Are you looking for a fun way to improve your Korean language skills? Watching Korean movies is an innovative way to put your Korean to the test while learning more about Korean culture itself.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably already heard of Bong Joon Ho's Parasite. The first non-English film to win the Academy award for best picture, Parasite tells the story of the vast disparity of wealth among classes.
The success of Parasite has launched the Korean film industry into the international spotlight, and rightfully so. Korean cinema has been around for over 100 years, and it's about time the rest of the world notices.
Korean movies are largely influenced by the policitcal forces at the time, and watching Korean movies can give you a glimpse of the young country's rich history. Although the majority of early Korean film was lost or destroyed, the industry reemerged after the Korean War. However, due to strict censorship by an authorititative government, Korean movies didn't begin to flourish until the late 1990's.
And Korean movies truly are flourishing across all genres. South Korea even hosts the Busan International Film Festival each year, one of the most important cinematic events in Asia.
If you love foreign movies and want to improve your language skills, there's no better time to level up your Korean by watching Korean movies.
How Watching Movies Can Help You Learn Korean Language
Whether it is Korean, Japanese, Italian, or Spanish, watching foreign films can help improve your language fluency. By continually exposing yourself to a second language, you can reinforce what you study in books or in the classroom.
Of course, it takes more than just studying to learn a language like Korean. You have to practice speaking and listening as well. Watching Korean movies is a fun way to recognize trendy, informal words, and it will help you to understand when to use certain phrases in the correct context.
By watching Korean movies, you can familiarize yourself with Korean phonetics. If you want to focus on learning new vocabulary, watching Korean movies with English subtitles is the way to go. You can pause the movie and write down new words. You can listen for Korean exclamations that are used often in movies and T.V.
If you already have a basic understanding of Korean, you can try watching Korean movies without subtitles. A lot of movies have story lines that are easy to follow, even if you don't understand every word. Your listening skills will improve by focusing in on phrases that you understand.
When you eventually watch a Korean film and understand the dialogue, you will feel so accomplished. So let's get started with the best Korean movies to help you improve your Korean!
Top 10 Korean Movies for Korean Language Learners
The Best Korean Thrillers
A personal favorite of mine, Burning won an international prize at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. Based on a short story by Haruki Murakami, this psychological thriller really forces the viewer to piece together scenes and see how they are all connected. The movie follows the story of a part-time worker who bumps into an old high school friend. When she returns from a trip from Africa, a mysterious event ensues.
By contrasting rural Korea with busy Seoul, Burning paints a picture of class divide in Korea. When you watch this movie, you can see both the leisurely streets of Seoul, home of endless cafes and K-pop lovers, and the countryside of rural Korea. This movie is also interesting because it poses a criticism of modern Korean culture during the time of a massive political scandal.
Burning takes some deep thinking, and you will definitely want to watch it more than once. Good news! Repetition is a great way to practice your Korean. Burning has one more bonus: it stars the Walking Dead's Steven Yeun.
The Chaser (추격자)
The Chaser is a great option for intermediate Korean learners. The action is very straightforward, and the dialogue is the kind of Korean you'd hear in everyday life. Based on a real Korean serial killer, the story follows an ex-policeman who runs a prostitution ring in Seoul. When his girls start to go missing, he must hurry to try to save them.
This movie had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. It includes the quintessential Korean movie character: a disgruntled, smoking, bully; you'll definitely learn a lot of Korean expletives with this one.
Another plus: the movie captures the true feeling of Seoul's bustling nightlife, including the neon signs and busy streets.
Memories of Murder (살인의 추억)
Also based on a true story, Memories of Murder tells the tale of one of South Korea's earliest serial killers. From 1986 to 1991, a small village was witness to the muder of 10 women. This grotesque series of crimes was the the first of its kind in South Korea and resulted in a media and police frenzy.
The film follows two dectectives as they try to solve the murders and find the killer in the small Korean farming town. Despite the sometimes cruel and hateful actions of the main characters, you cannot help but feeling moved by this film. (Top secret: I cried). I suggest you don't google the film until after you've watched it!
Co-written by Bong Joon Jo in 2003, Memories of Murder really showcases Bong's talent and attention for detail early on. The film captures the gorgeous Korean countryside, as well as some of the grisly parts of country life. This is another crime thriller that will definitely teach Korean language learners some expletives!
This film is definitely not for those with weak stomachs. It follows the story of the main character, Oh Dae-su, who has been kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years. After he is released, he seeks out his captor for brutal revenge.
The mystery behind Oh Dae-su's predicament is seriously captivating, and the plot twists in this film will have you on the edge of your seat. This film also stars one of Korea's best street foods: Korean dumplings or mandu. You'll soon see why!
The Best Korean Horror Movie
The Host (괴물)
The Host is a South Korean monster film directed by none other than Bong Joon Ho. The Korean title of the film literally translates to 'monster'. Considered by many to be a masterpiece, The Host was another film that established Bong as one of the most creative directors in South Korea.
The Host is about an actual monster that comes crawling out of Seoul's famous Han River and into the lives of the Park family. On a deeper level, The Host is a critique of the Korean goverment and the lingering American military presence in South Korea.
A winner of numereous awards, this is a must see film. It's perfect for fans of Bong Joon Ho, full of plot twists that will draw you into the film.
The Best Korean Action Movies
Taeguki: The Brotherhood of War (태극기 휘날리며)
This wartime action film is definitely another tearjerker. Taeguki means South Korean flag; the Korean title of this film literally translates into "Waving the South Korean flag." At the time of its release in 2004, Taeguki: The Brotherhood of War was Korea's highest budget film. It's often compared to such popular war films as Saving Private Ryan and Pearl Harbor.
The film follows the story of two brothers, forcibly drafted into the army when the Korean war broke out in 1950. It features major Asian film star, Won Bin, and is directed by prominent South Korean director, Kang Je-Kyu. It even won the award for best film at the 50th Asia Pacific Film Festival.
This was the first Korean movie that I ever watched, and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning Korean. The film shows the devastating effects of war on family and country. It will give you insight into Korean history and the real life tragedy that Korean families have experienced.
The Man from Nowhere (아저씨)
Also starring Won Bin, The Man from Nowhere is a quintessential action thriller. The story follows a man trying to lead a quiet life as pawn shop worker. However, his quiet life is quickly interrupted when the little girl next door is in trouble.
The Man from Nowhere is another dark film. It's an exciting, fast paced movie filled with epic stand offs between Won Bin and his enemy. This is the first Korean movie that I bought and rewatch often. The story is easy to follow, and it's a great choice for Korean language learners.
Another visually stunning film directed by Bong Joon Ho, Okja tells the story of the bond between a pig and a little girl. The story combines humor, suspense, and high speed action to portray a cautionary tale about big food industries. The movie is jam packed with notable actors, including Steven Yeun.
Upon its release, Okja was a bit of a controversy in South Korea. Because the movie was streamed on Netflix, it was rejected from big theaters here, and the movie consequently wasn't as popular as expected. However, critics agree that this Korean movie is too visually stunning to miss.
A winner of the South Korean Director's Cut Award and nominee at Cannes Film Festival in 2017, Okja has beautiful shots of the Korean countryside. A plus for beginner Korean learners, the movie uses Korean and English at times, so it's a great option for learning Korean.
My Favorite Korean Dramas
Ode to My Father (국제시장)
The Korean title of this movie translates to Gukje market, which is an international market in Busan, Korea's second largest city. Full of Korean history, Ode to My Father is a touching human drama at heart.
Directed by Yoon Je-Kyun, Ode to My Father is currently the fourth highest grossing Korean film. It portrays the life of an ordinary Korean man and his family from the 1950's to present day. It covers historical events such as the Hungnam Evacuation of 1950 and the Vietnam War. This film invokes a sense of nostalgia for the older generation of Koreans, and it helps younger Koreans and non-Koreans alike to better understand Korean history.
I really love this movie, as it shows the importance of family in Korean culture and highlights the history of Korea since the Korean war.
Intimate strangers takes place at at dinner party for a group of close friends who have not seen each other in a long time. Comprised of three married couples and one divorcee, the friends seem to be having a great time ...at first. When one of them suggests a smartphone game, they really begin to question how well they know one another.
This drama is full of plot twists and turns and really provides a critical look at relationships in the age of globalization. Also, it is genuinely funny. The story is easy to follow, so it is a great option for Korean language learners. Also, you have the opportunity to practice your reading skills by reading texts throughout the film.
Conclusion About Korean Cinema
These ten movies just begin to scratch the surface of dynamic Korean cinema. Going to the cinema is always such a magical moment. The big screen full of detail, the surround sound; you feel as if you are part of the story.
These days, however, there are other options for viewing Korean movies. You can watch movies on any computer or tablet. This option is ideal for Korean language learners, as you can use subtitles to better comprehend the story. You can also pause the movies as needed, giving you flexability as you learn new words. Repeating scenes more than once will help to stregnthen new vocabulary into your memory!
And you will certianly pick up useful vocabulary from Korean movies that you can use to practice Korean conversation. However, just because you know how to speak new words, are you sure you're using them correctly?
You can practice your newly acquired phrases with a real online tutor. Speechling is a one-on-one language tutoring platform where users are given personal attention from native speakers. With awesome Korean language tutors, you'll be using Korean movie phrases correctly in no time!