If you plan to watch an Asian action movie, you are definitely in for a plethora of mind-boggling stunt sequences with a veritable ‘wow’ factor. But Korean action movies have even more to offer; from intense emotions to dark humor interspersed with the intricate story line, and very realistic depiction of fights. Entertainism brings you a list of the best Korean action movies that you could watch.
Did You Know?
With Korean films and Korean drama series having a large fan following all over the world, it is hardly surprising that a number of actors of Korean origin enjoy immense repute in Hollywood too. Some Korean-American faces and names, such as Justin Chon (the Twilight movies, 21 and Over, etc.), Ken Jeong (the Hangover movies, Pineapple Express,Knocked Up, etc.), Daniel Dae Kim (Lost, Hawaii Five-0, Crash, etc.),John Cho (the Harold and Kumar movies, the American Pie franchise, etc.), and many others, are universally recognized for their presence in popular drama, comedies, and films.
Korean cinema has a long, rich history that has seen both ups and downs, from golden ages to low points where its popularity in its home region itself was grossly overshadowed by foreign-language films. However, this industry has withstood the test of time, and has emerged as one of the powerhouses of Asian talent. In fact, the world is said to have been hit by the ‘Korean Wave‘, a term coined to denote the rapidly spreading popularity of Korean movies, TV shows, pop music, and other artistic exports. Today, Korean-language movies of all genres, including comedy, horror, action, and romance, are doing extremely well, commercially, and we too are keen enthusiasts.
The mention of ‘Asian action movies‘ generally brings to thought a vision of martial arts. However, Korean action movies cover a wide variety of themes, including mystery thrillers, political thrillers, action-horror, action-comedy, gore, and also, there are a number of brilliantly executed films based on the premise of martial arts.
We have compiled a list of the ten best Korean action movies, which according to us, you must not miss.
Our Pick of Must-Watch Korean Action Movies
|Title||The Man from Nowhere (2010)|
|Main Cast||Won Bin, Kim Sae-ron, Kim Hee-won, Kim Sung-oh, Kim Tae-hoon|
With absolutely mind-blowing action sequences that are carried out with utter finesse, The Man from Nowhere is worth watching just for the fight scenes, that portray calculated, military-style combat as opposed to gravity-defying stunts. It is the story of a quiet pawn-shop owner, who is actually a former special forces agent, retired following his wife’s violent murder. He develops an unlikely friendship with his neighbor, a sweet seven-year-old girl. However, things take a turn when the girl is kidnapped by organ-trafficking, money-laundering, drug-dealing thugs. The journey of her rescue is perfectly executed in this amazing movie, which is the highest-grossing Korean film of 2010.
|Title||A Bittersweet Life (2005)|
|Original Name||Talk’omhan insaeng|
|Producer(s)||Park Dong-ho, Eugene Lee|
|Main Cast||Lee Byung-hun, Kim Yeong-cheol, Shin Min-ah, Hwang Jung-min, Kim Roi-ha|
A quintessential movie about organized crime, which has also been named by the British film magazine, Empire, as one of the 20 greatest gangster films, A Bittersweet Life is a story about a mobster and his trusted henchman, and about forbidden attraction. The movie effortlessly transitions from soul-stirring drama to brutal fighting, and keeps true to the violent nature of this genre. Yet, due to the fantastic execution of a brilliant storyline, it keeps audiences’ attentions gripped till the end. The film’s ending, especially, stays with you even after the credits roll. A suave and sophisticated film, we do believe you should definitely give this movie a chance if you are a fan of movies with a mafioso theme.
|Title||The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008)|
|Original Name||Choŭn nom, nappŭn nom, isanghan nom|
|Producer(s)||Kim Jee-woon, Choi Jae-won|
|Main Cast||Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, Jung Woo-sung|
If you are an aficionado of the cowboy genre, this one is definitely for you. Set in 1930s Manchuria, in the Gobi Desert, a bounty hunter, a bandit, and a thief (the Good, the Bad, and the Weird, respectively), are in pursuit of a treasure map, while the Japanese Imperial Army, and Chinese bandits, are in hot pursuit of the three. The movie has comic timing, adrenaline bursts, vengeance, action, and violence too, and is thus a refreshing change from the stereotypical gore that is nowadays associated with Korean action films. The gritty cowboy theme, combined with elements that are uniquely Korean, makes this movie stand apart from others, and we recommend The Good, The Bad, The Weird to movie buffs of all genres.
|Title||Memories of Murder (2003)|
|Original Name||Sarinŭi Ch’uǒk|
|Main Cast||Song Kang-ho, Kim Sang-kyung, Kim Roi-ha, Park Hae-il, Byun Hee-bong|
Based on a true story of serial murders that took place in the Hwaseong area, in South Korea, in 1986, Memories of Murder is a seemingly accurate (as opposed to in popular cinema) portrayal of inexperienced cops dealing with brutal crime that is way out of their league of expertise. While the local detective is overwhelmed with the gruesome murders of local women, the police approach the matter in a very unprofessional manner, and even arrest the wrong person. Meanwhile a trained detective from Seoul is sent to handle the matter, and there is a difference of opinion when he suggests that it may be the work of a serial killer. With improperly collected clues, and unsophisticated equipment, and a twisted killer who confuses the police thoroughly, the team finds it very difficult to piece the mystery together, and the crime is unsolved, just like during the actual occurrence. This movie is amazing because of the honest depiction of police brutality, and also because of its brilliant screenplay.
|Title||A Dirty Carnival (2006)|
|Original Name||Piyŏlhan kŏri|
|Producer(s)||Cha Seung-jae, Kim Mi-hee, Choi Seon-jeong|
|Main Cast||Jo In-sung, Lee Bo-young, Namgoong Min, Jin Goo, Chun Ho-jin|
Considered as one of the best Korean gangster movies, A Dirty Carnival is the story of a small-time enforcer, who simply took to the mobster life so as to make ends meet, and support his family. He seizes an opportunity to quickly climb the ranks by doing a favor for the big boss, earning him a position higher than his immediate superior, and thus his anger. Meanwhile, he also makes the rookie mistake of revealing too much about the working of the organization to a childhood friend, an aspiring director, and lands himself into serious trouble. This movie is admirable because of the way it de-glamorizes the world of organized crime. Also, the gripping fight scenes will make it a ready favorite of action movie buffs.
|Producer(s)||Choi Jae-won, Seo Woo-sik|
|Main Cast||Kim Hye-ja, Won Bin|
A boy in his early twenties with a slight mental disability lives with his overprotective mother, who does not approve of his friendship with a local vagabond. When circumstantial evidence points to him as the murderer of a high school girl, the police easily convince him to sign a confession, and lock him up. However, his mother considers him incapable of committing the crime, and in fact suspects his friend.Mother is the story of a determined woman who would stop at nothing to uncover the truth, even though the truth becomes increasingly disturbing as it unfolds. With excellent direction, and noteworthy performances by all actors, this movie has won a large number of regional and international awards.
|Title||I Saw The Devil (2010)|
|Original Name||Angmarŭl poatta|
|Producer(s)||Kim Hyung-woo, Jo Sung-won, Kim Jae-young, Kim Jung-hwa|
|Main Cast||Choi Min-sik, Lee Byung-hun|
I Saw The Devil is a movie that will be instantly liked by those who prefer violence and gore in extreme proportions. However, at the same time, it has something that makes even those who are generally repelled by on-screen brutality sit through and watch it, because of the way it holds the viewer’s interest right until the end. When a serial killer selects his victim on a snowy night, he never guesses that her father is a cop, and fiancé, a secret service agent. The angered fiancé, with the leads provided by her father, manages to identify the deranged killer. However, he seeks vengeance over justice, and keeps the killer on the metaphoric leash, a tracking device, so that he can keep tormenting him. Meanwhile, the killer, along with his cannibal friend (yes, the man has a freezer full of bodies), begins to suspect that his pursuer has a relationship with one of his victims. Although it sounds terrifyingly ghastly, the powerful violence, and brilliant performances of all actors, will win points with all enthusiasts of the action genre.
|Producer(s)||Jonathan Kim, Lee Jong-sun|
|Main Cast||Sol Kyung-gu, Ahn Sung-ki, Heo Joon-ho, Jung Jae-young|
A political thriller, loosely based on true events that transpired during the days of maximum friction between North Korea, and South Korea, in 1968, Silmido goes back to the time when a failed attempt to assassinate the South Korean president results in the Korean Republic Army’s counter-attempt to in turn assassinate the then North Korean president, Kim Il-Sung. For this, a unit of 31 soldiers are made to undergo rigorous training, that also includes extreme physical and mental torture, for two years, on the island of Silmido. Except the soldiers are actually convicted men who are in death row, promised freedom and honor, and the mission is kept highly confidential. The story takes an unexpected turn when the mission is canceled, as relations between the two nations improve, and all proof of this operation is ordered to be wiped out, including execution of the unit itself. This film, with excellent performances from all actors, a gripping screenplay that very convincingly describes the Army ruthlessness and the tense political situation back then, and engaging narrative, became the first movie to have an audience of over 10 million (and hence formerly held the record of the most-viewed film) in South Korea itself.
|Title||Once Upon a Time in Seoul (2008)|
|Original Name||Sonyeoneun Oljianneunda|
|Producer(s)||Lee Eun, Son Seong-moon|
|Main Cast||Lee Wan, Song Chang-eui|
Yet another movie that depicts the harsh realities of political friction,Once Upon a Time in Seoul is set in the time after the Korean war, and tells the story of two boys, who live in an orphan camp. The face challenges like hunger, and ill-treatment, and every new day is a fight for survival. Soon they become involved in the trade of illegal goods, and end up taking away business from local goons, and thus, also need to battle for their very lives. A coming-of-age story combined with an action movie, this film has excellent fight scenes, and has an amateur feel to it that makes it seem more natural. It is a movie that can be enjoyed by people with varied taste, although we recommend it especially to fans of the action genre.
|Title||Confessions of a Murder (2012)|
|Original Name||Naeka Salinbŏm-ita|
|Producer(s)||Lee Yong-hee, Jang Won-seok, Yoo Jeong-hoon|
|Main Cast||Jung Jae-young, Park Si-hoo|
A serial killer who has mutilated, and murdered ten women and kidnapped the eleventh, comes clean with the truth in a tell-all book once the stature of limitations on his case has expired. He also publicly begs the relatives of all victims for forgiveness. Because of the popularity of his book, and instant good looks, he is an instant celebrity. But the investigating detective on the case before it was shut does not believe that he is indeed the killer. Also, relatives of victims are in no mood to magnanimously forgive the cold-blooded murderer, and in fact, seek revenge. That is when the movie takes an unexpected twist. With brilliantly executed action scenes, a gripping narrative, a plot with timely twists, and amazing performances from actors, Confessions of Murder combines Memories of Murder with another hugely popular crime thriller, The Chaser, and comes with a unique blend that superbly maintains its identity.
So these were our favorites that we recommend you should watch, and we guarantee you will get hooked onto this genre of Korean cinema. And once you are, there are a number of other films of the same category that are absolutely awesome, for example, The Berlin File (2013), Rough Cut(2008), Swiri (1999), Gangster High (2006), and many more. If you enjoyed these movies, or if you wish to add to the list, do not hesitate to leave a comment.