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15 Savage Korean Action Movies to Watch This Year

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15 Savage Korean Action Movies to Watch This Year

While a better part of Korean content has repeatedly managed to sweep audiences off their feet, Korean action movies are still gaining momentum in terms of their popularity. Like any other facet of Korean cinema, Korean action movies are simply mind-blowing. Gritty, captivating and spectacularly smooth, these movies are praised for their thrilling innovations and lightning-fast action sequences. 

In the past couple of years. There has been a conspicuous rise in the popularity of Korean action movies. Movies like Kim Jee Woon’s ‘A Bittersweet Life’ and Bong Joon Ho’s ‘Snowpiercer’ have been welcomed by audiences for their excellent narration and brilliant screenplay. Below is a list of 15 such equally heart-pounding Korean action movies that you simply cannot miss.

1 | A Bittersweet Life

  • Release Year: 2005
  • Directed By: Kim Jee Woon
  • Stars: Lee Byung Hun as Kim Sun Woo, Shin Min Ah as Hee Soo, Hwang Jung Min as President Baek, Kim Roi Ha as Mun Suk, Kim Yeong Cheol as Mr. Kang, Jin Goo as Min Gi, Jung Yu Mi as Mi Ae
  • Streaming Platform: Disney + Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video
  • Run Time: 1h 58m
  • Movie description: Life gets twisted for Kim Sun Woo (Lee Byung Hun) when he is subjected to his boss’ revenge on account of his apparent disobedience. 
  • Plot: Kim Sun Woo is an eminent mobster who is fiercely loyal to his boss. In trying to fight his boss’ battles, he gets distracted by the possibility of solace when he decides to sympathise with his boss’ mistress Hee Soo (Shin Min Ah). The latter earns him his gang’s mistrust and he is labelled a traitor. Sun Woo eventually finds himself trapped in a bloody battle where he briefly emerges as the only survivor. Just when he is shown recalling Hee Soo’s recital, one of the few moments of peace in his life, he gets killed by one of the arms dealers.

2 | The Man From Nowhere

  • Release Year: 2010
  • Directed By: Lee Jeong Beom
  • Stars: Won Bin as Cha Tae Sik, Kim Sae Ron as Jeong So Mi, Kim Sung Oh as Jong Seok, Kim Tae Hoon as Kim Chi Gon, Kim Hee Won as Man Seok
  • Streaming Platform: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video
  • Run Time: 1h 59m
  • Movie description: A man who likes to keep to himself finds himself entangled in an exhausting chase to save his only friend.
  • Plot: Cha Tae Sik (Won Bin) is a pawnshop owner who appears distant and aloof to everyone around him. His friendly human interaction is limited to a young girl named So Mi (Kim Sae Ron). When the troublesome lifestyle of So Mi’s mother gets So Mi abducted, Cha Tae Sik does everything he can to bring her back. ‘The Man From Nowhere’ is a gripping tale of an unlikely friendship fueled by some heart-pounding violence. The movie was praised by the audience for its phenomenal storyline and spectacularly convincing acting. The movie was a huge commercial and critical success and was able to garner its fair share of cinematically significant accolades including the Grand Bell Awards and the Korean Film Awards.

3 | Snowpiercer

  • Release Year: 2013
  • Directed By: Bong Joon Ho
  • Stars: Chris Evans as Curtis, Kang Ho Song as Namgoong Minsu, Jamie Bell as Edgar, Tilda Swinton as Minister Mason, Ed Harris as Wilford
  • Streaming Platform: MX Player
  • Run Time: 2h 6m
  • Movie description: This 2013 is one of the most well-known works of ‘Parasite’ fame Bong Joon Ho. set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic world. 
  • Plot: Snowpiercer is a train that runs on its own. The train is filled with the last survivors of a climate engineering accident. Even though the train, in a way, symbolises the last of human existence, you get to witness a carefully inserted satire in the way these people have been arranged throughout the train. People aboard the train are separated by the peripheries of class. While the less privileged are huddled together in an unadorned section of the train, the wealthy are still encased in a space of conspicuous extravagance. The movie has been labelled one of Bong Joon Ho’s finest works and is considered one of the best Korean action movies to date.

4 |  The Good, the Bad, the Weird

  • Release Year: 2008
  • Directed By: Kim Jee Woon
  • Stars: Song Kang Ho as Yoon Tae Goo, Lee Byung Hun as The Bad, Ma Dong Seok as Gom, Jung Woo Sung as The Good, Ryu Seung Soo as Man Gil, Yoon Je Moon as Byung Choon
  • Streaming Platform: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video
  • Run Time: 2h 10 m
  • Movie description: This is an intricate tale of a rivalry between a group of people seeking a treasure map. This 2008 release is regarded as one of Kim Jee Won’s finest cinematic efforts.  
  • Plot: A rivalry sustains head parallel to the threat of certain Japanese and Chinese men when more than just some people decide to aim a common bull’s eye. A group of three men fight against the Japanese army and some Manchurian bandits as they navigate their way through the Manchurian desert in search of an unknown treasure. Following a bloody, lightning-fast battle, the three men literally turn to dust when they come across a disappointing revelation. ‘The Good, the Bad, the Weird’ was a spectacularly dramatic Korean action movie that was loved by the audiences for its phenomenal narration. 

5 | Okja

  • Release Year: 2017
  • Directed By:  Bong Joon Ho
  • Stars: Paul Dano as Jay, Tilda Swinton as Nancy Mirando, Steven Yeun as K, Jake Gyllenhaal as Dr. Johnny Wilcox, Lily Collins as Red, Choi Woo Shik as Kim Woo Shik
  • Streaming Platform: Netflix 
  • Run Time: 2h 
  • Movie description: Okja is a heartwarming tale of an unlikely friendship between a young girl and her superpig.
  • Plot: Under the CEOship of Nancy Mirando, 26 super pigs are bred by the Mirando Corporation. These superpigs are then positioned in 26 parts of the world, one of which happens to be in South Korea under the attention and affection of a young girl named Mija. Mija and Okja practically grow up together and go through a myriad of memorable incidents together. One of the latter-mentioned incidents include a time when Okja nearly falls off a cliff but is saved by Mija just in time. Things take a turn for the worse when Mirando Corporation declares Ojka the best super pig and decides to take her away from Mija. Mija then does everything in her capacity to keep Ojka in her life.

6 | The Warrior (Musa/The Ultimate Warrior)

  • Release Year: 2001
  • Directed By: Kim Sung Su
  • Stars: Zhang Ziyi as Princess Bu Yong, Ahn Sung Ki as Jin Rip, Ju Jin Mo as Choi Jeong, Jung Woo Sung as Yeo Sol
  • Streaming Platform: Disney + Hotstar
  • Run Time: 2h 34m
  • Movie description: Nine men belonging to the Goryeo dynasty go the extra mile in trying to save a Chinese Ming princess so as to make up for a diplomatic failure on their part. 
  • Plot: A diplomatic convoy hailing from Korea’s Goryeo dynasty is labelled a group of traitors by the people of Ming dynasty. When left with no chances of survival let alone of going back home, the convoy decided to protect a Ming princess from the Mongol convoy. A seemingly never ending battle ensues between the envoys of Goryeo and that of the Mongols. When the groups finally reach their destination, they are greeted with nothing even remotely more than lifeless ruins of something that was once a fortress.

7 | The Host

  • Release Year: 2006
  • Directed By: Bong Joon Ho
  • Stars: Song Kang Ho as Park Gang Doo, Byun Hee Bong as Park Hie Bong, Park Hae Il as Park Nam Il, Bae Doona as Park Nam Joo
  • Streaming Platform: MX Player, Netflix
  • Run Time: 1h 59m
  • Movie Description: ‘The Host’ is a 2006 Bong Joon Ho directorial that follows a mysterious river monster as it navigates its way through its seemingly unending list of victims. 
  • Plot: An enormous amount of formaldehyde is dumped into river Han soon after which, mysterious incidents surround the river. Sometimes weird noises are heard, while on other occasions fishes of the river are reported to be dying under suspicious circumstances. A mysterious river monster finally emerges from river Han and begins to target the nearby population. When a large number of people are reported to have died at the hands of the river monster, the government finally decides to take action. Parallely, a series of chaotic incidents lead Gang Du-oo (Song Kang Ho) to lose his daughter to the monster. A sequence of unfortunate encounters are then witnessed between the people residing close by and the river monster until one of them is seemingly defeated. 

8 | Along With The Gods: The Two Worlds

  • Release Year: 2017
  • Directed By: Kim Yong Hwa 
  • Stars: Ha Jung Woo as Gang Lim, Kim Hyang Gi as Lee Deok Choon, Ju Ji Hoon as Haewonmak, Ma Dong Seok as Seongju, Chae Tae Hyun as Kim Ja Hong
  • Streaming Platform: Netflix
  • Run Time: 2h 19m
  • Movie description: ‘Along With The Gods: The Two Worlds’ is a 2007 Kim Yong Hwa directorial that follows a firefighter into his afterlife as he navigates his way through seven trials. 
  • Plot: An unfortunate incident causes Kim Ja Hong (Cha Tae Hyun) to lose his life. He however ends up succumbing to a heroic death that takes him to the path of seven trials that precede his reincarnation. The seven trials start with the Hell of Murder followed by the hells of indolence, deceit, injustice, betrayal, violence and impiety. The only way Kim Ja Hong can be deemed worthy of reincarnation is by passing through these seven trials without being declared guilty on any of the seven categories of charges. Kim Ja Hong’s only relief are his three guides who help navigate these trials that might lead him to his reincarnation. 

9 | Once Upon a Time in High School: The Spirit of Jeet Kune Do 

  • Release Year: 2004
  • Directed By: Yoo Ha 
  • Stars: Kwon Sang Woo as Hyun Soo, Lee Jung Jin as Woo Shik, Lee Jeong Hyeok as Jong Hun, Han Ga In as Eun Ju, Kim In Kwon as Jiksae
  • Streaming Platform: Netflix
  • Run Time: 1h 56m
  • Movie description: Hyun Soo is a school boy who is repeatedly subjected to unforgiving violence and brutality both at home and school following which he decides to turn his life around. 
  • Plot: Hyun Soo (Kwon Sang Woo) is a school boy who has recently transferred schools. His new school is nothing like his old school and has exposed him to an enormous amount of bullying and violence. To add insult to injury, he realises that he cannot even seek solace back home where his father treats him like the bullies at school. Hyun Soo then decides to take the reins of his life in his own hands and master the art of Jeet Kune Do. Jeet Kune Do is a form of martial arts that has been nurtured and practised by his childhood hero Bruce Lee. A series of violent encounters between Hyun Soo and the people who surround him cause him to get expelled from school. He then resorts to blaming games and complaining until finally realising that formal education is not the only chance one has at a good life. 

10 | A Dirty Carnival

  • Release Year:  2006
  • Directed By: Yoo Ha
  • Stars: Namkoong Min as Min Ho, Zo In Sung as Kim Byung Doo, Cheon Ho Jin as President Hwang, Jin Goo as Jong Soo, Lee Bo Young as Hyun Ju
  • Streaming Platform: Netflix
  • Run Time: 2h 21m
  • Movie description: ‘A Dirty Carnival’ is a 2004 Korean action movie that follows a rekindled equation between two elementary school friends – a gangster and a movie director. 
  • Plot: ‘A Dirty Carnival’ follows a Byung Doo, a gangster, as he navigates his way through the brutalities of the underworld and that of his own life. After witnessing the turbulent graph of his life as a part of the underworld  he reunites with two of his schoolmates. Min Ho is a movie director and Hyun Joo is a woman who was once Byung Doo’s love interest. His equations with the latter mentioned people affects and is repeatedly affected by his past and his criminal tendencies. 

11 | Sunflower

  • Release Year: 2006
  • Directed By: Kang Seok Beom
  • Stars: Kim Rae Won as Oh Tae Shik, Kang Seok Beom as Doctor 3, Heo Yi Jae, Kim Hae Sook as Tae Shik’s mother, Kim Byeong Ok as Cho Pan Soo, Han Jung Soo as Lee Chang Mu
  • Streaming Platform: Amazon Prime Video
  • Run Time: 1h 57m
  • Movie description: An ex-con’s attempt to start afresh is threatened by a politically backed redevelopment project. 
  • Plot: Oh Tae Sik (Kim Rae Won) is an ex-con who has been recently released from jail. As a consequence of much introspection, Oh Tae Sik decides to move back to his hometown and start afresh. There he starts residing with a woman, someone he considers a mother figure. The said lady runs a restaurant that soon becomes the target of a local politician who wants to replace the same with a shopping mall. Following the latter set of incidents, Oh Tae Sik faces a dilemma where he is forced to pick between his past and a life of non-violence.

12 |  War of the Arrows

  • Release Year: 2011
  • Directed By: Kim Han Min 
  • Stars: Park Hae Il as Choi Nam Yi, Kim Mu Yeol as Seo Goon, Moon Chae Won as Choi Ja In, Ryu Seung Ryong as Jyuushinta
  • Streaming Platform: MX Player
  • Run Time: 2h 8m
  • Movie description: This 2011 South Korean action movie follows a brother on his journey to save his sister.
  • Plot: ‘War of the Arrows’ is a 2011 Kim Han Min directorial that narrates the tale of two siblings who live a turbulent life following their father’s unfortunate demise. Choi Nam Yi (Park Hae Il) and Choi Ja In (Moon Chae Won) are brother and sister who are separated at a young age. On the brink of their potential reunification, Choi Ja In is abducted by the Qing Army. In a desperate attempt to save his sister, Choi Nam Yi engages in a series of violent encounters with his opponents.

13 | Silmido

  • Release Year: 2003
  • Directed By: Kang Woo Suk
  • Stars: Sol Kyung Gu as Kang In Chan, Jung Jae Young as Han Seung Pil, Kang Sung Jin as Chan Seok, Ahn Sung Ki as Commandant Choi Jae Hyun, Huh Joon Ho as Sergeant Jo
  • Streaming Platform: Netflix
  • Run Time: 2h 15m
  • Movie description: This 2003 South Korean action movie follows unit 684 that is loosely based on the real unit 684 of South Korea.
  • Plot: Following an unprecedented North Korean infiltration of South Korea’s Blue House, the South Korean army decides to form unit 684 out of a group of prisoners. These prisoners are offered a second chance at life but on one condition – they must succeed in assassinating Kim Il Sung. As part of their training to become a part of unit 684, these men are subjected to a rigorous training where one of them even loses his life. When the government changes its stance towards North Korea, the members of unit 684 are left feeling dejected until they decide to start a mutiny to avenge the injustice they have been subjected to. 

14 | The Tiger

  • Release Year: 2015
  • Directed By: Park Hoon Jung
  • Stars: Choi Min Sik as Chun Man Duk, Kim Sang Ho as Chil Goo, Jung Man Sik as Goo Gyeong, Kim Hong Pa as Herbal Shop Owner, Sung Yoo Bin as Suk Yi, Jung Ji So as Sun Yi
  • Streaming Platform: Amazon Prime Video
  • Run Time: 2h 19m
  • Movie description: A retired hunter is forced to return to work following a series of turbulent events. 
  • Plot: ‘The Tiger’ is a 2015 South Korean action movie that follows a retired hunter who is suddenly made to return to his hunting instincts one day. Set against the backdrop of a japanese-occupied Kingdom of Korea, this Korean action movie is an emotive journey of a hunter and a father. ‘The Tiger’ tells a deep, gripping tale backed by some great CGI and phenomenal acting.

15 | Assassination

  • Release Year: 2015
  • Directed By: Choi Don Hoon
  • Stars: Lee Jung Jae as Yem Sek Jin, Jun Ji Hyun as An Ok Yun, 
  • Streaming Platform: Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV
  • Run Time: 2h 20m
  • Movie description: A group of Koreans decide to assassinate a Japanese commander in a Japan-occupied Korea. Their plans are disrupted when a traitor decides to infiltrate them.
  • Plot: ‘Assassination’ is a 2015 Korean action movie set against the backdrop of Japan-occupied kingdom of Korea. A group of Koreans decide to team up against a VIP, a Japanese commander and assassinate him. Their plans are exposed to inevitable suppression both by their opponents and their own people. The movie was praised for its brilliant screenplay and Jun Ji Hyun and Squid Game fame Lee Jung Jae’s phenomenal acting.

Some of the best Korean movies are gradually making their way through the hearts of viewers across the globe, simultaneously competing with an ever powerful, mainstream western action cinema. While Korean dramas and K-pop have certainly paved a way for themselves, Korean action movies still have a long way to go in terms of their popularity. 

Korean action movies are promising, unique and loaded with some heart-pounding action. ‘The Host’, ‘the Warrior’, ‘A Bittersweet Life’ are some of the best Korean action movies that were able to garner their share of commercial success and critical acclaim. 

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