No Parasite: 10 Best Non-Mainstream Korean Movies, Ranked by Rotten Tomatoes

No Parasite: 10 Best Non-Mainstream Korean Movies, Ranked by Rotten Tomatoes
Image credit: Grasshopper Film, Next Entertainment World, CJ Entertainment, Myung Films, CGV Arthouse, Twin Co., Ltd, Showbox, Paramount Pictures

Lesser known works from the makers of such hits as Oldboy and Parasite.

South Korea has firmly taken its place in the global film industry, and more and more viewers are turning to the classics of South Korean cinema.

If you don't know where to start watching South Korean movies, we offer you a guide to the most important Korean films you may not have heard of.

10. Tell Me Something, 1999

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Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 55%

A serial killer in Seoul leaves body parts of his victims in black garbage bags all over the city. Policeman Jo takes over the investigation and quickly connects all the victims – they were the former lovers of one woman, Chae Soo-yeon.

The movie draws a lot of inspiration from David Fincher's Seven, and the soundtrack of melancholic compositions by Placebo and Enya helped the movie become popular not only in South Korea.

9. Right Now, Wrong Then, 2015

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 67%

While killing time before a lecture, successful director Ham Cheon-soo meets young artist Yoon Heejung, who introduces him to her paintings. The drunken evening does not end the way they had planned, but miraculously the couple gets the chance to escape the cycle of mistakes.

The melodrama touches on the fragility of human relationships and the uncertainty of fate. The movie is constructed in a very unusual way: it consists of two equal parts, in which the same actors tell the same story in slightly different ways.

8. The Isle, 2000

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Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 73%

A mute woman, Hee-jin, runs an isolated fishing village on an island where houses float on the surface of the lake. She takes the pleasure of her visitors very seriously, helps them to get to the shore, sells them fish and even her own body, but often uses violence against men.

One day, the mysterious former detective Hyun-shik, who killed his girlfriend, moves into one of her houses. Hee-jin and Hyun-shik begin to bond, but soon their intimacy reaches the point of no return.

7. The Quiet Family, 1998

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Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 78%

An eccentric family of six buys a hotel on the outskirts in South Korea. There is no road, no visitors, the family business is on the verge of bankruptcy, and a crazy old woman comes to the house, claiming that it is cursed.

One day the family has no other choice but to believe in the curse – the first hotel guest commits suicide and the family has to hide his remains – and then it happens again. And again.

There's the typical Korean dark humor and tense atmosphere, but the movie's main strength is its charismatic cast: Oldboy's Choi Min-sik and Parasite's Song Kang-ho.

6. Burning, 2018

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 80%

A loose adaptation of Haruki Murakami's short story Barn Burning, it tells the story of impoverished provincial Jong-su, whose girlfriend Hae-mi begins an affair with a wealthy young man. One day, the latter tells Jong-su about his secret hobby, and from that moment on, Jong-su has a very bad feeling.

Lee Chang-dong's movie became one of the most important film events of 2018. Thanks to the director's efforts, a simple plot invented by Murakami became a 2.5-hour-long puzzle, where the apparent simplicity hides a huge number of possible interpretations.

5. The Good, The Bad, The Weird, 2008

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 83%

The story takes place in the 30s of the 20th century in Manchuria during the Japanese occupation. The criminal Yoon Tae-goo robs a train carrying a confidant of the Emperor of Japan.

Among his loot is a rare treasure map. The problem is that the valuable map is being hunted by the cold-blooded killer Park Chang-yi, with whom virtuoso marksman Park Do-won has long dreamed of a duel.

Director Kim Jee-woon has made a brilliant modern western with a lot of quotes from the works of Sergio Leone. And one of the duels is completely copied from the legendary final scene of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

4. Decision to Leave, 2022

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 85%

Detective Jang Hae-jun interrogates Song Seo-rae, a Chinese immigrant whose husband recently jumped off a cliff. Her husband was very cruel to Seo-rae, and she has every motive to kill him.

But while Hae-jun has no answers, he decides to get closer to Seo-rae and get to know her better, not expecting that the investigation will lead him to a tender feeling of love.

A deep story of love, memory and tenderness, woven into an exquisite detective plot, allowed this film to become one of the most iconic films of 2022. The director is the author of the cult Oldboy, Park Chan-wook.

3. Mother, 2009

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 89%

The mother of 28-year-old Yoon Do-joon uses a memory erasing technique: she presses a special point on his thigh and makes him forget all the bad things.

Once, her son killed a schoolgirl while drunk. Yoon immediately went to jail, but his mother starts her own investigation, which leads to completely unpredictable truths.

Bong Joon-ho's movie deals with the topic of motherhood and paints a picture of a destructive woman who confuses cruelty and violence with care and love.

2. The Chaser, 2008

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 89%

A thriller about former police officer Joong-ho, who has recently become a pimp. Joong-ho's workers have started to disappear and the only remaining girl has to be sent to another client, but she disappears too.

The man decides that a competitor has started a war and lured all of his subordinates to himself, but in reality everything turned out much worse.

Director Na Hong-jin's debut movie is a morally ambiguous procedural without any really good characters.

1. The Way Home, 2002

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 92%

This is a moral story about a mute grandmother and her spoiled grandson. The old woman humbly accepts all the boy's antics, raises and teaches him.

The movie is as kind as it is heartbreaking – several hours of sobbing and rethinking life after viewing are guaranteed. The film shows not only the cruelty of children, but also the wisdom of old age, which not everyone can acquire.