When it comes to thriller movies, there is no place in the world that could beat the South Korean Film Industry. If Hollywood is famous for its technology and casting, whereas Bollywood boasts about stardom and entertainment quotient, the South Korean film industry triumphs at producing some quality suspense thriller movies for the masses today with their realistic approach.
The quality of South Korean thriller Movies can be assessed by the number of countries, these movies are released after being dubbed into their native languages. Such a stint couldn’t have been possible if the South Korean film industry was still kept under state regulations, however, all that changed after the first fully non-government-funded movie, Marriage Story, released in 1992.
But, it was after the release of the 1999 spy thriller film Shiri, which sold, even more, tickets than Titanic in South Korea that year, the South Korean film fraternity flourished and prospered to reach the stage that they are today. Today, filmmakers from Hollywood and Bollywood are getting inspired by the quality movies produced in South Korea. Most of these movies are either officially remade or partially taken as an inspiration to produce several movies in both Hollywood and Bollywood cinema.
So, if you are still unaware of some of the best suspense thriller Films of all time, then take a look at the following:
Best South Korean Thriller Movies of All Time:
Old Boy (2003)
Original Title : Oldŭboi
Being touted as one of the best suspense thrillers and listed among the Best 100 films on IMDB, Old Boy deserves to be on the list. Released in 2003, it is also the most popular movie in the South Korean film industry. The intensity of the movie can be assessed by the depth of the suspense element of the movie that gets revealed only during the last few scenes. Showing a blend of violence and grit, the movie is one of the best Korean suspense thriller Movies of all time.
The Man From Nowhere (2010)
Original Title : Ajeossi
The Man From Nowhere is a 2010 South Korean crime thriller film that tells us the story about a small-time pawn shop owner who gets in the middle of the drug and organ trafficking mobsters to rescue his only little friend, the only child who truly understands him. The rest of the story takes a lot of twists and turns while The Man From Nowhere sets off on a rampage to fight the crime lords and their gang to save his friend. Bollywood Film Rocky Handsome is the Remake of The Man from nowhere.
The Chaser (2008)
Original Title : Chugyeokja
Another serial killer movie, The Chaser was released in 2008 and is based on a real-life serial killer Yoo Young-Chul. The film is about a dishonest ex-detective turned pimp, who gets suspicious of a customer after two of his girls have gone missing after he sent them to him. The rest of the story sums up on his quest to unravel the mystery behind the missing girls using his detective skills in order to catch the person responsible for it. However, as he digs deeper, he finds out that the case is not as simple as it seemed in the first place. After he realizes that a serial killer is on the loose, he risks everything to bring the killer down.
Original Title : Madeo
If you ask me to pick the most shocking suspense thriller from South Korean films, then it would definitely be Mother, a drama movie released in 2009. The story revolves around a mother and her son, who suffers from a certain intellectual disability. The movie is about the mother’s unsolicited care and the depths she could go to protect her son. There’s a surprise element at the end of the movie that would stun anyone watching the complete film.
Three.. Extremes (2004)
Original Title : Saam gaang yi
Unlike other movies on the list, Three… Extremes is a collection of 3 individual short films combined together to be released as a single movie. The movie is also the first horror film on our list of best South Korean thriller films and is a sequel to a similar 2002 film, Three. The three short films in the movie are Dumplings in Mandarin, Cut in Korean and Box in Japanese. The movie is quite popular for its disturbing and cruel sequences and would make you feel creepy after you watch each short film.
Memories of Murder (2003)
Original Title : Sarinui chueok
Based on Korea’s first serial murder in the history, Memories of Murder is a 2003 Suspense thriller Korean Film. The film follows an investigation regarding the rape and murder of young girls from a particular region for which the local detectives get the help of a professional. The film will hit you to the core with its creepy and violent sequences, but at the same time would make you sit at the edge of your seat to witness how the mystery of the brutal crimes are unraveled.
A Dirty Carnival (2006)
Original Title : Biyeolhan geori
A Dirty Carnival is a 2006 crime thriller displaying an action packed life of mobsters. The film in a way explores the life of a gangster, his friendship, his loyalty and his ambitions with a realistic approach. Besides being an action-packed thriller, the movie also tries to convey a story about a man’s discovery about his capabilities as well as his limitations.
A Bittersweet Life (2005)
Original Title : Dalkomhan Insaeng
The South Korean film industry is known to explore its mob world through the eyes of cinema. A Bittersweet Life is yet another crime thriller based on mob life in South Korea. The film follows the life of a gangster whose life takes a drastic turn when he denies his boss’s instructions owing to an ego clash. Now the gangster has to live up to the wrath of his powerful boss and his whole life goes upside down. The movie gets ruthlessly violent while demonstrating the ethical codes in the Korean mob during its clash with personal morality.
I Saw The Devil (2010)
Original Title : Angmareul boatda
I Saw The Devil is a 2010 crime thriller movie displaying the cat and mouse chase between a serial killer and a secret agent. The movie is simply a revenge story where the main protagonist of the movie, who is a secret agent, hunts down a serial for the murder of his girlfriend. However, the way he sets up the revenge makes the whole plot exciting and thrilling altogether. It’s a must watch for all the fans of thriller movies.
New World (2013)
Original Title : Sinsegye
Although the plot may not seem unique, yet New World is still different in its own way because of the unexpected twists and turns in the movie that changes the rules of the game completely because of its suspense quotient. The film is about an undercover cop who tries to infiltrate the mafia to help the police ruin the criminal organization once and for all. However, their scheme doesn’t work out as planned with a surprising twist. The movie is a must watch for its brilliant storytelling and superb performance by the cast.
The Yellow Sea (2010)
Original Title : Hwang hae
The Yellow Sea is a 2010 South Korean thriller film that revolves around the misery of a poor taxi driver, who takes up the contract to kill a businessman on the accounts of a local gangster out of dire circumstances. He finds himself in further trouble when he fails to finish the contract and instead looks for his wife, who recently came to the city for work. However, due to some unexpected incidents, the police, South Korean mob, as well as the ethnic Korean Chinese mafia sets off to hunt him. The film is famous for its magnificent action sequences that are considered to be legendary even in Korean standards.
Voice of a Murderer (2007)
Original Title : Geunom moksori
Voice of a Murderer is a 2007 South Korean crime thriller drama film based on a real-life kidnapping case in 1991. The story of the film revolves around a famous news anchor, whose only 9-year old son gets kidnapped by someone. The kidnapper makes it clear through his conversation with the father that there would be dire consequences if the police is involved and now the father has to take up the responsibility to ensure the safety of his only child. Will he succeed or not, forms the rest of the story!
White Night (2009)
Original Title : Baek-yahaeng: Ha-yan Eodum Sok-eul Geotda
Based on a Japanese novel Journey Under The Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino, White Night is a 2009 South Korean mystery thriller film. The movie revolves around two murder cases set 14 years apart and the mystery about the connection between them. As the plot about the murder mysteries deepen, the new surprising facts are unveiled and the cops are shocked to find out the real culprit behind the murders. The movie is a must watch for its mystery and suspense quotient that remains intact throughout.
Original Title : Mong-ta-ju
Another kidnapping-themed mystery thriller, Montage is a 2013 South Korean film on our list. The movie is about a kidnapping that took place 15 years ago. Just when the statute of limitations in the case has been about to expire, there’s a new discovery when someone anonymously leaves a flower on the crime scene. The case gets further complicated when another kidnapping takes place using the same modus operandi on a similar target. Owing to these new advancements, three people associated with the earlier kidnapping team up together to solve the case. If they are successful or not, makes the rest of the story.
Midnight FM (2010)
Original Title : Shim-yaui FM
The life of a popular television announcer and midnight DJ gets upside down on the last day of her job when someone claiming to be her fan takes her family hostage and demands her to play her final broadcast as per his specifications. The movie focuses highly on the ruthless fan, who aims to be a vigilante inspired by the 1976 Hollywood film, Taxi Driver as well as the helplessness of a mother who tries hard to ensure the safety of her family.
#6 Bonus Movies
Confession of Murder
A Hard Day
The Age of Shadows
That’s it. I have shared the list and now it’s up to you that if you wish to watch these ruthless crime thrillers ever made, not just in the South Korean film industry, but anywhere around the globe.