Right now all across the world, the dancing sensation of Psy and his Gangnam Style is introducing legions of people to what they thought was some kind of breakfast cereal, K-Pop. Even the NY Times has tapped into this media event writing an interesting article about Psy and Korean culture:

Dafna Zur, a professor at the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Stanford University, says South Koreans still have “an inferiority complex” that makes them happy for exposure. “I think Koreans are still at the stage where they think any publicity is good publicity,” she said.–NY TIMES

This so called Korean “Macarena Moment” will fade within days and people will continue life thinking Korea is the country run by that dictator who sings I’m So Ronery.

Yet Korea has been exporting its culture via some incredible movies for years. The masterpiece that is Old Boy or the surprising, gripping Mother (Sometimes titled under the Korean: Madeo) are incredible viewing experiences. Maybe this magic comes from years living first under an oppressive dictator, then a revolution and modern prosperity side by side the remnants of poverty but whatever it is the Korean movie industry has its fingers on the pulse of excellence.

Of course not every Korean movie is sold gold, Asian comedies don’t translate well and Koreans are obsessed about horrible soul wrenching romantic dramas but their action/thrillers are amazing.   Of course it helps South Korea has a lot of material to work with.  Two of the movies I’ve listed are “based” on real Korean serial killers like Yoo Young-chul who tried to kill dozens and whose killings were ignored by inept police. He was only tracked down by a pimp whose story is retold in dramatic fashion in Chaser

If you’re unfamiliar with the Korean action there might be some confusion like with guns or rather the lack of guns. Korean “heroes” rarely use guns seemingly preferring to get up close and personal with knives and hatchets ( Just by watching their movies I assume Korea is awash with tomahawk style hatchets). The Internet says that is because firearms are rare in Korea and gun crime is unheard of. However, I find that hard to believe considering the country has huge military bases and universal conscription with every man going through military service. You mean to tell me you can’t find one corrupt military man in all of Korea to sell guns on the black market?  Either American, or Korean?  My theory is Directors avoid pistols as bladed objects make for much better fight scenes as per the hallway brawl in Old Boy which was beautifully reenacted in Jude Law’s Repo Men.  One more puzzling point in Korean murder mysteries was the crime reenactments put on by police after a murder but further research has shown that when a murderer is caught he/she has to reenact the crime in front of police and a bloody media circus.

Below is a list of probably the best Korean movies out right now. It’s not a definitive list, there are others movies that I’ve probably missed out but if you haven’t seen these already go and get them now!  Post any that you think I’ve missed in the comments.

Good Bad Ugly

Old Boy


Man from Nowhere

Memories of Murder