HomeEntertainment News13 Best Korean Thriller Movies That Will Leave You Unsettled

13 Best Korean Thriller Movies That Will Leave You Unsettled

While the global film industry is largely dominated by Hollywood and Westernized ideals, several other film industries are breaking through to the worldwide stage. Korean films are one such industry, with their movies having been masterfully fashioned, and often unpredictable, laced with folklore that gives way to films that bend traditional genres and take their audiences on psychological journeys that explore the darker sides of human experience.

With the sudden popularity of films such as Train to Busan(2016) and Parasite(2019), the best South Korean thriller movies are here to stay, and they aren’t slowing down any time soon. For audiences looking for new movie experiences, South Korean cinema offers a blend of humor, violence, and unexpected subplots.

Updated on May 22, 2023, by Daniela Gama:

With so many amazing South Korean thrillers out there, it can be hard to figure out which ones are worth watching; it was just five years ago, at the Cannes Film Festival (which is taking place right now), that Lee Chang-dong‘s Burning was one of the highest-rated features and took home the FIPRESCI Prize. To celebrate the genre that is frequently so well-executed by South Korean filmmakers, we look back at some of the most memorable thrillers.



13 ‘Carter’ (2022)

Joo Won covered in blood in Carter
Image via Netflix

Carter is an action-thriller that focuses on a virus that causes the infected to become violent and zombie-like. A man with a cross-shaped scar on the back of his head (Joo Won) wakes in a motel, where CIA agents demand that he reveal the location of Dr. Jung Byung-Ho (Jung Jae-young). Carter is able to escape and Han Jung-Hee (Jeong So-ri) reveals that he was to rescue the cured Ha-na (Kim Bo-min), Jung Byung-Ho’s missing daughter.

With incredible stunts, violence, and a fast-paced plot, Carter is a futuristic-style movie that reflects the pandemic-type world experienced over the past few years and cannot help but leave a feeling of unease.

Watch on Netflix

12 ‘Confession’ (2022)

Nana and So Ji-sub in Confession
Image via Lotte Entertainment

Min-Ho’s (So Ji-sub) lover is found dead in a hotel, with Min-Ho as the prime suspect due to the room being locked from the inside. With no evidence of an intruder, the character flees to an isolated cabin to meet with Shin-Ae (Kim Yunjin), who has never lost a case. Throughout the night Shin-Ae prompts Min-Ho to recount the events leading to the victim’s death.

Confession is able to skillfully examine the ways in which perspective can shift when presented with the true intentions, lies, and twists from Min-Ho’s tale. Events play out in multiple different ways as his story has holes poked in it time and again, prompting a complex account of events, and leaving its audience to question where the truth actually lies.

11 ‘The Cursed: Dead Man’s Prey’ (2021)

Uhm Ji-won and Jung Ji-so side by side in The Cursed Dead Man's Prey
Image via CJ Entertainment

The Cursed: Dead Man’s Prey is an occult thriller film developed from the 2020 drama The Cursed. In this universe, shamans are able to reanimate the dead to seek revenge. The movie begins when someone is murdered by a reanimated corpse.

An investigative journalist receives a call whilst on a radio show, and requests to be interviewed on camera, claiming to be the killer. He reveals there will be three more murders, and an army of reanimated corpses appear and attack. The film, written by Yeon Sang-Ho, is a creepy, action-packed ride containing layers of mystery, horror, and crime.

10 ‘Lucid Dream’ (2017)

Go Soo sat on a chair with wires all around him in Lucid Dream
Image via Next Entertainment World

Lucid Dream follows a father desperate to find his son who went missing three years prior. Dae-Ho (Go Soo) is convinced that it was one of the corrupt enemies he made while exposing them. With no developments in the case, Dae-Ho learns of a new therapy that allows patients to relive their memories through lucid dreams. He meets his old friend, So-hyun (Kang Hye-jeong), who delivers the therapy. When he finds the prime suspect, not all is as it seems.

Lucid Dream is not unlike Inception, the movie by which writer Kim Joon-Sung was inspired. Lucid Dream showcases the lengths a person will go to in order to find a missing loved one, even when a technique is risky.

Watch on Netflix

9 ‘Midnight’ (2021)

Jin Ki Joo on her phone in Midnight
Image via CJ Entertainment

One of Do-Shik’s (Wi Ha-joon) kills is unintentionally interrupted by a woman and her mother (Hae-yeon Kil and Ki-joo Jin). When they go to the police, they are unaware that Do-Shik is the killer, who begins to stalk and play a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, determined to eliminate them.

Do-Shik carefully manipulates and takes advantage of Kyung Mi’s deafness, smirking and enjoying toying with his victims while staying one step ahead. The character of Kyung Mi highlights the realities that people face in society when struggling to be understood, while Squid Game‘s Wi Ha-Joon gives off an exceptionally chilling performance as killer Do-Shik.

Watch on Prime Video

8 ‘Hwa-Yi: A Monster Boy’ (2013)

Yeo Jin-goo holding a gun in Hwa-Yi A Monster Boy
Image via Showbox

Hwa-Yi: A Monster Boy follows a group of five men who kidnaped an infant. The group, consisting of a charismatic leader, a driving expert, a planner, a guns expert, and a martial artist, raise the boy, now named Hwa-Yi (Yeo Jin-gu). After Hwa-Yi’s first kill, he discovers his five fathers’ secret and vows revenge.

Hwa-Yi: A Monster Boy is an intensely dark revenge K-drama film that still manages to capture a gentler side to the relationship Hwa-Yi has with his fathers. The film prompts questions about relationships with others; both the ones built and the ones a person is born into.

Watch on Roku

7 ‘The Call’ (2020)

Park Shin-hye answering a phone call in The Call
Image via Next Entertainment World

The Call is a deeply disturbing film that touches on the dangers of knowing the future, and how it can be manipulated by knowing too much. Seo-Yeon (Park Shin-hye) loses her phone when traveling to visit her mother, and inadvertently discovers an old cordless phone. Young-Sook (Jeon Jong Seo), a scared little girl, tells Seo-Yeon that her mother wants to kill her. Seo-Yeon and Young-Sook begin to help one another but soon, Seo-Yeon learns that not all calls should be answered.

The Call doesn’t shy away from the darker things a human is capable of committing, and the continuous building of suspense will leave its audience hooked until the very end.

6 ‘Forgotten’ (2017)

Kang Ha-neul in Forgotten
Image via Megabox Plus M/B.A. Entertainment

Jin-Seok (Kang Ha-neul) moves to a new house with his family, though he can’t help but feel that something isn’t quite right. One night, he sees his older brother kidnaped. Nineteen days later, Jin-Seok’s brother (Kim Mu-yeol) returns, and he begins to notice abnormalities in his family’s behavior. Believing them not to be his actual family, Jin-Seok goes to the police for help. He soon learns a disturbing truth.

With its many twists and turns, Forgotten is a compelling South Korean psychological thriller movie that will keep viewers guessing throughout, with tension and mystery that serve as a masterclass for executing dark and twisted storylines.

Watch on Netflix

5 ‘The Wailing’ (2016)

The Wailing (2016)
Image via 20th Century Studios

In The Wailing, a mysterious Japanese stranger arrives in a small village in the South Korean mountains, and soon after, an unusual infection breaks out, causing the villagers to become violent. Jong-Goo (Kwak Do-won), a police officer, is drawn in, in order to save his daughter from the spreading sickness. Meanwhile, Jong-Goo’s mother-in-law seeks help from a local shaman, who reveals that an evil spirit has possessed his daughter.

The Wailing is a movie encompassing many genres; it is a psychological thriller, mystery, horror, black magic, and demonic film that has been written spectacularly, with many well-cast actors, who played their roles expertly.

Watch on Shudder

4 ‘Burning’ (2018)

Yoo Ah-in running in 'Burning'
Via: CJ Entertainment

Starring Steven Yeun, Jeon Jong-seo, and Yoo Ah-In, Burning is an intriguing South Korean psychological thriller that centers on deliveryman Jongsu as he bumps into a girl who once lived in his neighborhood and asks him to take care of his cat while she is away. When she arrives, though, Jongsu is introduced to a mysterious man named Ben, who tells him about his bizarre hobby.

Lee Chang-dong‘s impressive feature counts on several metaphors throughout and is a very thought-provoking film. On top of great performances, this slow-burn thriller movie provides audiences with a highly captivating premise that will linger in viewers’ minds for a while after watching it.

Watch on Peacock

3 ‘I Saw the Devil’ (2010)

Choi Min-sik in 'I Saw the Devil'
Image via Showbox

One of South Korea’s best, I Saw the Devil by director Jee-woon Kim is an almost flawless revenge film guaranteed to disturb viewers. It tells the story of a secret agent (Lee Byung-hun) who seeks payback on a serial killer through a series of captures and releases.

Although it features shocking graphic violence (not advisable for the most sensitive), I Saw the Devil is a highly addictive feature that will instantly glue the audience’s eyes to their screens thanks to its captivating narrative. It’s also a really stylish, absolutely terrifying film.

Watch on Prime Video

2 ‘Memories of Murder’ (2003)

Song Kang-ho and Kim Sang Kyung looking at the camera in Memories of Murder
Image via CJ Entertainment

Set in 1986, two detectives (Song Kang-ho and Kim Sang-kyung) attempt to solve the terrifying case of multiple young women being found sexually abused and murdered by an unknown serial killer out on the loose.

A frightening story through and through, Bong Joon-ho‘s drama mystery Memories of Murder is well worth the watch, especially for those who are into absorbing thrillers. A must-see feature, this 2003 film endures one of the best thrillers of all time.

1 ‘Parasite’ (2019)

Screenshot from Parasite
Image via CJ Entertainment

Taking the world by storm, Parasite had its audiences laughing at its underlying humor while gasping at its surprising twists. Parasite was adapted from Bong Joon-ho‘s play, written in 2013, and follows a family struggling to make ends meet. Their luck soon changes when Ki-Woo’s (Choi Woo-shik) friend suggests he take over as a tutor for a wealthy family whilst he is away.

The family gradually gains employment, even getting rid of the housekeeper, who leaves behind a secret in the house that leads to deadly consequences. Parasite skillfully dissects the characters’ mental states, showcasing how a person can be led down a dark path.

Watch on Max

NEXT: The Best Korean Movies on Netflix Right Now



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