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Choi Min-sik, Oldboy, Park Chan-wook
Choi Min-sik as Oh Dae-su in OldboyCourtesy of Arrow Films

Welcome to Hallyuwood: 10 South Korean films to watch after Parasite

From South Korea’s first big budget blockbuster to a revenge flick with a deadly assassin, here’s a cinematic guide for those who loved Bong Joon-ho’s hit

Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite recently made history after becoming the first South Korean film to receive nominations for best picture, best director and best international feature film at the Academy Awards, and has cleaned up across this awards season. A masterful amalgamation of family drama, black comedy, and psychological thriller, the film marks the apex of a South Korean film industry that has been steadily establishing itself as one of the world’s best over the past two decades.

Despite a tendency to frequently place as “runners up” at some of the world’s biggest competitions, films of the South Korean New Wave, or “Hallyuwood” (with “Hallyu” roughly translating as “flow from Korea”) are no stranger to global acclaim. The South Korean cinema renaissance has seen directors like Kim Jee-woon and Park Chan-wook pick up countless international awards, while native acting stars like Choi Min-sik, Ma Dong-seok and Lee Byung-hun have capitalised with successful ventures into Hollywood.

Parasite has already bagged a Palme d’Or, a Golden Globe, and a Screen Actors’ Guild Award. In February 2020 it may take home the biggest gong of them all at the Oscars ceremony. But beyond Parasite, South Korea is home to a broad host of cinematic excellence. In the words of Bong Joon-ho, “once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”

Here are ten of Dazed’s favourite films of the Korean New Wave to watch after Parasite.


It may not be the most original movie on this list, but Shiri is a great place to kick off with for a number of reasons.

As the first big-budget blockbuster to be produced in South Korea since the 1997 Asian financial crisis, it is generally seen as the starting point of the “new” Korean film industry. The bloody, action-packed espionage thriller, which pits South Korean special agents against a rogue North Korean terrorist faction, broke box office records upon its release, drawing comparisons to Hollywood hits like Heat and The Rock.

Shiri also introduces three of the country’s greatest and most recognisable actors, who crop up repeatedly on this list. Choi Min-sik (Oldboy, New World) and Song Kang-ho (Parasite, The Host) take on leading roles, while “the Korean James Franco” Hwang Jung-min (A Bittersweet Life, The Wailing) also plays a minor part. 

Yunjin Kim, who plays a leading role as a North Korean sniper, would later be cast as ‘Sun’ in the American pop culture sensation Lost, staying with the show for the entirety of its six season run.

For fans of: The Rock, Heat, Hard Boiled


Award-winning psychological horror A Tale of Two Sisters established Kim Jee-woon as a force to be reckoned with in 2003, but it was 2005 revenge thriller A Bittersweet Life that really cemented his place as one of South Korea’s leading directors.

The film tells the tale of a conflicted mob enforcer, hunted by his own gang after he refuses to kill the boss’s unfaithful mistress. The sensational Lee Byung-hun stars in the leading role, in one of the coolest and most memorable performances on this list. Smartly dressed and played with charismatic subtlety, Byung-hun also excels as a robust action star in the film’s many ultra-stylised combat scenes. The film’s final shot superbly combines the two sides of his character, with the protagonist smiling as he shadow-boxes with his own reflection while gazing out over the Seoul skyline at night.

Brilliantly combining film noir and western genre tropes, A Bittersweet Life also features an Ennio Morricone-influenced orchestral score by Dalpalan, who would later score the psychological horror The Wailing. The film takes plenty of tips out of the book of Kill Bill – with a live burial scene that mirrors a scene from Kill Bill: Volume 2 being a notable nod to the Tarantino classic.

For fans of: Kill Bill, A Fistful of Dollars, Oldboy


The film that helped to establish the international reputation of Parasite director Bong Joon-ho was of a decidedly different breed to his Oscar-nominated drama. A monster movie of the Godzilla variety, The Host is a runaway train ride of thrilling action set-pieces and biting socio-political commentary.

The film’s titular beast – an oversized, radioactive amphibian – appears as result of a dump of American chemical waste in the Han River. The government later attempts to combat the threat by using “Agent Yellow” to stun it in a clear reference to the USA’s highly controversial and irresponsible use of Agent Orange in the Vietnam War.

Leading actors Song Kang-ho and Bae Doona previously starred together in Park Chan-wook’s brooding revenge flick ‘Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance’ - the first instalment of the director’s notorious “vengeance trilogy”. It preceded what would be one of South Korea’s most famous cinematic exports in history: Oldboy.

For fans of: Godzilla, Jaws, Cloverfield


The uncontested benchmark of South Korean cinema before Parasite has been so widely successful that further praise at this point would be superlative. Choi Min-sik stars as the emphatic Oh Dae-su, a man imprisoned without explanation for 15 years, who seeks revenge against the mysterious man who took away his life. It won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 2004, from a jury led by filmmaking maestro Quentin Tarantino.

Oldboy is packed to the rafters with rich, memorable imagery. From Oh Dae-Su’s stomach-churning consumption of a real, live octopus (no, really), to the iconic one-shot corridor fight scene. The film became an instant classic upon release, and remains one of the most well-known Korean films outside of its native country. It’s a film that commands repeat viewings, particularly for its symbolic use of the colours green, red and purple in Oh Dae-su’s quest to find truth in a world riddled with deceptions.

Director Park Chan-wook is a notorious perfectionist, and has drawn comparisons to the likes of Stanley Kubrick for his meticulous and exhausting productions. He scored an international hit once again in 2016 with the BAFTA-winning The Handmaiden, which pieces together a twisted tale from three different perspectives. And more recently, he directed the UK production Little Drummer Girl in 2018 - a BBC adaption of a John Le Carré spy novel starring Florence Pugh.

For fans of: Leon: The Professional, Straw Dogs, Death Wish


Over 5.7 million American troops were engaged in The Korean War from 1950-1953, in what was the first armed, global conflict between a democratic nation and a communist nation. And yet, M*A*S*H* aside, the three-year war is rarely explored as a narrative subject in Hollywood cinema.

Welcome to Dongmaekgol, therefore, presents a fresh war story for Western audiences, while also subverting the cinematic tropes that we are most familiar with in the genre. America’s role in the film is a destructive one, and while they are more of a misguided force than an overtly villainous one, it is refreshing to not be forced to root for Uncle Sam. Moreover, Welcome to Dongmaekgol is not a film about combat and violence. Rather, it is concerned with human relationships and harmony - it’s spotted with light comedy, and features an enchanting score by Studio Ghibli’s Joe Hisaishi.

The plot follows a band of North and South Korean troops who, along with a grounded American pilot, must put their differences aside when they all find themselves stranded in a secluded village unaware of the conflict around them. The film was a surprise hit at home, pulling in over $43 million worth of box office revenue in South Korea to take fourth place in the country’s all-time top 10 highest grossing films.

For fans of: Life Is Beautiful, JSA, The Bird People of China


After receiving a four-minute standing ovation at its Cannes 2017 premiere, Jung Byung-gil’s The Villainess arrived in UK cinemas to critical acclaim as part of London Frightfest the same year. The film festival described the Korean revenge flick as being home to “one of the single greatest opening action set-pieces in film history.” It’s difficult to argue with them - the extended, point-of-view fight scenes that the film is known for have yet to be beat in Hollywood.

The film drew a lot of comparisons to Park Chan-wook’s 2005 revenge thriller Lady Vengeance upon its release, but The Villainess actually bares more in common with a French action film from the early ‘90s. Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita, which tells a similar story of a woman transformed into a deadly assassin by a shady government agency, was a key influence on Jung Byung-gil when he first conceived the film’s plot.

For Fans of: La Femme Nikita, John Wick, Atomic Blonde


This brooding psychological mystery, adapted from a short story by Haruki Murakami, won director Lee Chang-dong the FIPRESCI International Critics’ Prize award at Cannes 2018.

It stars Steven Yeun, best known for his role as Glenn Rhee in the long-running zombie serial The Walking Dead, as ‘Ben’, a strange third party in an ambiguous love triangle also involving Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ha-in) and femme fatale Shin Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo). The film is primarily concerned with the dynamic between these three characters - it unfolds slowly and ominously as the doomed protagonist Lee is seemingly deceived and manipulated against his will.

The film’s social commentary on class divide gives Burning a real sense of depth. The presence of wealthy, Porsche-driving Ben is palpable to the audience, who are made to feel the anxiety and unease of the sympathetic, unprivileged Lee’s throughout the film’s weary two-and-a-half hours.

For fans of: Lost Highway, The Machinist, Audition


Zombies on a train.

Train to Busan is a simple concept, but it’s bags of fun from beginning to end thanks to a dynamic rhythm, perfectly executed set pieces and non-stop zombie mayhem. It’s probably the best zombie film of the past decade - in any country - and that’s why it remains the tenth highest grossing film of all time in South Korea.

The film is notable for being home to the breakout performance of Ma Dong-seok (also known as Don Lee). He’s hilarious as the deadbeat husband to pregnant wife Jung Yu-mi, who ends up becoming an unlikely hero against the never-ending horde of hyperactive undead.

Since starring in Train To Busan, Ma Dong-seok has become a highly bankable star. Formerly a personal trainer, South Korea’s answer to Dwayne Johnson has just wrapped his first Hollywood feature in January 2020. He’ll be starring as Gilgamesh in Marvel’s latest superhero romp The Eternals alongside the likes of Angelina Jolie and Richard Madden, and in doing so, he’ll be the first South Korean superhero in the Marvel Universe.

For fans of: 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead, Snakes on a Plane


When a power struggle in the country’s largest crime syndicate opens up after the death of a mob boss, an undercover agent posing as a gang member grows increasingly anxious that his true identity will be revealed. With the head of police refusing to reassign him, he is forced to double down on his role as right hand man to one of the dangerous potential successors to the syndicate’s  vacant throne.

This layered crime drama feels almost operatic in its scale, with widescreen cinematography illuminating the city of Seoul, and taut, engrossing dialogue shaping numerous grey characters as they move like chess pieces. With powerhouse performances by global stars Choi Min-sik (as crooked police chief Kang) and Hwang Jung-min (the suave but volatile heir to the throne), each twist and turn is meticulous and satisfying. Comparisons to gangster epics like The Departed are utterly deserved.

For Fans of: The Departed, The Godfather, Infernal Affairs


In 2018 the BBC described horror cinema as the “most disrespected genre” in critical analysis - even the most successful works tend to be divisive due to their often provocative subject matter. So the fact that Na Hong-jin’s 2016 film The Wailing holds a 99% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes should immediately be a cause for attention. Better yet, you can watch it on Netflix.

The film centres on a policeman who is investigating a series of unexplained deaths in a remote suburb, following the arrival of a mysterious Japanese hermit. A lingering sense of dread is gradually built throughout the film’s extended, masterfully-paced 2.5 hour runtime, as police drama is mixed with sinister, visceral horror.

Stunning cinematography gives the setting a real sense of desolation and disease - it’s frequently dark and overcast, and the surroundings seem overgrown and ominous. Fantastic performances by leading man Kwak Do-won, veteran Japanese actor Jun Kunimura (Audition, Kill Bill), and Hwang Jun-min (A Bittersweet Life, New World), ensure that the film’s chills are rooted firmly in human emotion rather than cheap jump scares. 

For fans of: The Wicker Man, The Exorcist, Memories of Murder