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The Thirteen Best Korean Films Streaming on Netflix Instant (2015 Edition)

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This would be one hell of a marathon

For the past six or seven years, I've told people that my favorite type of international cinema is Korean. And even though I've been a little less in the loop recently than I was a few years ago, I still have a deep love for Korean films. And as such, I have long been asked to write this list, and I have long intended to do so.

One of the unfortunate things about Netflix is just how frequently films come and go. As I write this, there are only 45 Korean films on the service. Around the end of last year, it was nearly twice that. I don't know why this is, but it does make me sad.

I've seen some absolutely fantastic Korean films on the service that are not available, but there's every possibility that they'll come back at some point. Perhaps by the time you read this, they'll be back. And for that reason, this is intended as a living document, one to be updated periodically as films come and go. In a perfect world, once a film like Silenced or Castaway on the Moon hit the service, it would be there forever. Sadly, that's not the case.

So below is a list of the thirteen best Korean films you can see on Netflix right now, which if you remember fractions means that, yes, this list is nearly one-third of the films currently available. And that's not to say that the rest of the films are bad. Some of them certainly are, but others (e.g. War of the Arrows (watch here) and The Pirates (watch here)) are absolutely worth your time. 

Let's get this party started.

Vengeance Trilogy

The Vengeance Trilogy (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance)
Director: Park Chan-Wook 

When you're trying to get into Korean cinema, The Vengeance Trilogy is both the best and worst place you could possibly start. Best because it's one of the strongest trilogies in cinema history and each film is fascinating in and of itself. Worst because it's one of the strongest trilogies in cinema history, which means that it's pretty much all downhill from there. 

I'm frequently asked which film in the trilogy is my favorite, and it's hard to choose. I love them all for different reasons. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is the most visceral, Oldboy is a narrative marvel, and Lady Vengeance (especially the fade-to-black-and-white version, sadly not available on Netflix) is simply gorgeous. Many people would just put Oldboy here and be done with it, possibly relegating the other two to separate entries, but that does a disservice to everyone involved. Absolutely watch Oldboy, but don't watch it in a vacuum.

Watch Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance here, Oldboy here, and Lady Vengeance here!

The Man From Nowhere

The Man From Nowhere
Director: Lee Jeong-Beom 

I like The Man From Nowhere quite of lot, and many people like it a whole lot more than me. It's definitely one of the more enjoyable Korean action/martial arts films, following a mysterious protagonist as he works his way through a criminal ring that takes children and forces them to drug-related labor. It's an intense film with some truly badass moments (the through-the-window shot is among my favorite in recent memory), and even if it sometimes feels a bit too... American (it often feels like the film pulls punches in a way that something like The Chaser does not), it's well worth a watch.

Watch it here!

Lee Jeong-Beom's follow, No Tears for the Dead, is also available, and it has some pretty awesome moments as well. There's a whole bunch of crazy shootouts, explosions, and a ridiculous amount of blood. I don't know if it's better than The Man From Nowhere, but it's definitely worth checking out.

Watch it here!

The Host

The Host
Director: Bong Joon-Ho 

Snowpiercer (also on Netflix) may have done more to bring Bong Joon-Ho's films to a wider audience, but The Host is definitely the better film. (Memories of Murder, which cemented his status as an essential Korean director, is sadly no longer available for streaming.) I could go on and on about how great The Host is, but I think Scott Tobias said it best on Twitter a little while back:

A monster movie set during the day? Freaking genius. And it works. Oh boy does it work. For people who are a fan of giant monsters wrecking things, this is an easy recommendation. But even people who aren't really into that sort of thing should see it, because it's a spectacular and unique take on a very familiar concept.

Watch it here!

The Good, The Bad, The Weird

The Good, the Bad, and the Weird
Director: Kim Jee-Woon 

Kim Jee-Woon is my favorite director. It's not just that The Good, The Bad, and The Weird is an amazing film (although it's certainly that); the way it fits into Kim's filmography is so appropriate and bizarre. Following up A Bittersweet Life (among my favorite gangster films of all time) and A Tale of Two Sisters (a fascinating horror film that goes on and off of Netflix with unfortunate regularity), a straight-up comedy Western seems like a hardcore turn away. But it goes back further, and it's more reminiscent of Kim's second film, The Foul King, which is a comedy about a wanna-be Luchador wrestler. While The Good, The Bad, and The Weird turns things up to 11, it serves as a reminder of just how versatile a director Kim is.

Watch it here!

I Saw The Devil

I Saw the Devil
Director: Kim Jee-Woon 

Remember that time when I said that Kim Jee-Woon is my favorite director? Yeah, this list could have turned into a Kim Jee-Woon-fest if there were any more of his films on Netflix. This is quite probably the most depressing Korean revenge thriller, which you may know is a particularly depressing subgenre. Sometimes it seems like the film is delighting in just how fucked up it is and just how soul-crushing it can be, but that does nothing to diminish the artistry of it all. You need to be in a particular frame of mind to watch I Saw the Devil, but if you go in prepared for serious emotional pain, you'll only have your night ruined and not your entire life. (And it's worth that much.)

Watch it here!

New World

New World
Director: Park Hoon-Jung 

When Choi Min-sik told me about New World at the New York Asian Film Festival in 2012 (damn, time flies), he compared it to The Departed. I found that fascinating and just a little bit offensive. Was he implying that, as a white person, I hadn't seen Infernal Affairs and had only seen Scorsese's American-ized version? Problem was: I hadn't seen Infernal Affairs yet. I'd had a copy waiting for me at home for at least a year by that point, but I never got around to seeing it. Now I've seen Infernal Affairs, and it's a great movie that I highly recommend to those of you who have also been putting it off for inexcusable reasons.

You know what else is great? New World.

Watch it here!

A Company Man

A Company Man
Director: Lim Sang-Yoon

I've said in the past that A Company Man is the kind of film I joke about when I joke about the ultra-violence of Korean cinema. Here is a film that goes all-freaking-out in service of a message that really doesn't justify the bloodshed. Yes, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, but even Jack Torrence didn't bring an M-16 to the office. So it's kind of problematic, and its message is hit-you-over-the-head-and-shoot-you-fifty-times blunt... but that didn't stop it from being enjoyable. It's certainly not on the level of Lesson of the Evil, which I still question my response to every so often, although it's also not quite as well-crafted as that film. Still, it's an interesting film and an enjoyable one. As long as you can handle bloodshed, you'll certainly be intrigued and most likely have a good time.

Watch it here!

Poetry

Poetry
Director: Lee Chang-Dong 

I knew that Poetry was going to be on this list from the moment I decided to write it. That moment was more than a year before I saw the film. For a long time, I simply neglected the works of Lee Chang-Dong. I don't have any good excuse for having done so, but he was the one big name in arthouse Korean cinema that I was aware of but seemed to be avoiding. I'm not avoiding him any longer. If you have neglected his works as well, I suggest fixing that immediately. But, like other films on this list, Poetry hits hard. It hits really, really hard. This is a film that will make you sad, and then it will just keep making you sad until the exceedingly sad ending. There is no catharsis, no hope, no redemption. There is simply life.

Perhaps it's poetic, beautiful in some twisted way, but it goes straight for the heart, and once it latches onto you, it doesn't let go. 

Watch it here!

Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek
Director: Huh Jung 

Hide and Seek is a movie that's terrifying in its plausibility. It's a creepy and tense thriller following a family that is being stalked by a helmeted murderer. They don't know why, and they don't seem to be able to stop it. The ultimate reveal is fascinating and also really freaking scary, and it gets at an interesting societal problem, one that may be Korea-focused but is certainly more broadly applicable. You can't sympathize with the murderer, but even understanding what might drive them to do this puts this a step above most films of its sort. I wish I could say more, but... it's best if you just see it for yourself.

Watch it here!

Breathless

Breathless
Director: Yang Ik-June 

Breathless is like nothing else on this list, for a lot of reasons, but the biggest one you notice from the very first frame. Most films on this list are gorgeous. They've got high production value. They look and feel like cinema. Breathless... doesn't. It's ugly. It looks like a movie shot on tape in the late 1990s early 2000s. The audio isn't particularly well-mixed, high quality, or even apparently functional. There are weird bouts of silence throughout that seem like mistakes, though I don't think they were. It's also painfully slow... but none of that matters.

This is a bleak and unrelenting look at a part of society that people try to ignore and/or forget, where bad people do bad things to innocents and everyone has to deal with the consequences. It takes a very long time to get into it, but commit and you'll be rewarded with something unique, fascinating, and depressing as hell.

Watch it here!

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Alec Kubas-Meyer
Alec Kubas-MeyerReviews & Features Editor   gamer profile

Alec Kubas-Meyer signed up for Flixist in May of 2011 as a news writer, and he never intended to write a single review. Funny, then, that he is now the site's Reviews (and Features) Editor. After... more + disclosures


 


 



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