Almost everyone knows by now that some of the best horror movies out there are made in Asia. Japan & South Korea are the biggest countries to look out for. Korean horror directors have a tendency to either go quite arty and sophisticated or to go all-out gory and disgusting. The Wailing combines the two, and put Korean Horror on the map for good. We have listed the best Korean horror movies of all time.
Whispering Corridors (1998)
Directed by Park Ki-hyung, from the screenplay he co-wrote with In Jung-ok, helms Whispering Corridors, coming from a dearth in horror films in South Korea. The film was produced for USD 600,000 and was a box office success in South Korea, following A Promise and The Letter, both romantic dramas. Talks of a Chinese remake followed suit, which was supposed to come out in 2016. None has been released yet. Whispering Corridors spawned 4 sequels.
Park Chan-Wook writes, produces, and directs Thirst (literal meaning: The Bat), a horror drama about vampires. The movie won critical acclaim, praising Park’s fresh take on a vampire film. Thirst also got several production and acting nominations, including a nomination for the prestigious Palme d’Or Award. The production bagged the Jury Prize from the Cannes Film Festival in 2009, along with other wins from other award-giving bodies which includes the Chunsa Film Art Awards, Grand Bell Awards, Blue Dragon Film Awards, Director’s Cut Awards, and the Asian Film Awards. It grossed USD 13 million at the box office.
Kim Ki-duk writes and helms Moebius, a horror drama. The controversial film was initially given a restrictive screening rating by the Korea Media Rating Board, which effectively bans it from being shown as Korean theaters do not screen movies with such a rating. The Board, after further discussions and cuts, later changed it to an R-rating. The film was recognized for its merits so even though it did not make the list, it was still screened out of competition at the Venice International Film Festival. It also made its way to the Stanley Film Festival and the London Korean Film Festival in 2014.
I Saw the Devil (2010)
Kim Jee-won helms I Saw the Devil, a horror action flick centered on revenge. It was produced for USD 6 million and grossed USD 12.8 million at the tills. It almost got banned from being shown in theaters because of its violent scenes. The Korean Media Rating Board gave it a restrictive rating twice. With persistence, and several cuts in the film, it finally saw the light of day when it came out in Korean theaters in August 2010. The movie runs for 141 minutes. The removed scenes from the movie runs a total of 80 minutes and 90 seconds. It was later screened at the Sundance Film Festival, the Fantasporto Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, the Sitges Film Festival, the San Sebastian Film Festival, and the London Korean Film Festival in 2011. Critics lauded the film’s ability to evoke sadness and depth behind the violence. The direction was also praised for its engaging visuals and carefully structured scenes. It also got several acting and production nominations from various festivals and award-giving bodies. It was able to bag several awards, including the Grand Prize (Daesang) from the Baeksang Arts Awards.
Hansel and Gretel (2007)
Yim Pil-sung directs Hansel and Gretel, a horror flick he co-wrote with Kim Min-sook. It did its round of film festivals and nabbed some nominations and awards for the production. It was distributed by CJ Entertainment and grossed USD 2.2 million at the box office. Local and international critics all agree that Yim was able to spin the story in a refreshing way that still shocked the viewers. The movie played with the original Hansel and Gretel tale but spun it to give it a dark, unnerving, and terrifying feel.
Ahn Byeong-ki does not disappoint in this horror drama film he produced and directed. Phone is about ghost possession and it stars Ha Ji-won and Kim Yoo-mi. Ahn co-wrote the movie with Lee Yu-jin. Buena Vista Korea handled distribution and the horror flick earned USD 21.8 million at the box office. It did its round in international film festivals and was nominated in different categories, including Best New Director, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress. Critics gave mixed reviews; some criticized its use of cliches and an age-old storyline but others praised it for its scare tactics. An American remake was planned by Imprint Entertainment in 2009 but the production never pushed through.
301, 302 (1995)
Director Park Chul-soo scares as he delivers 301, 302 to the big screen, based on the screenplay Lee Seo-gun. It deals with social issues and how they are dealt by women in society. It was Korea’s entry to the Academy Awards under the category Best Foreign Language Film but did not make the cut. But it did, however, win Best Screenplay for Lee and Best Actress for Bang Eun-jin. Audiences and critics gave mixed reviews. Critics agreed on the dark feel of the story but found the pace too slow. This was remade in Canada in 2013. Director Egidio Coccimiglio directs the remake, using the title Compulsion.
White: The Melody of Death (2011)
Kim Gok and Kim Sun tag teams in directing and writing the supernatural horror movie that is White: The Melody of Death (Korean: Hwaiteu: jeojooui mellodi; Literal translation: White: The Melody of the Curse). Produced and distributed by DOO Entertainment and CJ Entertainment respectively, the movie earned USD 5.3 million at the box office. Lead actress Ham Eun-jeong sang the soundtrack White and released 3 different versions of it. The movie also stars girl group After School.
Kong Su-chang writes and directs this period horror flick R-Point, based on the Vietnam War. Released in August 2004 by Cinema Service, the movie grossed USD 6.7 million. Extensive social media marketing was done for the film. A website, www.rpoint.com, featured many fictional stories related to the movie’s plot. It also received several nominations from the Blue Dragon Film Awards, the Korean Film Awards, and the Grand Bell Awards. It was only able to nab the Best Sound award for Kang Joo-seok from Grand Bell. Critics praised the film for the fresh mix of war and horror, but some stated that the storyline was weak and left audiences confused.
A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
Kim Jee-won writes and directs A Tale of Two Sisters, based on a Korean lore called Janghwa Hongryeon jeon. This psychological horror drama spins a tale about a family and the ghosts that haunt their home. B.O.M. Film Productions Co. produced the film for USD 3.7 million, and Cineclick Asia and Big Blue Film distributed it to theaters. It won critical acclaim, winning the Best Picture award from the Fantasporto Film Festival in 2004. It also gained USD 1 million in gross profit, which makes it the highest earning Korean horror film at the time. It also the first K-horror movie to be released in the US. While the Korean production was lauded, its American remake in 2009, entitled The Uninvited, was panned by critics.
Hide and Seek (2013)
For his directorial debut, Huh Jung writes and directs a horror mystery entitled Hide and Seek. Studio Dream Capture produced the movie for USD 2.22 million. Next Entertainment World took care of distribution. It grossed USD 35.5 million at the box office. The production was nominated in different categories by different award-giving bodies. Huh was able to bag the Best New Director award from the Korean Association of Film Critics Awards. Actress Jeon Mi-seon won the Excellence Award, Actress in a Film from the Korean Culture and Entertainment Awards and the Best Supporting Actress award from the Golden Cinema Festival. Moon Jung-hee nabbed the Special Jury Prize from the Golden Cinema Festival as well. A Chinese remake of the same name was released in 2017.
Spider Forest (2004)
Song Il-gon takes the helm for Spider Forest, a spine-tingling horror mystery film. Song also wrote the screenplay for the movie. The original screenplay included all the explanations to the mystery in the movie but Song decided to remove as much as he can to make the movie ambiguous and not too expository, which allowed the audience to draw their own conclusions. In writing the screenplay, he merged two stories, one from the point of view of reality, while one was imaginary. Song admitted that combining both was arduous. The movie was produced for only USD 1.3 million, and 30% of the funds came from the Korean Film Commission of KOFIC. It was received better internationally than domestically, in terms of box office returns and reviews. It did its round in various international film festivals, only getting a handful of nominations.
The Wailing (2016)
Na Hong-jin’s The Wailing is one of the most popular and well-received Korean horror movies. He writes and directs the horror blockbuster. The film was screened at the Cannes Film Festival, out of competition, after its Korean release. Right after, it was screened in the US. This movie wins with a gross profit of USD 51.3 million. Distribution was handled by 20th Century Fox Korea. It turned the horror movie industry upside down as critics and audiences worldwide were entranced by this K-horror flick. It was given the Certified Fresh stamp by Rotten Tomatoes. It was recognized domestically and internationally by award-giving bodies and was nominated in several categories. For this movie alone, Na brought home a total of 9 awards.
Memento Mori (1999)
This is the sequel to the successful Whispering Corridors movie that came out in 1998. Kim Tae-yong and Min Kyu-dong co-write and co-direct this horror drama sequel. Entitled, Memento Mori or Whispering Corridors 2: Memento Mori, it only enjoyed limited theatrical release in Korea because of the controversial issue it tackles. Cinema Service distributed the film domestically. Critics lauded the film’s upgrade, compared to the original. The cinematography and the cast’s performance were better this time around. The scares and unnerving scenes were consistent as the first installment.
The Host (2006)
Upon release, this horror supernatural movie became the highest grossing Korean film ever. Bong Joon-ho helms The Host, a a movie about a father looking for his missing child, believed to be taken by a monster. Bong co-writes the screenplay with Baek Chul-hyun. Not only was the horror film a blockbuster, earning USD 89.4 million, it was also critically acclaimed, winning many awards, including Best Film from the Asian Film Awards and the Blue Dragon Film Award. Chungeorahm Film and Sego Entertainment produced the film for USD 11 million. It was distributed by ShowBox Entertainment. An American remake and a video game were in the works in 2008 to 2009 but both still have to see the light of day. Ditto for the planned movie sequel for The Host.