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Three Korean Horrors You MUST Watch

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Art of Lily K
| June 14, 2024
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Back with part 2 of this series, baby! If you’ve been paying attention to our lovely website, you’ve probably already seen my Three Korean Thrillers You MUST Watch article. If you haven’t read it yet, then clickety, click, and off you go. But do come back for this one, you won’t regret it. 

I am here today to continue what we started. I previously recommended three must-watch Korean Thrillers, and it would be perfectly appropriate to continue our journey with Horrors. If you didn’t know just yet, I am a massive fan of South Korea’s filmmaking and have been consuming all they put out for nearly ten years. Yes, I am still relatively new to it; however, I am a huge movie maniac, so… this is to say: trust me

What I love more than anything else is Horror. Horror is the best IF and WHEN it is done right.It’s the most challenging genre to get right and I think we can all agree there are more bad horrors out there than good ones. I am not saying you can’t enjoy the campy or trashy ones; I am saying that quality is rare. I have my guilty pleasures, too: I know they are trash, but they are deliciously trash. 

Now South Korea has set the bar high regarding Horror Movies (too). Choosing just three was very challenging because I would honest recommend more than this but the headline says three and I’m bound by it. I might put an honorable mention part in at the end… I don’t know; you’ll have to read all this first. 

3. #Alive 

Directed by Il Cho

Look out for the zombies!

It dropped on Netflix right as we were all closed in our own homes; this movie gave a new meaning to the phrase: Stay Inside. Another thing you should know about me is that I love zombie movies. When they are good. And let me tell you, Koreans do it BEST. 

#Alive is actually an interesting case. You see, the Americans made the exact same movie in the same year. How? Well, they are both based on the same concept and were released a month apart. They are not quite a copy of each other, even though the story is similar in many twists and turns. The difference? #Alive is a MUCH better film than Alone can ever be. You see, I always praise Korean movies because of how they treat their characters and stories, but I can rarely compare them so easily with something else, so let me use this opportunity. 

I have seen both movies (obviously), but I could hardly get through Alone, even though it had a good cast. Tyler Posey (Teen Wolf) did his best even though I wanted to punch him in the throat multiple times. He is the perfect example of how to kill a character; it’s clear that the casting directors chose someone easy on the eyes and a name to pull in a wider audience (it didn’t work). Therefore, a lot of the shared things with #Alive’s protagonist are basically lost because the American version focused on “LOOK IT’S TYLER POSEY!” instead of “I believe this guy is a loser who has to fight his own selfishness to survive.” Donald Sutherland (The Hunger Games) is a waste in Alone – even though he does his best with little effort as always – but Jeon Bae-soo ate his role up in #Alive. He played the part so well that you literally had no suspicions, but the moment you saw Donald Sutherland – and this is a quote from my friend who hasn’t seen the Korean version – “I knew that he would be an asshole.” 

However, the biggest character assassination comes from the female lead. You see, there is an endless discourse on why we can’t get proper, great female leads in movies without having phrases like…

“Because I’m a woman.” 

“Men are all trash.” 

“Women can do it better.” 

Having shoved down our throats. Do you know why Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) is still the freaking best? Because she does the things she needs to do, and it has nothing to do with her gender at all. The Mary Sue effect has been running rampant in Hollywood for a long time now, with writers completely misunderstanding what they need for a genuinely great character. Do you know why I love Korean female-led movies or movies where they have a really strong female lead? The reason why I love Ellen Ripley. 

#Alive’s female lead, Kim Yoo-bin (played by Park Shin-hye), is resourceful, intelligent, caring, and kind. She helps Oh Joon-woo (played by Yoo Ah-in), and yes, in the same way, Oh Joon-woo helps her when she gets into a tight situation. Summer Spiro in Alone, on the other hand, is helpless, gets both of them in trouble, and is completely reduced to the character that nearly gets everyone killed and needs constant saving. The opposite of Mary Sue in this case. Why can’t we find a good balance between the two absolute ends is beyond me. BUT. This is why I am glad #Alive exists. 

Only watch Alone if you want to get frustrated and see Tyler Posey without a shirt. 

However, if you want to see a great concept come to life in the best way possible, head over to Netflix and watch #Alive, which offers character depth, an intriguing story, and some of the scariest zombie moments. 

2. The Host 

Directed by Bong Yoon Ho

Ko Ah-sung and Song Kang-ho, the best father and daughter duo

I wrote so much about Korean filmmaking that I forgot which article I already talked about, The Host. But I’ve found it… I talked about it in almost all of them. So, you know,… lots to catch up on, but maybe check this one out, too. In my Art of Horror series – which I really should continue too – I, of course, had to talk about Bong Joon Ho’s biggest breakthrough: The Host. The now Academy Award winning director got his biggest break with this now cult-classic creature feature. 

With its two-hour runtime, it’s a long one to get through, but it’s worth it. Song Kang-ho leads the cast, and I think it’s clear that he is Bong Joon Ho’s muse and best friend at this point. He is LITERALLY in all of his movies. This is great because Song Kang-ho is great, and to be fair, as much as I love him in everything, he truly SHINES here. He plays a – let’s be fair – quite irresponsible dad. So when the monster emerges from the Han River and takes his daughter (played by Ko Ah-sung), he needs to step up big time. 

What I love most about The Host is how well it balances its themes. It is a creature feature, yes, but it is also a drama, a quite heavy one at that. Bong Joon Ho expertly shifts the focus from how the monster’s emergence affects the public to focus on the smaller drama inside the story, which is the struggle of the family to get the kidnapped daughter back. And the movie never once fails to keep up the horror, action, and thriller elements next to it all. So, when I mentioned earlier that Horror is the hardest genre to nail and get true gems… this is a true gem. 

The only reason I won’t gush about it more than this is because

a.) I already did in previous articles 

b.) I don’t want to spoil anything 

c.) PLEASE WATCH IT

Moving on. 

1. TRAIN TO BUSAN 

Directed by Yeon Sang-ho

Nice and slow, folks, nice and slow

I’m sorry. Did you really think it was NOT gonna be Train To Busan in First Place? REALLY? Have you ever talked to ME?
I literally bully people until they watch it. I did it with Iain, my friend, and podcast co-host Katie, Yuri Lowenthal, anyone who listens really… 

So. 

I am bullying all of you now. 

If you haven’t seen Train to Busan yet… WHY? This movie is as perfect as any zombie movie can get. I will go even further and say it’s easily some of the best drama that you will see, too. Most importantly, THIS was the movie that made me want to watch more Korean films. 

This is my most re-watched movie of all time. I am not even joking. The number is above 100 at this point. Each and every time I watch this movie, it gives me something new to love. Yes, admittedly, at first, I only wanted to see it because I love Gong Yoo AND Ma Dong-seok very dearly, and anything they do, I will watch it. But I fell deeply in love. When I say that everything I’ve been missing from zombie movies can be found here, I am not over-exaggerating. 

First and foremost, this movie is full of heart and soul. In the middle of it is a father (Gong Yoo) who overworks himself and is completely estranged from his daughter (Kim Su-an). To make amends, he decides to personally take her to her mom in Busan. Well… life has other plans. As the zombie outbreak reaches the train, the entire story becomes a fight for survival that NEVER puts its characters in the background. 

Just as zombie films were intended, Train to Busan is also a big ass criticism of culture and society. Every single character is a mirror held up for us to contemplate. Gong Yoo’s Seok-woo is the perfect example of how we as a species now glorify careers and working, putting it in first place and letting all personal connections die in the process. Kim Su-an’s Soo-an is the child in us who has to grow up too quickly in a broken home. Kim Eui-Sung, who plays that completely despicable – GOD I WANT TO PUNCH HIM – Yon-suk, is a reflection on how we STILL – especially in Korea – treat classes so differently. Willingly sacrificing those less fortunate and ultimately anyone is seen in our day-to-day life, alas not so blatantly as a surviving situation would show it. Train to Busan, other than daring to be critical, also contains some of the most terrifying and thrilling action sequences that one can hope for. 

Fast zombies have been around for a while now, but nothing compares to the ones in here. I do wish Peninsula – the follow-up movie – was just as good as this one, but not all of them can be winners. While it is still enjoyable, it lost what made Train to Busan so brilliant. 

So. The final message is this: 

WATCH. 

TRAIN TO BUSAN

NOW. 

The Wailing

Oh, you stayed a bit longer!

Good.

I couldn’t resist. So, here are the (very) honorable mentions that didn’t make it to the Top 3 but were very close! 

  1. The Wailing – Disturbing and very intriguing, it will probably give you nightmares. Highly recommend this gem. 
  2. Exhuma – I recently wrote a review of it that you can check out here. It’s a very good movie that delves deep into shamanism. 
  3. Kingdom: Ashin of the North – So, this is a special one. It came out after Kingdom Seasons 1 and 2, but it actually plays somewhere along the lines of Season 2’s events. So, while it is not necessary to watch the series first, I would still say: You really should. The movie does stand on its own, and it slowly builds up the tension. 
  4. The 8th Night – Another Netflix Original, and this one is spooky in every sense of the word. 
  5. Seoul Station – Playing in the Train to Busan universe (a prequel, to be precise) is a thrilling ride that is not only about zombies and survival. An animated horror that needs to be here.

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