Best South Korean Action Movies, Ranked

South Korean cinema is the best place to start at when looking for some of the best action movies with intricate story lines. These action movies many times leave Hollywood action movies behind, and set the bar exceedingly high. The recent Oscar-winning movie parasite is an example of South Korean cinematic greatness with thrilling action. There are numerous action thrillers produced in South Korea, which have achieved recognition on par with parasite. Some examples of these movies are given below as the best South Korean action movies:


6 Train to Busan (2016)

Directed by Yeon Sang-Ho, Train to Busan tells the frightening story of passengers on a train struggling to survive from Seoul to Busan in between a zombie apocalypse. This movie is the most realistic, tear-jerking zombie movie ever made. Props for this also go to all the actors, who made their characters feel like ordinary people reacting to a zombie apocalypse. Gong Yoo plays the hero father, Seok-Woo, who has the most intense character development in the movie. Gong Yoo shows his excellence by going from a father who does not have much time for his daughter to a father who would do anything to protect her. additionally, Train to Busan is a cinematic phenomenon, in which the camera angles aid all the zombie vs. human action in the best ways possible. It is bound to keep viewers at the edge of their seats, because of the simple, yet perfectly-executed storyline, which has been appreciated internationally. Fans can never and will never forget the bittersweet ending; enough to make anyone cry, and making the movie a repeat favorite.

Related: Train to Busan Director Eyes a Trilogy, Shares Vision for Third Movie

5 The Outlaws (2017)

Directed by Kang Yoon Seung, The Outlaws is based on actual events in 2007 of a turf war that broke out between Chinese and Korean gangs. The movie shows a Seoul detective, Ma Seok-Do (Ma Dong-Seok), attempting to keep peace in the neighborhood. This ‘police vs. gangster’ action thriller is a cool movie because of its watertight script and well-executed action scenes. Ma Dong-Seok gives a terrific performance, by making his character of the strong-minded detective Ma Seok-Do feel very realistic. Though movies of this genre are usually slow-paced, The Outlaws is the opposite, which is why viewers never get bored. Chock-full with humor, this is an epic movie with high-quality production and a must-watch for lovers of this genre.

4 I Saw the Devil (2010)

Directed by Kim Jee-Woon, this action-thriller tells the story of a secret agent Kim Soo-Hyeon (Lee Byung-Hun), who hunts down the serial killer Jang Kyung-Chul (Choi Min-Sik) to get revenge for his pregnant fiance’s murder. I Saw the Devil is not for the squeamish or faint-of-heart, due to the highly-graphic details of violence and sex. I Saw The Devil is a constant spine-chiller because of the eerie and creepy environment accompanied by a mentally and physically brutal plot. Choi Min-Sik’s brilliant delivery of the psychotic killer is one of the most significant wow factors of the movie, as he completely embodies the character and makes him feel real. Though it is overloaded with graphic scenes of torture and other unpleasantness, it never feels gratuitous. This gritty and merciless experience is only for those with guts of steel who are fascinated by such action.

3 A Bittersweet Life (2005)

When a high-ranking mobster, Sun-Woo (Lee Byung-Ho) does not follow orders from his boss, things start going wrong for him. This is another one of Director Kim Jee-Won’s action excellence before I Saw the Devil. This is one of the best action movies because of the camera movements and angles implemented in the fight scenes. This makes the gritty martial arts and Scarface-reminiscent gun battles incredibly realistic, marking the director’s knack for stylistic action. A Bittersweet Life is also known for playing with the audience’s emotions by making them feel bad for the bad guys, who are ruthless killers, and the built-up tension in scenes being released by humor. This movie is highly recommended for action lovers as the most streamlined action movie in modern cinema. It is pure, drenched with gore, and bloody enough to be loved by many.

Related: Most Anticipated Korean Films Still To Come In 2022

2 The Man from Nowhere (2010)

Directed by Lee Jeong-Beom, The Man From Nowhere tells the story of a quiet pawnshop owner, who takes on an organ trafficking ring to save the child, who is his only friend. Starring Won Bin as Cha Tae-Sik, the pawnshop owner, and Kim Sae-Rom as Jeong So-Mi, the movie shows the most genuine bond between the two leads. The audience is immediately drawn to love the main characters, due to this believable bond and begins to care for the little girl. Won Bin also performed his own stunts that added to the movie’s charm. The simple plot’s execution has been exceptionally done, accompanied by graphic and gory action. The director builds a tense and gloomy environment by using saturated colors leaning toward blue throughout the movie, which intrigues the audience. The Man from Nowhere is neither mindless nor mean-spirited, and is a must-watch for not feeling cruel despite the gory action.

1 Veteran (2015)

Directed and written by Ryu Seung-Wan, Veteran tells the story of a determined police officer Seo Do-Cheol (Hwang Jung-Min), who tries to stop a rich kid, Jo Tae-Oh (Yoo Ah-In), from buying his way out of every crime. This movie is surprisingly very gritty and intense for an action comedy, as the story develops into a dark chess game of cop vs. criminal as the movie progresses. The director does an excellent job of presenting the characters in a way that will instantly change the audience’s perspective of them. One minute the audience will root for the antagonist, and the next, they will utterly despise him. This also shows the superb acting skills of the actors, adding realism to the characters from daily life or interactions with colleagues. The action is top-notch with real-life martial arts and successful portrayals of the punches’ impacts. Touching upon themes of corruption and social classes, Veteran is a must-watch action comedy.

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