With the exception of #2, all these films have been submitted as South Korea's entry for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film over the years. None made it to the final list of Oscar nominees, but still received critical acclaim and achieved commercial success.
1. Burning (2018)
While on a delivery run for his part-time job, aspiring writer Jung Su bumps into his childhood friend Hae Mi and agrees to look after her cat while she goes on a trip to Africa. When she returns with a new boyfriend named Ben by her side, Jung Su ends up learning all about Ben's secret hobby and a twisted love triangle unfolds. The movie is based on the short story Barn Burning from The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami.
Main cast: Yoo Ah In, Steven Yeun, and Jeon Jong Seo
Genres: Drama | Mystery | Psychological Thriller
Notable achievements: It was the first Korean film to make it to the final nine-film shortlist for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 91st Academy Awards, but didn't make the final list of nominees. It also won the FIPRESCI Prize at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and became the highest-rated film in the history of Screen International’s Cannes jury grid.
2. Silenced (2011)
A newly appointed art teacher at a school for hearing-impaired children uncovers the horrible truth behind the seemingly exemplary Benevolence Academy - faculty members have been sexually assaulting the young deaf students for years. The movie is based on real-life events that took place at Gwangju Inhwa School for the hearing-impaired.
Main cast: Gong Yoo and Jung Yu Mi
Genres: Drama | Crime | Legal/Courtroom
Notable achievements: While this movie is the only one on this list to not be submitted for Academy Award consideration, it sparked public outrage that led to the reopening of the investigation into the real-life incidents depicted. It was also the catalyst behind the passing of the Dogani Bill which abolished the statute of limitations for sex crimes against minors and the disabled.
3. Welcome to Dongmakgol (2005)
Set in Korea during the Korean War in 1950, the story centers on Dongmakgol, a remote mountain village. Its residents are largely unaware of the outside world and the village itself is untouched by the ongoing war. What will happen when both North and South Korean soldiers, as well as an American fighter pilot, end up finding the village?
Main cast: Jung Jae Young, Shin Ha Kyun, Kang Hye Jung, Im Ha Ryong, Seo Jae Kyung, and Ryu Deok Hwan
Genres: Comedy | Drama | War
Notable achievements: At the time, it was the fourth highest grossing South Korean film of all time.
4. The King and the Clown (2005)
During the reign of King Yeonsan in late 15th century Joseon dynasty period, two members of a struggling acting troupe are arrested for putting on a satirical play about the king. Dragged to the palace and faced with the threat of execution, they are given a slim chance to save their lives - make the King laugh and they will be spared.
Main cast: Kam Woo Sung, Lee Joon Gi, and Jung Jin Young
Genres: Drama | History | Period Film
Notable achievements: In 2005, it was the most watched movie of the year in South Korea, with over 12.3 million tickets sold.
5. Secret Sunshine / Miryang (2007)
After the death of her husband, a widow and her only child move to her late husband's hometown of rural Miryang. As she meets new people, tries to settle in, and move on with life, tragedy strikes again when her son is abducted.
Main cast: Jeon Do Yeon and Song Kang Ho
Genres: Drama | Religion
Notable achievements: Jeon Do Yeon won the Prix d'Interprétation Féminine du Festival de Cannes (Best Actress) at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. The film also won the award for Best Film at both the Asian Film Awards and the Asia Pacific Screen Awards.
6. A Taxi Driver (2017)
Based on a real-life story, the film centres on the events of the Gwangju Uprising in 1980. Needing money to pay his rent, a struggling taxi driver agrees to drive a German reporter from Seoul to Gwangju. Unaware of the situation, he unwittingly gets involved in the events of the historic uprising.
Main cast: Song Kang Ho and Thomas Kretschmann
Genres: Action | Drama | History
Notable achievements: It was the second highest grossing film of 2017 in South Korea, and is currently the eleventh highest-grossing South Korean film in history.
7. Mother (2009)
A widowed mother lives a quiet life with her 28-year-old son Do Joon in a small town where she sells medicinal herbs and provides acupuncture services. Their peaceful life is shattered when the body of a young girl is found and Do Joon is arrested for her murder. With an unreliable lawyer and the whole community turning on him, it's all up to Do Joon's mother to prove his innocence.
Main cast: Kim Hye Ja and Won Bin
Genres: Crime | Drama | Thriller
Notable achievements: The film won multiple awards at various film festivals and received widespread acclaim from critics, even making it on many film critics' "best-of" lists of 2010.
8. The Age of Shadows (2016)
Set in the late 1920s, the story follows a Korean police officer who was previously part of the independence movement but now works for the Japanese. He starts questioning his allegiances when he gets caught up in a cat-and-mouse game between a group of resistance fighters attempting to destroy key Japanese facilities in Seoul and Japanese agents who are trying to stop them.
Main cast: Song Kang Ho, Gong Yoo, Han Ji Min, Uhm Tae Goo, and Shin Sung Rok
Genres: Action | Drama | Period Film | Thriller | Spy
Notable achievements: Upon release, it topped the South Korean box office for three consecutive weeks.
9. Pietà (2012)
A ruthless and vicious man works as an enforcer for a loan shark, crippling debtors and forcing them to collect insurance money to pay off their debts. He begins to reconsider his violent lifestyle after the arrival of a mysterious woman claiming to be his long-lost mother.
Lee Jung Jin and Jo Min Su
Genres: Crime | Drama | Revenge | Sexual
Notable achievements: The film won the Golden Lion prize at the 69th Venice International Film Festival, making it the first Korean film to win the top prize at one of the three major international film festivals.
10. The Throne (2015)
Set in 18th century Korea, the movie depicts the troubled relationship between the long-ruling King Yeongjo and his son, heir to the throne, Crown Prince Sado. At age 27, the Crown Prince was deemed unfit to rule and condemned to a horrific death by his own father who ordered him to be locked in a rice chest.
Main cast: Song Kang Ho, Yoo Ah In, Moon Geun Young, Kim Hae Sook, and Park Won Sang
Genres: Drama | History | Period Film | Royalty
Notable achievements: Won three awards at the 35th Korean Association of Film Critics Awards, including Best Film.
11. The Front Line (2011)
Set during the 1953 ceasefire of the Korean War, the movie depicts the harrowing and dramatic events of the seemingly endless fights to determine the future dividing line between North and South and the efforts made by both sides to capture a strategic spot.
Main cast: Shin Ha Kyun, Go Soo, Lee Je Hoon, Ryu Seung Soo, Ko Chang Seok, Lee David, Ryu Seung Ryong, and Kim Ok Bin
Genres: Action | Drama | History | War
Notable achievements: It won multiple awards at various Korean film awards, including the 20th Buil Film Awards, 48th Grand Bell Awards, 31st Korean Association of Film Critics Awards, and 32nd Blue Dragon Film Awards.
12. Juvenile Offender (2012)
Abandoned by his parents at a young age, 16-year-old Jang Ji-Gu spends his days taking care of his sick grandfather and hanging out with a gang of troublemakers. After an 11-month stint at a juvenile detention centre, he meets his birth mother who now wants to make up for lost time.
Main cast: Lee Jung Hyun and Seo Young Joo
Genres: Crime | Drama | Coming of Age
Notable achievements: The movie won two awards at the 25th Tokyo International Film Festival - Special Jury Prize and Best Actor. It was also awarded the Lino Brocka Grand Prize and Best Actor at the 14th Cinemanila International Film Festival, as well as Best Children's Feature Film at the 2013 Asia Pacific Screen Awards.
13. Sea Fog / Haemoo (2014)
Based on a true story, the movie tells the story of the captain and crew of a fishing vessel who decide to make some extra money by smuggling 30 illegal immigrants into Korea. The heavy fog and rain make their journey a perilous one. They also end up being pursued by the authorities, leading the captain to order the immigrants to hide inside the fishing tank, where they face the risk of suffocating to death.
Main cast: Kim Yoon Seok, Park Yoo Chun, Han Ye Ri, Lee Hee Joon, Moon Seung Kun, Kim Sang Ho, and Yoo Seung Mok
Genres: Drama | Thriller
Notable achievements: Sea Fog made its international premiere at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival and was also invited to several other notable international film festivals.