Top 6 Korean Horror Movies that Guarantee You Nightmares!

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“I feel like I’ll wake up to find it’s all a dream. It all feels very surreal,” in ecstasy, Bong Joon-Ho grinned as he gratefully and gracefully received the first trophy his movie, Parasite, won at the 2020 Oscars. Being the first non-English movie to take home four Oscars – Academy Award for Best Picture, Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director – it was a euphoric moment and a true testament to the global recognition of Korea’s artistic endeavors – especially the Korean horror movies. 

South Korea has come a long way in its movie productions. Now, the Korean horror movies have taken the world by storm. Whether you are a newbie in scary films, or a horror aficionado who is looking for some top-notch terror, this is the right place for you! Let me take you on a journey….

Korean Horror Movies Experience : 

First stop – If you hate jump scares and gore 

First time horror movie watchers, here is where you wanna depart. I think watching Korean horror movies is like riding roller coasters, when you first experience it, it is new, it is scary, but it’s also exciting. And eventually, you either fall in love with it or get scarred forever. There’s no way in between. I also know the worst part is to get through the jump scares that can make your heart pop out or the gross bloody scenes. So, just to protect your fragile little heart from imploding, I have chosen some horror movies that do not have many of those, just for you to test out the water.

1. Train to Busan (2016)

Scary Level: 3/5

Train-to-Busan-korean-horror-movies
Image Source: Twitter

The box-office breaking movie, Train to Busan, is not your typical zombie movie – it is so, so much more than that. The movie is directed by Yeon Sang-ho. It debuted in Cannes and released on July 20, 2016 in South Korea. This Korean horror movie begins with the outbreak of a zombie apocalypse, as it spreads like wildfire over South Korea. And the zombies? They are very fast – so, not your typical dumb-dumb zombies. In the movie, we follow the story of the main leads, who are passengers on a high-speed train to Busan (i.e. the name), as they try to fight off and survive in this train full of sprinting brain-eaters. 

Main characters:

Seo Seok-woo (Gong Yoo)

Seok-woo is the main lead in this movie. He’s a self-centered, divorced hedge fund manager who spends very little time with his daughter, Su-an – we get to see his personal growth over the course of the movie. He is on the train to take his daughter to see her mom.  

Seo Su-an (Kim Su-an)

Daughter of Seok-woo, Su-an, unlike her father, is a kind-hearted and caring little girl who only wants to spend more time with her dad. 

Yoon Sang-hwa (Ma Dong-seok)

This *Ahjussi is on the ride with his pregnant wife.

*Middle-aged man in Korean

Seong-kyeong (Jung Yu-mi)

Seong-kyeong, I reckon, is the strongest pregnant woman I have ever seen. Remember when I said the zombies are quick? She is quicker, with a baby almost popping out, she easily outruns all the zombies. Wowza.

Why should you watch it?

This Korean horror movie not only consists of its horror elements, but it also works as a social satire. It shows the ugliness in humanity – what people are capable of doing in the moment of crisis. On the other hand, it also shows the bond forged during survival, and the sacrificing love a father has for their kids – it knows how to pull on our heartstrings (not going to tell you how much I cried during the movie). I would say this movie has a very heart-warming yet heartbreaking story.

Don’t get me wrong, the movie is still terrifying- you can feel the fear of these passengers through the screen as they hide in the bathroom, trying to remain in absolute silence even though they are shaking to their core, with the zombies on the other side of the door. You will find yourself on the edge of your seat throughout the entire movie.

Awards & Accomplishments

It won the Best Foreign-Language Film in Fangoria Chainsaw Awards, and the Special Audience Award for Best Film in Chunsa Film Awards. 

Reception

Needless to say, the movie was and still is a great hit. A record of 11 million people, globally, went to the movie theatre to watch this film. Train to Busan had a box-office gross of $98.5 million, worldwide, making it the highest grossing film of that year. Even Edgar Wright, a British filmaker who has directed the zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead, applauds to the movie. He says it is the “best zombie movie I’ve seen in forever” and a “total crowd pleaser” on Twitter

2. The Call (2020)

Scary Level: 3.9/5

(Available on Netflix worldwide) 

Listen, I know it has a rather high scary level, but it’s definitely a horror movie beginners can watch (even my very-easily-spooked sister has gotten through the movie). This twisted slasher thriller is directed by Lee Chung-hyeon and released on November 27, 2020 in South Korea. It is a story about two women from different times (twenty years difference), they can communicate with each other over a cordless phone, and their lives become intertwined because of this. At the beginning, the calling seems harmless – two girls with dreary family background and circumstances confiding in each other, keeping each other company – that’s what Seo-yeong thinks too. But then as the story unfolds, we quickly realize that this ringing tone will destroy Seo-yeon’s life. I’m sure it sounds very cool to be able to contact the past and make tiny tweaks to yours, but is it really a good thing?  

Main Characters:

Kim Seo-yeon (Park Shin-hye)

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Seo-yeong is one of the main leads of the movie – living in 2019, the 28-year-old lost her father when she was a kid and her estranged mom lives in a hospital.

 Oh Young-sook (Jeon Jong-seo)

Oh Young-sook
Image Source: Twitter

Young-sook is the other lead – living in 1999, Young-sook lives with her abusive mother. She doesn’t have much of a life before knowing Seo-yeon.

Why should you watch it?

I promise this film will BLOW YOUR MIND. The movie takes a slow burn to make us understand the inner state of two leads, it takes us on an unsettling journey. They so desperately want to alter the past. As the suspension and terror build up quickly, the truth reveals itself – let’s just say it would make your jaw drop. But beware, it does have some violent scenes (don’t worry it is not too gory). 

The actresses also delivered their roles flawlessly. Jong-seo finds a perfect balance between the quiet, creepiness of the character of Yong-sook and her cruel, maniacal side – making the movie so much more intense.

If you enjoy thrillers with serial killers and science fiction elements, this is the movie for you.

Awards and Accomplishments

Because of Jong-seo’s brilliant performance in the film, it is not surprising that she won Best Actress in 2021 Baek Sang Art Awards. Chung-Hyun Lee was also nominated as the Best New Director in the same Awards. 

Reception

The movie was originally going to be screened in theaters, but it is canceled because of the pandemic. Luckily, it can still be viewed on Netflix (streaming in over 190 countries).

Second stop – If you’re looking for Korean horror movies to send chills down your spine

Sometimes, it’s just one of those nights you know? You want to be spooked real good, but you also don’t wanna be down in the dumps. Here is the place for you…

3. Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018)

Scary Level: 4/5

(Available on Amazon Prime)

Based on a real-life psychiatric hospital, Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum, premiered on March 28, 2018 in South Korea. It is a *found-footage horror movie directed by Jung Bum-Shik. One night, the crew of a horror web series ventures into an abandoned asylum, which was closed down in the 1970s. Rumor has it, the director in the hospital tortured and murdered all the patients, and disappeared. What started as a fun little haunted house expedition, turned into a night they would all regret…

*found-footage: movies that show fragments of recordings.

Main Characters – Crew memebers:

From left to right: Charlotte (Moon Ye-won), Ah-Yeon (Oh Ah-yeon), Seung-Wook (Lee Seung-wook), Ji-Hyun (Park Ji-hyun), Sung-Hoon (Park Sung-hoon)

Why should you watch it?

With the shaky camera leading the entire experience, we as audience can see the asylum in the crew’s point of view. As a result, we also feel like we are exploring the haunted asylum with the team – the tension during the course of the movie could cut glass. The interations between the characters also seem very real, making the film more creepy and chilling. As a side note, this horror movie is almost entirely devoid of violent scenes, so for people who hates gore and blood, this is the movie for you. 

Awards and Accomplishments 

We all know the sound effect and music are extremely important components of a horror movie – i.e. without the “dunnnn dun duunnn dun ” sound in Jaws, you wouldn’t feel as intense – because you know the shark is coming. Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum has fantastic sound effects throughout the movie. They have won the Best Sound in the 5th Korean Film Producers Association Awards and was nominated for the best Technical (Sound) Award in the 39th Blue Dragon Film Awards. 

Reception

After three weeks, the movie already has 2.6 million views and over US$20 million in tickets sold. 

4. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)

Scary Level: 4.5/5

Unlike Gonjiam, this psychological horror film sends a different kind of shiver down your spine. Directed by Kim Jee-woon and released on June 13, 2003, A Tale of Two Sisters is inspired by a Korean Folktale. It is about a girl being released from a mental institution back to her house, to her dad, younger sister, and stepmom. Our lead finds out all kinds of weird things in her house – including ghosts. As the story progresses, we would discover a horrifying truth behind these haunting ghosts and this seemingly normal family…

Main Characters:

Bae Su-mi (Im Soo-jung)

One of the female leads (the sister) – she has severe disassociative identity disorder.

Bae Su-yeon (Moon Geun-young)

The younger sister that Su-mi is very protective of. 

Why should you watch it?

A Tale of Two Sisters is probably one of the most disturbing and creepy Korean horror movies out there. If you enjoy thinking and piecing stuff together, this movie would be very intriguing for you. As it keeps you guessing by presenting a ton of questions for you at the very beginning. It also has the best plot twist! The ending is amazing because it is so unexpected you would never see it coming. 

Awards and Accomplishments 

The movie won the Most Popular Film Award at the 2004 Fantasia Film Festival. In the same year, they also brought home the International Fantasy Film Award in Fantasporto along with the Orient Express Section Special Jury Award. 

Reception

A Tale of Two Sisters is the highest-grossing Korean horror movie of all time. It also is the first Korean horror movie to be screened at the American movie theatres right after it was released. It was so successful that the movie has a Hollywood remake called The Uninvited

Final stop – If you’re looking for Korean horror movies to get your mind all messed up

Hello, my fellow gurus, who have mastered the art of horror movie viewing and are searching for new ways to scare yourself. Welcome. Gore and violence are no longer a problem for you. You’re looking for the next level of scare – the ones that make you question humanity. The ones that send you down in an existential crisis. This is the perfect place for you.

5. Parasite (2019)

Scary Level: 100/5

“A comedy without clowns, a tragedy without villains,” is what the creators said when asked to describe their four-time Oscar winning Korean horror movie/thriller, Parasite. The movie is definitely the kind of horror movie that leaves you in shock even after you walk out of the theatre, take a shower, go to sleep, and a week after that. The movie is directed by Bong Joon-ho, premiered on May 30, 2019 in South Korea. The film mainly follows the story of the Kim family, who struggles to make ends meet. It begins with the son, Ki-woo, getting a high-paying tutoring job in the wealthy Park family. Eventually, they all found a way to work in that household and live off them like parasites. They later discover a horrifying truth, and make decisions that eventually lead them spiraling into madness. 

Main Characters:

Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho)

The dad of the Kim family. He is also the Park’s chauffeur.

Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik)

The son of the Kim family. He is also Park’s daughter’s English tutor. 

 Kim Ki-jung (Park So-dam) 

The daughter of the Kim family. She is also Park’s son’s art therapist.

 Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin)

The mother of the Kim family. She is also the housekeeper for the Park family.

Why should you watch it?

The brilliance of this Korean horror movie is not restricted to its jump scares and fun mystery, but it’s twists and turns that we never see coming, and its painfully dead-on take on our current society. This thought-provoking horror movie exposes the severity of the wealth gap and what it does to people. Adding to that are the elements of  intense suspension, and so much chills – it is such a well-thought-out film. The title Parasite also is a double entendre – why not watch it and find out?

Awards and Accomplishments 

Parasite won 304 awards and 268 nominations in total. Apart from the Oscars, it has also swept away so many other trophies from different award ceremonies, including the 2020 Asian Film Awards of the Best Film and Best Screenplay. 

Reception

This movie grossed over $100 million globally, breaking the box office record with over $258 million. The social issues explored in the film are applicable in all places around the world – it resonates with everyone – making it increidbly popular everywhere.

6. Oldboy (2003)

Scary Level: 1000/5 

This is one of the most messed up, twisted, and diabolical Korean horror movies ever. Oldboy transforms itself from a not-so-innocent mystery thriller to something much deeper than that. The movie is directed by Park Chan-Wook and released on November 21, 2003 in South Korea. Begins with a shot of a man being chained to the wall at a cop station, he’s drunk while his friend is bailing him out. The next moment, we see that he wakes up in a sealed room. Turns out he got kidnapped and has spent fifteen painful years imprisoned.  The story begins when he gets unknowingly released on a random roof one day. He has to look for and seek vengeance on his captor – what he doesn’t know is that a far worse fate is awaiting for him. As the horrifying truth unfolds, it leaves us shaken up and petrified.

Main Characters:

 Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik)

Our main lead of this film. A mysterious man imprisoned him for fifteen years. The actor Choi Min-sik lost and gained weight for his role. He had intensive training before and during the filming in order to do most of his stunt work.

Why should you watch it?

Oldboy is very deserving of its worldwide recognition. Not only because of how twisted and tragic it is, but also how it plays with our emotions. The gut-wrenching pain and desperation we feel as we get closer to the truth. And not to mention, the outstanding performance of Min-sik – he was really committed to the role and has executed it amazingly.

Awards and Accomplishments 

The movie won the Best Film Award in not only the Korean Film Awards (2004), but also in the Sitges Film Festival (2004) and Hong Kong Film Awards (2005). On top of that, it also claimed the Best Foreign Film Award in Austin Film Critics Association (2006). The director and our main lead also won the Best Director and Best Actor awards in 2004 Asia-Pacific Film Festival. 

Reception

“[oldboy is a] powerful film not because of what it depicts, but because of the depths of the human heart which it strips bare” – Roger Eber, a renowned movie critic praises. This movie was such a hit back in the days (it still is). It was voted as one of the ten best Asian movies ever made in The Cable News Network (CNN) in 2008, and included in the list of the top 500 movies of all time in the Empire, which is a famous British Film Magazine, in the same year. 

If you’re interested in knowing more about Korean horror movies or Korea’s culture in general – feel free to check out our Blog Page!

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