie was so well-made that you might be thinking, "it could only go downhill from there." 

While “Parasite” may be a once-in-a-lifetime film, I’m here to tell you that there are a plethora of Korean films that are as good, if not better. Here are my picks of movies for you to dip your toes into the world of Korean cinema. Don’t worry — I’ve included choices from different genres, and there’s something in here for everybody. 

Pick a movie, eat a peach and enjoy.

Action:

The Man from Nowhere

Mix the plot from Liam Neeson’s “Taken” with the action from the “John Wick” series and you have “The Man From Nowhere.” The plot follows a reclusive pawn shop owner who goes on a rescue mission to save his young next-door neighbor, who has been kidnapped. This may sound like your stereotypical action film plot, and it honestly is. However, the strength of this film comes from the characters and the emotional attachment audience members have to them throughout the film. 


Oldboy

You’ve probably at least heard of this one, and no, it’s not the terrible movie that Spike Lee directed back in 2013. This is the original, and it should’ve stayed that way. “Oldboy” follows a man who tries to track down the people responsible for his 15-year imprisonment. This film has two figures that are synonymous with excellence in Korean film — director Park Chan-wook and actor Choi Min-sik. “Oldboy” contains layers and twists at every turn with an ending that’ll have you thinking about it months after seeing it. 

Drama

Secret Sunshine

Lee Chang-dong is a modern master. “Secret Sunshine” follows a mother who experiences a tragedy after her family moves back to her hometown. If I were to describe this movie in one word, it would be subtle, but in that subtlety is so many nuances and layers that sometimes you forget that you’re watching a movie. “Secret Sunshine” is a remarkable portrayal of grief and moving on after a tragedy.


Memories of Murder

Fans of “Parasite" will recognize director Bong Joon Ho's name in the credits of this film. "Memories of Murder" is the movie that skyrocketed him to cinematic fame. Released in 2003, “Memories of Murder” is based on the true story of a series of murders that took place in South Korea in the mid 1980s. It's interesting to view this movie after watching “Parasite" — audiences can see early glimpses of his aesthetic that he has since maintained throughout his career, including the shift in tones, commentary on social class and expertly choreographed cinematography. 

Romance

My Sassy Girl

This romantic comedy takes the idea of the “dream girl” and flips it on its head, but still maintains that classic "boy meets girl" feeling. I love everything about this movie, from the hilarious hijinks that ensue to the memorable characters you meet throughout. This movie is a heartwarming adventure romance that deserves to be up there in the pantheon of romantic comedies. 

The Handmaiden

It’s hard to categorize the romantic thriller from Park Chan-wook because there’s just so much going on in it. Like “Parasite,” I feel that it is best to go into this one knowing as little about it as possible, but I would describe this as stimulating and thought-provoking. This movie is firing on all cylinders in all aspects — cinematography, score, acting and more. “The Handmaiden” is a dark, twisted romance from a director that is unquestionably at the top of his game.


Horror

Thirst

“Thirst” presents a modern reinterpretation of the classic vampire. In the movie, a priest undergoes a new medical procedure to potentially cure a disease, but he soon develops a taste for blood instead. Intense, emotional, and deeply, viscerally disturbing, “Thirst” hit me like a wave and left me gasping for air. 


Train to Busan

While “Thirst” changed up the conventions of a vampire movie, “Train to Busan” fully embraces the tropes of zombie movies and cranks them up to 100. The biggest strength of this movie is its simplicity; it’s basically “Snakes on a Plane,” but with zombies. However, in that simplicity, director Yeon Sang-ho is able to deliver a fun, action-packed adrenaline rush that is a must-watch for horror and zombie fans. 


Comedy

Castaway on the Moon

After attempt to drown himself in a river, a man decides to live his life as a hermit on a small island he washes ashore on. This is a movie that will probably hit you hard in your feelings all over the emotional spectrum, but ultimately it is a sweet, uplifting story of a man and woman who try to find where they belong in this vast world.


Extreme Job

A squad of detectives go undercover at a chicken restaurant to investigate a criminal organization, but when their chicken recipe becomes popular, their investigation becomes hilariously complicated. If you want a movie that lets you turn your brain off and enjoy, then this is the one for you. “Extreme Job” is filled with clever one-liners and fun fight choreography that’ll have you smiling throughout its duration.

These are just a few to get you started, but if you want more I'd suggest going through each director's filmography. If you're hesitant, please remember the wise words of "Parasite" director Bong Joon Ho — "Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” 


Reach the reporter at txayasom@asu.edu and follow @its_tim_x on Twitter.

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