This article was written in partnership with IGN South East Asia.
From dark noir to historical, each of these movies has a unique storyline, fascinating characters, and plenty of ‘in your face’ actions scenes.
Can’t decide which film to kickstart your Korean action film journey with? Start with these 5 thrilling Korean action films.
Battleship Island (2017)
You should watch this: if you are a WWII history buff
Director Ryoo Seung-wan (The Unjust, The Berlin File, and Veteran) is praised for his ground-breaking cinematography that captures the films’ settings and characters in detail. Last year, he took his filmmaking skills to greater heights through directing his latest film The Battleship Island, based on a true story about 400 Korean prisoners escaping from a forced labour camp in Hashima Island.
It took four years’ worth of research and film production to portray the prisoners’ struggles to survive from the Japanese military’s treacherous torture. Lead by the film’s three main characters (starring Hwang Jung-min, Song Joong-ki, and So Ji-sub), they map out their strategy in hopes they could climb over the prison walls that will lead to their freedom.
Get ready to be stoked by the mind-blowing cinematography and star-studded casts’ close chemistry. The heart-wrenching story about bandmaster Lee Gang-ok (Hwang Jung-min) and his daughter So-hee (Kim So-ahn) is one of the most touching scenes to watch.
The Divine Move (2014)
You should watch this: if you are looking for gritty gangster films
The Divine Move revolves around the game of Go – think about it like a Korean chess game with black and white pieces – which escalates into an intense bloodshed battle.
Professional Go player Tae-suk loses to an underground gambler Sal-soo. Tae-suk is later framed for his brother’s death and is sent to prison for 7 years. He seeks for revenge and trains hard (both his Go playing skills and fists). After being released from prison, with the help of his new-found comrades, they plan out a scheme to kill Sal-soo and his henchmen in the underworld.
Played by veteran actor Jung Woo-sung, he takes the viewers through Tae-suk’s footsteps as he goes through the extreme violence of ‘brain and brawn’ duels with his opponents. Don’t miss the iconic battle of Go which takes place in a freezer with dropping cold temperature.
Black vs White, it is a game of life and death filled with brutal kills in the battlefield. Who will win and survive in the end?
War of the Arrows (2011)
You should watch this: if you want to see some real ass kicking with a bow and arrow
Director, producer, and screenwriter Kim Han-min (Roaring Currents: The Road of the Admiral) showcases the power of archery, one of Korea’s popular sports, in his 2011’s historical film War of the Arrows.
Master archer Nam-yi goes up against the Qing Dynasty to save his younger sister Ja-in who is kidnapped by the Mongolian invaders.
Be astounded by its extraordinary cinematic approach in using bows and arrows as the heroes’ and villains’ weapon of choice. It is an epic ‘chase and fight’ historical battle! The rapid shots of battles with arrows flying around are the films greatest highlights.
The Age of Shadows (2016)
You should watch this: if you are looking for spy flick set in a historical setting
Director Kim Jee-woon has made many high-grossing films including The Good, The Bad, The Weird and I Saw the Devil, loved by Asian action film buffs across the world.
His latest 1920s action film The Age of Shadows follows a Korean captain of a Japanese police force who is ordered to take down the Righteous Brotherhood, a Korean independence group. With Kim Jee-woon’s notable strength in shooting hardcore action scenes, it is no wonder that this film was selected as the Oscar’s contender for the 89th Academy Awards for the Best Foreign Language Film!
Its excellent cinematography captures the fast-paced and gripping chase scenes including the climatic plot set in the train carriage. The film’s well-written storyline and action scenes fit well together in depicting the contrast of trust and loyalty.
It’s not just action, it also has a twisted plot that’ll keep you guessing.
Inside Men (2015)
You should watch this: if you love reading manga and webtoons
South Korean webtoon artist Yoon Tae-ho’s ongoing series The Insiders was adapted into live-action film Inside Men, directed by Woo Min-ho (The Spies and Man of Vendetta )who is no stranger to revenge action films (The Spies and Man of Vendetta).
Kang-hee, an editor of the conservative newspaper, helps congressman Pil-joo to take the lead as a Presidential candidate with the power of the press. Retired gangster Sang-goo ends up being punished after stealing the sponsor’s slush fund, causing him to seek for vengeance. Meanwhile, prosecutor Jang-hoon investigates the truth behind Pil-joo’s evil schemes.
The film portrays the corruption of Korean society – a ‘dog-eat-dog’ world filled with those who desire to fulfil their satisfaction with power, revenge, and success. As the story progresses, the suspenseful action scenes and spiteful dialogues will make you be on the edge of your seat.