Compared to before coronavirus, South Korean cinema was in a less illustrious state during 2021, with theaters closed for much of the year due to local outbreaks. Despite this, some Korean films still managed to debut.
You might be wondering: what are the Best Korean Movies of 2021?
Cinema Escapist‘s staff have curated this list of the top 11 Korean films from 2021 to satisfy your curiosity. We chose these 11 Korean movies based on their narrative craft, entertainment value, and societal significance. We’ve also included streaming links when movies are available on global platforms like Netflix.
Our selections include films from genres including comedy, action, romance, horror, and more. K-celebrity trackers will also find titles featuring top stars like Seo Ye-ji, Im Yoon-ah (Yoona), Byun Yo-han, Jo In-sung, and Jeon Yeo-been.
Let’s dive into 2021’s best Korean movies!
• • •
11. Hard Hit
Korean title: 발신제한 | Director: Kim Chang-ju | Starring: Lee Jae-in, Ji Chang-wook, Jin Kyung | Genre: Thriller
One day, the head of a bank branch in Busan gets a restricted phone call that warns him that a bomb will go off under his car seat and kill him if he stops the car. Thus begins the 2021 Korean thriller movie Hard Hit, which stars Jo Woo-jin as the aforementioned bank head.
Not that many thriller films came out in Korea during 2021, which likely helped Hard Hit gain significant traction with Korean audiences. It hit #1 at the box office upon its release, and is the fifth highest grossing Korean movie of 2021. With pumping background music and high stakes, Hard Hit does create a dynamic atmosphere that should get you excited at least for its first portions.
Korean title: 유체이탈자 | Director: Yoon Jae-geun | Starring: Yoon Kye-sang, Park Yong-woo, Lim Ji-yeon | Genre: Action, Mystery, Fantasy
Fantasy-action movie Spiritwalker centers on a man who’s lost his memory and awakens in a new body every twelve hours, forced to rediscover his identity each time. Soon, he meets a woman who says she recognizes him—and begins to realize that a mysterious organization is chasing after him.
Filled with dynamic action sequences tinged with comedic elements, Spiritwalker feels like an intriguing blend between Memento and The Beauty Inside. Korean audiences gave the film a warm reception upon its theatrical release in November 2021; Spiritwalker topped Korea’s box office for two weeks in a row.
9. Waiting for Rain
Korean title: 비와 당신의 이야기 | Director: Jo Jin-mo | Starring: Kang Ha-neul, Chun Woo-hee, Kang Sora | Genre: Romance, Melodrama
Waiting for the Rain chronicles the romance of a man named Young-ho and a woman named So-hee. The two meet by chance through the mail, and begin to develop a connection through the regular exchange of handwritten letters.
With this mail-based premise, Waiting for the Rain distinguishes itself from other Korean romances. It does a good job of tracing the evolution of a relationship over time and distance, as opposed to serving up romance in a hurried saccharine explosion. Furthermore, the film’s ability to evoke nostalgia is worth noting; it’s actually somewhat reminiscent of top Chinese tragi-romances like Us and Them.
8. On the Line
Korean title: 보이스 | Directors: Kim Gok, Kim Sun | Starring: Byun Yo-han, Kim Mu-yeol, Park Myung-hoon | Genre: Crime, Action, Mystery
Phone scams afflict people all over the world, South Korea included. 2021 action movie On the Line imagines what might happen if victims of such scams decided to take revenge.
The film stars Byun Yo-han (famous for his role in K-drama Mr. Sunshine) as a former detective named Seo Joon, who now runs a construction site. When phone scammers target him and his fellow workers, he vows retribution. Seo manages to track down the head of the syndicate (played by Kim Mu-yeol) who targeted him, and unravels a bigger operation than he had even imagined.
There are many Korean movies involving ex-cops taking revenge, so On the Line treads on established territory. However, its premise about phone scams and fast pace should satisfy many audiences, just as YouTube videos of people getting revenge on scammers often go viral. Indeed, On the Line did quite well at South Korea’s box office during 2021, ranking fourth overall for earnings.
7. Mission: Possible
Korean title: 미션 파서블 | Director: Kim Hyung-joo | Starring: Lee Sun-bin, Kim Young-kwang | Genre: Action, Comedy
If you’re looking for a blend of fun and action, check out Mission: Possible.
This comedy-action movie centers on a secret agent named Yoo Da-hee, who is tasked with stopping an arms smuggling operation in South Korea. Yoo is supposed to cooperate with a South Korean secret agent, but she instead links up with a hapless detective named Woo Soo-han due to a case of mistaken identity. When some key witnesses to the arms smuggling case end up dead, this odd couple must cooperate to survive and find justice.
In their roles as Yoo and Woo, lead actors Lee Sun-bin and Kim Young-kwang have great chemistry. The movie is full of action and doesn’t require a lot of intellectual investment; it provides solid entertainment for its two hour runtime.
Stream Mission: Possible on Viki
Korean title: 내일의 기억 | Director: Seo Yoo-min | Starring: Seo Ye-ji, Kim Kang-woo, Yeom Hye-ran | Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Hot on the heels of her success in last year’s hit K-drama It’s OK to Not Be OK, actress Seo Ye-ji headlined the 2021 mystery-thriller Recalled. In this film, Seo stars as a woman who wakes up one day to find that she’s lost her memory. When she begins experiencing hallucinations that portend murderous future events, she realizes not everything is as it seems.
Recalled is a highly suspenseful affair, one that reconstitutes many familiar K-entertainment tropes but in a novel way. It doesn’t take much effort to enjoy this entertaining movie, especially if you enjoy plot twists. Learn more about Recalled in our full-length review!
Korean title: 싱크홀 | Director: Kim Ji-hoon | Starring: Cha Seung-won, Kim Sung-kyun, Lee Kwang-soo | Genre: Disaster, Comedy
After eleven long years, an office worker named Park Dong-won has finally saved up enough to buy a home in Seoul. However, the night of his housewarming party, a large downpour plunges his new house into a massive sinkhole. Together with his antagonistic neighbor Jeong Man-soo, Park must find a way to get his housewarming guests to safety.
Such is the premise of Sinkhole —which became the second-highest grossing South Korean movie of 2021. This disaster comedy is full of hilarious moments, and also offers jabs at sky-high housing prices in Seoul. Altogether, Sinkhole is a bit reminiscent of Exit, which combined comedy, disaster, and veiled social critiques successfully enough to be one of 2019’s top Korean movies.
4. Night in Paradise
Korean title: 낙원의 밤 | Director: Park Hoon-jung | Starring: Uhm Tae-goo, Jeon Yeo-been, Cha Seung-won | Genre: Action, Revenge
Park Hoon-jung is most known for directing 2013 gangster-themed hit New World and writing 2010’s renowned action thriller I Saw the Devil. In 2021, he returned to direct Night in Paradise—a moody gangster revenge film that you can easily stream on Netflix.
The movie focuses on a gangster enforcer named Tae-goo, who gets exiled to the “paradise island” of Jeju after going on a bloody stabbing spree of a rival gang. On Jeju, Tae-goo ends up living with an arms dealer and his niece, a young woman named Jae-yeon. Tae-goo soon discovers there’s more to Jae-yeon than meets the eye, and the two begin to form a bond that gets tested when the consequences of Tae-goo’s prior violent actions catch up to him on Jeju.
With stylistic color grading and cinematography, Night in Paradise is a visual feast. It contains loads of action, and its unique setting of Jeju should prove intriguing especially for Asians more familiar with the island’s touristic reputation. Learn more about Night in Paradise in our complete review.
Stream Night in Paradise on Netflix
3. Miracle: Letters to the President
Korean title: 기적 | Director: Lee Jang-hoon | Starring: Park Jeong-min, Im Yoon-ah (Yoona), Lee Sung-min | Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Comedy, Romance
Fans of the hit K-pop girl group SNSD may be pleased to see member Yoona (Im Yoon-ah) continue her acting career unabated in Miracle: Letters to the President. Those who aren’t K-pop fans should still be able to enjoy this heartstring-tugging movie as well.
Miracle is set during the 1980’s, in an isolated village within South Korea’s North Gyeongsang Province. It centers on a young man named Joon-gyeong (Park Jeong-min), who aspires to establish a train station to serve the village.
Joon-gyeong sends many letters to South Korea’s President in an attempt to get the government to build the station, but fails. However, at school he meets a girl named Ra-hee (Yoona) — who start collaborating on other creative ways to build the station.
What makes Miracle worth noting is how it doesn’t get totally bogged down in romance. While it has cutesy tones, it leans more towards comedy than saccharine love. The movie also does a pretty good job of reflecting the 80’s in a nostalgic fashion (despite the fact that the real South Korean president in the 80’s probably spent more effort massacring people than receiving random letters). K-drama stalwarts might even see Miracle as a more rural counterpart to the hit drama Reply 1988.
2. Book of Fish
Korean title: 자산어보 | Director: Lee Joon-ik | Starring: Sol Kyung-gu, Byun Yo-han, Lee Jung-eun, Jung Jin-young | Genre: Drama
Director Lee Joon-ik has a knack for Joseon-era movies, for example The King and the Clown and The Throne. In 2021 he returned with Book of Fish. This film examines the unlikely friendship between an exiled scholar and an ambitious fisherman in a rural fishing village during the Joseon dynasty.
The movie is greatly entertaining, and excels in its depiction of everyday life in rural Korea. It also offers intriguing explorations about Confucianism versus Western thought, and taps into a rich historical context with references to real events. If you’re interested in artistic, thoughtful movies set in the Joseon period, then check out Book of Fish.
Learn more about Book of Fish in our full review.
1. Escape from Mogadishu
Korean title: 모가디슈 | Director: Ryoo Seung-wan | Starring: Kim Yoon-seok, Jo In-sung, Heo Joon-ho, Kim So-jin | Genre: Action, War
Our selection for the #1 best Korean film of 2021 goes to Escape from Mogadishu.
This action movie is “inspired” by real events in which South Korean and North Korean diplomats had to cooperate in order to flee the Somali Civil War in 1990. It became the highest-grossing South Korean movie of 2021, and is also South Korea’s submission to the 2022 Oscars for Best International Feature.
From Joint Security Area to Crash Landing to You, lots of South Korean movies and shows depict relations with North Korea. Escape from Mogadishu is especially worth highlighting because it depicts those relations in a more realistic manner compared to many other stories.
Learn more about why this is the case in our full-length review of the movie!
• • •
Want more Korean movies? Check out our lists of 2020 and 2019’s top Korean films!
What is the number 1 movie in Korea? ›
|1||The Admiral: Roaring Currents||2014|
|3||Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds||2017|
|4||Ode to My Father||2014|
'Parasite' tends to be a pivotal turning point for both Korean cinema as well as foreign films in America. The movie created history by winning four awards out of its six nominations at the 2020 Oscars.What is the 2021 Korean gangster movie? ›
Night in Paradise centers around the central character of a gangster named Tae-gu (Uhm Tae-goo) who takes revenge on a rival gang boss after his sister and niece are both killed in a targeted attack.Where can I find Korean movies? ›
- Netflix. Netflix needs no introduction. ...
- Hulu. ...
- AsianCrush. ...
- OnDemandKorea. ...
1. Yu Jae-seok, Lee Kwang-soo and Kim Yeon-koung travel all over Korea to learn from the best traditional masters in a bid to become the No. 1 Apprentice.What is Korea's top 10 Netflix today? ›
|#||TV in South Korea||Weeks in Top 10|
|1||Crash Course in Romance: Season 1||5|
|2||Physical: 100: Season 1||4|
|4||Love to Hate You: Season 1||1|
- #30. The Housemaid (2010) 70% #30. ...
- #29. Pieta (2012) 73% #29. ...
- #28. The Way Home (2002) 75% #28. ...
- #27. Lady Vengeance (2005) 76% #27. ...
- #26. I Saw the Devil (2010) 81% #26. ...
- #25. Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War (2004) 80% #25. ...
- #24. Thirst (2009) 81% #24. ...
- #23. Oldboy (2003) 82% #23.
Youn's win for her role as matriarch Soonja in Minari, director Lee Isaac Chung's masterful drama about a Korean American family's move to Arkansas in search of the American Dream, marked the first time a Korean actress won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.Is there any Korean War movies? ›
3 71: Into The Fire Is The Devastating Tale Of 71 Student Soldiers. 71: Into The Fire recounts the story of 71 South Korean student-soldiers who defended a middle school from the advancing People's Army of Korea (North Korea.)What is the name of Korean gangster? ›
Kkangpae (Korean: 깡패) is a romanization of the Korean for a 'gangster', 'thug', 'punk' or 'hoodlum', usually referring to members of unorganized street gangs.
What is K drama Netflix? ›
Squid Game. Crash Landing on You. Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha. Crash Course in Romance. Hospital Playlist.What is Korean movie called? ›
Hallyuwood, a compound word combining the word Hallyu (Korean Wave) with wood from Hollywood, is the informal term popularly used to describe the Korean-language entertainment and film industry in South Korea.Where can I watch Korean movies in English? ›
Unlocked is an upcoming South Korean Netflix Original thriller directed by Kim Tae Joon, and the adaptation of the Japanese movie Stolen Identity. The film will be the second Korean Original movie to be released on Netflix in 2023.What is the most watched Korean drama in Netflix? ›
1. Squid Game – 1 season (2021 – present) The show that launched Korean shows on Netflix into new living rooms worldwide, Squid Game is a brutal yet thrilling drama series with heart. It set records when it came out in 2021, reaching number one in Netflix's top 10 in 94 different countries, including the US and UK.Is Netflix free in Korea? ›
Watch Netflix on your smartphone, tablet, Smart TV, laptop, or streaming device, all for one fixed monthly fee. Plans range from USD6.99 to USD19.99 a month.What do we say 1 2 3 in Korean? ›
Korean Numbers: Native
1: 하나 (hana, but is usually shortened to 한 or han) 2: 둘 (dul) 3: 셋 (set) 4: 넷 (net)
Top 7 K-dramas for beginners
- Secret Garden.
- Coffee Prince. ...
- IRIS. ...
- The Heirs. ...
- Descendants of The Sun. ...
- My Love From Another Star. ...
- Boys Over Flowers. ...
Question: Who are the most popular K-drama actors? Answer: Among the most popular K-drama actors are Song Hye-kyo, Song Joong-ki and Lee Min-ho. Each of them are better known for their television appearances than big screen performances.What American shows are popular in Korea? ›
What is No 1 on Netflix? ›
|#||Films (English)||Weeks in Top 10|
|1||Your Place or Mine||2|
|3||The Woman King||1|
Netflix will be saying goodbye to six Netflix Original k-drama movies and TV shows in 2023. Say it isn't so! There are going to be some heavy-hitting k-dramas from Netflix's extensive library of Originals leaving the platform across 2023.Which Korean movie has highest IMDB rating? ›
1. Unlocked (2023) A woman's life is turned upside-down when a dangerous man gets a hold of her lost cell phone and uses it to track her every move.What are your favorite Korean movies from this year? ›
- Carter | Official Trailer | Netflix. ...
- Seoul Vibe | Official Trailer | Netflix. ...
- HANSAN: RISING DRAGON Official Trailer | Director Kim Han-min | Starring Park Hae-il & Byun Yo-han. ...
- Alienoid Exclusive Trailer (2022) ...
- Hunt (헌트) new trailer official from Cannes Film Festival 2022.
Day-Lewis remains the only actor in history to have earned three Best Actor Academy Awards. There has been a numberof actos who havepicked up two awards in the past. Jack Nicholson has earned 12 nominations in total and has three wins, though not all for Best Actor.Who is the Korean best actress Oscar? ›
Septuagenarian Youn Yuh-jung, South Korea's first Oscar-winning actress, has spent decades portraying nonconformist characters, from a vicious heiress to an ageing prostitute, challenging social norms in both career and life.What movies won all 5 Oscars? ›
In the past 90 years, only three films, It Happened One Night (1934), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991) have won all five Oscars from the forty-three films that secured nominations in all five prestige Academy Award categories.What movie is based on a true story Korean War? ›
It stars Jang Dong-gun, alongside Japanese actor Joe Odagiri and Chinese actress Fan Bingbing. This film is based on the story of a Korean named Yang Kyoungjong who was allegedly captured by the American Army on D-Day. Yang Kyoungjong was conscripted into the Japanese Imperial Army, the Red Army, and the Wehrmacht.What is the best known American film set in the Korean War? ›
“The Bridges at Toko-Ri” is probably the biggest prestige picture to feature the Korean War. Based on James Michener's 1953 novel, the movie follows a crew of Navy aviators assigned to bomb bridges in North Korea.Is the US in the Korean War? ›
More than 30,000 Americans died in the proxy conflict of the Cold War, in which the U.S. supported South Korea and the Soviet Union and China supported North Korea. On June 27, 1950, the United States officially entered the Korean War.
What is Korea's FBI called? ›
The National Intelligence Service (NIS; Korean: 국가정보원, 국정원) is the chief intelligence agency of South Korea.Who are the traitors of Korea? ›
The five officials were Education Minister Yi Wan-yong, Army Minister Yi Geun-taek, Interior Minister Yi Ji-yong, Foreign Affairs Minister Park Je-sun, and Agriculture, Commerce, and Industry Minister Gwon Jung-hyeon.Why is K-Drama so famous? ›
But why the big hype? Part of the reason is the film making itself: Korean television is simply good. It combines stylish drama and social issues with horror elements to perfection. There is no reason not to like it – which the world agrees on.Does Hulu have Korean dramas? ›
With Hulu, you can watch Korean dramas on all your devices. Whether you want watch Korean dramas online or from your Android device, Apple device or smart TV, Hulu has plenty of convenient viewing options.Why is it called K-Drama? ›
Korean television drama, sometimes known as "K-Drama", refers to Korean-language television shows of the drama genre produced in South Korea. Korean drama began in May 1956 with the film Death Row Prisoner, directed by Choi Chang Bong.What do you call a Korean actor? ›
The word for 'actor' in Korean is 배우 (baeu).
This can largely be used for both male actors and female actresses.
K-dramas just look and feel like 'more', like more effort was put into it, more research was done, more thought went into creating this one-of-a-kind experience for their fans, they even give you more episodes than Hollywood shows. It's just more value. Watching K-dramas will invite you into South Korea.Why Korean movies are so good? ›
They arguably produce the highest quality films in the world. What makes their films so unique is their originality, complexity and ability to span a multitude of genres.Which Korean Netflix has English audio? ›
- Love to Hate You.
- The King's Affection.
- Extraordinary Attorney Woo.
- Business Proposal.
- Remarriage & Desires.
- Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha.
- Hospital Playlist.
- Download and Install a VPN. Go to the VPN's website or your device's app store and download the VPN app. ...
- Connect to a Korean Server. Sift through the VPN's server list and connect to a Korean server. ...
- Launch Your Netflix App and Start Streaming.
What is the best crime thriller Kdrama? ›
- 1 /14. Mouse (2021) Directed by: Choi Joon-bae and Kang Cheol-woo. ...
- 2 /14. Memorist (2020) Directed by: Hwi Kim and Jae Hyun So. ...
- 3 /14. Tunnel (2017) Directed by: Nam Ki Hoon and Yong Hwi Shin. ...
- 4 /14. Less Than Evil (2018- ) ...
- 5 /14. Train (2020) ...
- 6 /14. Voice (2017-2021) ...
- 7 /14. Flower Of Evil (2020) ...
- 8 /14. Gap-Dong (2014)
- A Korean Odyssey.
- Summer Strike.
- Crash Course in Romance.
- Mr. Queen.
- The Glory.
- Alchemy of Souls.
- Love to Hate You.
- The Interest of Love.
- Signal (2016) 80 min | Crime, Drama, Fantasy. ...
- Tunnel (2017) 60 min | Crime, Drama, Fantasy. ...
- Defendant (2017) 70 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery. ...
- Voice (2017–2021) ...
- The Master's Sun (2013) ...
- Investigation Partners (2018–2019) ...
- Watcher (2019) ...
- Confession (2019)
Question: Who are the most popular K-drama actors? Answer: Among the most popular K-drama actors are Song Hye-kyo, Song Joong-ki and Lee Min-ho. Each of them are better known for their television appearances than big screen performances.What is the number 1 ranked movie of all time? ›
1. Citizen Kane (1941)What is the highest grossing foreign movies in Korea? ›
26 (Yonhap) -- "Avatar: The Way of Water" has beat its original film's box office sales record to become the highest-grossing foreign movie released in South Korea, data showed Thursday. The sequel to James Cameron's 2009 sci-fi flick "Avatar" has raked in 128.5 billion won (US$104.3 million) since its release on Dec.What is the highest rated IMDB Korean movie? ›
1. Parasite (2019) Greed and class discrimination threaten the newly formed symbiotic relationship between the wealthy Park family and the destitute Kim clan.Who is the most liked Korean actor? ›
- Lee Min Ho. Lee Min Ho is also a highly well-known South Korean actor who has starred in T.V. ...
- Lee Jong Suk. Lee Jong Suk was born on September 14, 1989, in Yongin, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea. ...
- Kim Woo Bin. ...
- Kim Soo Hyun. ...
- Ji Chang Wook. ...
- Park Seo Joon. ...
- Lee Joon Gi. ...
- Song Joong Ki.
Song Hye-Kyo (left) and Kim Soo-Hyun are South Korea's highest paid actress and actor respectively. KUALA LUMPUR: Song Hye-Kyo is South Korea's highest paid actress, commanding 200 million won (RM689,902) per drama episode, while Kim Soo-Hyun is the highest paid actor with 300 million won (RM1,034,852) per episode.Which movie has 9.5 rating? ›
Filmmaker-actor Rishab Shetty's Kantara has become one of the highest-rated Indian films on IMDb with a rating of 9.5 out of 10.
What are the top 3 biggest movies of all time? ›
|3||Avatar: The Way of Water||$2,267,071,788|
Fastest to $1 billion
Titanic became the first movie to gross over $1 billion worldwide on March 1, 1998, in 74 days of release. The list below is restricted to the 10 movies that reached the milestone the fastest.
Hallyuwood, a compound word combining the word Hallyu (Korean Wave) with wood from Hollywood, is the informal term popularly used to describe the Korean-language entertainment and film industry in South Korea.What country has the most successful movies? ›
In 2021, China reported the highest box office revenue worldwide, at approximately 7.3 billion U.S. dollars. This is more than the revenues of the United States, Canada, Japan, and the United Kingdom combined.Which country has the best film in the world? ›
The United States, India, and Japan rank near the top of the list of the countries that produce the best movies in the world according to moviegoers the world over.What movie has a 10 rating on IMDb? ›
|10||9.6||Band of Brothers (2001)|
|10||9.3||The Shawshank Redemption (1994)|
|10||9.2||The Godfather (1972)|
|10||9.1||The Godfather: Part II (1974)|
1. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)