Three Korean Thrillers You MUST Watch

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Art of Lily K
| April 3, 2024
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hello world!

Alrighty, let’s talk movies; more importantly, let’s talk about Korean Thrillers. I’m not going to lie here; this genre is something I either love or absolutely can’t stand. I think there are more bad examples than good ones. Thankfully, ever since I started delving more into Korean Cinema and TV, I’ve discovered a ton of absolutely fantastic ones. Narrowing them down to these top three was quite a challenge. 

Since I already talked about Korean movies and TV in general, I wanted to start a series picking the best in each genre. How long is this series going to be? I am still determining, but I aim to introduce more people to the magic of Korean filmmaking. 

Let’s all step into the world of Thrillers, and I will try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible. Some minor spoilers will be unavoidable. 

3. I SAW THE DEVIL

Directed by Jee-woon Kim

Lee Byung-hun in I Saw The Devil

This one is a very heavy movie. They do not shy away from anything in it. Do you know that “viewer discretion is advised” line that pops up before movies and TV shows? Well, you better keep that in mind when you tune in to watch I Saw The Devil

I didn’t care much about the violence as I was ready to watch Lee Byung-hun (Red 2, Our Blues) be a badass again. Oh boy… I really should have cared. I was not ready for it at all. I was gasping and often screaming throughout the entire movie. I was shocked, flabbergasted, and cried while I watched a revenge film unfold that was much more than that. If you thought John Wick was brutal or even Oldboy (just to stay with Korean movies), you haven’t seen this one yet. 

The story is quite straightforward. A young woman gets stuck in the snow, and a seemingly good samaritan shows up to help her. Of course, the whole thing quickly turns into an absolute nightmare when the man attacks the woman out of nowhere, kidnaps her, and continues the torture in his hideout. This man is Jang Kyung-chul, played by none other than Choi Min-sik, aka Dae-su Oh, from the previously mentioned Oldboy. I couldn’t recognize him until the end credits started to roll. I was speechless when I put it all together. Anyway, much to Jang Kyung-chul’s misfortune, the woman he brutally murdered at the beginning was the fiancé of a highly trained agent, Soo-hyeon (Lee Byung-hun). And he doesn’t mess around. Once he finds Jang, his plan starts to unfold. A series of captures and releases start to take place, and we soon realize that Soo-hyeon is working on becoming the Boogeyman for the ruthless serial killer. 

This movie shocked me, not because of its brutality but because of the very strong message it delivered. It’s much more than a revenge movie. It shows how a good man turns into the monster he was chasing all along. The ending is as shocking as Frank Darabont’s The Mist was. The only reason I decided to put it at the beginning of this list is because of the violence in it. I know not many people will be able to stomach all that is going on here. Gotta admit that at some points, it was hard for me as well. But it is a film worth your time nonetheless. All of the actors are brilliant, but Choi Min-sik and Lee Byung-hun are the real stars throughout. 

2. UNLOCKED

Directed by Kim Tae-joon

Im Si-wan and Chun Woo-hee in Unlocked

If you open up your dictionary… who am I kidding? No one has a dictionary anymore. Let me rephrase that. When you google “disturbing”, this will be the movie that shows up immediately. It is the DEFINITION of the word. 

After Lee Na-mi (Chun Woo-hee) loses her phone on the bus, she has the absolute misfortune of it ending up in the hands of a skillful hacker who is also an absolute psychopath. The phone gets back to her with some serious spy programs in place that let our psycho friend, Oh Joon-yeong (Im Si-wan), in on Na-mi’s very personal life. He knows all her steps, including her work and personal life, and can manipulate things without the protagonist noticing it, helping him build up his sinister plan. 

We are all glued to our phones. You can’t lie to me people; I know that 90% of you are reading this article on your phones. These little machines have most, if not all, of our personal information and our lives in them. I didn’t know about the fear of having my phone in the absolute worst hands until I watched this movie. Sure, to some extent, it goes to extreme lengths, but in today’s society, where apps can collect data from you, get a shit ton of spam messages with fake links, and I didn’t even mention the dark web in all this. Yeah… pretty freaky stuff. What’s freakier than all this is a serial killer getting a hold of your phone and spying on you through it.

As the story of Unlocked unfolded, I felt my stomach get smaller and smaller. I think I was afraid to touch my phone for a good three days after watching. 

It builds the tension so well that you will be glued to your TVs. The good news is that it’s a Netflix Original, so you can watch it wherever you are. I highly recommend it! 

1. MIDNIGHT 

Directed by Oh-Seung Kwon 

Wi Ha-joon in Midnight

First and foremost: Thank you, Mike Flanagan

Here’s the story of how I found this movie that quickly skyrocketed into my Top 5 Best Korean Movies list (don’t worry, I will write about them too). I was looking through Letterbox when Mr. Flanagan (Midnight Mass, The Haunting of Hill House) came up, and I saw him register a little Korean movie titled ‘Midnight’. The first thing that caught my attention was Wi Ha-joon, who, over the past year or so, had become one of my favorites thanks to roles in K-Dramas like Bad and Crazy or The Worst of Evil. He is such a versatile actor that proper words can’t even describe him well enough. So, to say that I was pretty excited to see this movie is the understatement of the century. And then… I watched it, and I instantly understood how this movie ended up on Mike Flanagan’s radar. 

The story is simple. We have a serial killer (Wi Ha-joon) who kills women seemingly for the fun of it. He uses his van to quickly cover up his kills and has an entire wardrobe in that thing, I swear. He is very smart when it comes to playing people and uses his good looks to get out of tight situations. His luck turns when his path crosses with Kyung Mi (Jin Ki-joo). Kyung Mi, who is deaf, finds one of his soon-to-be victims in an alley. 

Do you all understand it now? No? Let me remind you all about a little movie from Mr. Flanagan titled Hush. The movie follows Maddie, a deaf writer played by Kate Siegel who lives in a secluded area and, one night, has to fight for her life when a masked killer shows up. The movie was brilliant; still one of my favorite things that Flanagan ever did. So when I realized what Midnight was going for, I couldn’t help but smile. However, there are major differences between the two movies.

While Mike Flanagan put his deaf protagonist in a forest far from anyone, making her escape from the killer seem impossible, Oh Seung-Kwon placed the entire thing right under everyone’s nose: in the city. And both movies work beautifully. I think Midnight, however, is a lot more heartbreaking, especially because it involves a ton of scenes that are just upsetting on another level. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, so I will put it like this: Midnight not only observes the silent fight a deaf woman has to escape from, but it also shows how she has to navigate a society where her disability makes it even harder to be heard. Korea has a bit of a social problem when it comes to different disabilities, and the movie makes sure to showcase that. 

As I mentioned before, this movie is not only in my Top five Korean Movies list but also in my Top ten favorite movies of all time list. I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone. 

And there you have it folks – my Top Three Korean Thrillers you MUST see. I was thinking about doing an honorable mentions part, but I will instead point you all toward my previous article. In that, I mentioned Forgotten and talked about it lengthy, along with The Call. They both are Netflix originals and I really want everyone to see them along with these three.

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Kevin Clawson
Kevin Clawson
7 days ago

Awesome! I am watching The Omen films right now, but I’ll give these a shot next!

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