par Lily Alice, décembre 23, 2023

2023 has witnessed Korean cinema pushing the boundaries of creativity.

While K-dramas continue to hold more popularity than K-movies, domestic big-screen productions are gradually finding their place in the global market.

As such, the Korean cinema has experienced an uptick in global recognition for the movies it rolled out this year.

So, looking back at what made noise at the box office/streaming services and what really stood out for its originality, let's run down through some of the standout K-movies of 2023, in no particular order.

Note: Some of the K-movies may not be available on the mentioned OTT platforms in some countries.  

1. The Roundup: No Way Out

A sequel to The RoundupThe Roundup: No Way Out is a crime thriller centered around monster detective Ma Suk Do (Ma Dong Seok) sweeping up drug criminals in Incheon. Lee Joon Hyuk and the veteran Japanese actor Aoki Munetaka come as antagonists, fueling excitement. 

Action, humor, and suspense — The Roundup: No Way Out ticks all the boxes of a box-office hit. At the time of writing, the K-movie stands as the highest-grossing Korean film of 2023. 

 Watch The Roundup: No Way Out on Prime Video. 

2. 12.12: The Day

December 12, 1979. Seoul was deep in political tension. President Park has been assassinated, and martial law declared.

Head of the Defense Security Command Chun Doo Kwang (Hwang Jung Min), and a group of officers carry out a coup. But, stubborn Commander Lee Tae Shin (Jung Woo Sung), who believes that it is not befitting for the military to take political actions, fights Chun Doo Kwang to prevent him from executing his plans. 

The conflict between the two intensifies as the Defense Minister disappears and military leaders hold onto their decisions. In the midst of pandemonium, the spring in Seoul takes an unexpected turn.

Providing viewers with a window into the past, this tension-filled political drama recounts the nine grueling hours of the emergency the 1979 Seoul faced.

12.12: The Day is currently not available on global OTT streaming services. 

3. Concrete Utopia

Seoul is stricken by a massive earthquake. Everything has come crumbling down except for one place: Hwang Gung Apartments. 

Survivors outside the apartment complex flock to the place, putting the residents on guard.

The residents of the Hwang Gung Apartments band together for survival, taking Kim Young Tak (Lee Byung Hun) as the new resident leader. They adopt new regulations just for residents while completely barring outsiders from entering. As a result, unlike the horrific world outside, the people in the apartment are safe and at peace. However, amid an unceasing struggle for existence, an unanticipated discord arises among them.

Concrete Utopia prides itself on its engaging storyline, excellent cinematography, star cast (Lee Byung Hun, Park Seo JoonPark Bo YoungKim Sun YoungPark Ji HuKim Do Yoon), and vivid depiction of the human psyche when faced with the desperate struggle for survival.

Concrete Utopia is currently not available on global OTT streaming services. 

4. Smugglers

When a chemical factory nestles in a tranquil coastal village of Jeju Island, Haenyeo (female divers who harvest sea life) face a threat to their livelihood.

Chun Ja (Kim Hye Soo), looking for a job, comes to know that simply lifting an object tossed into the sea can earn you a lot of money. She decides to employ her skills in smuggling and goes on to extend the offer to the leader of the haenyeo, Jin Suk (Yeom Jung Ah), to join her. Despite being aware of the dangers, Jin Suk dares to take the plunge. Amidst this backdrop, a life-changing opportunity to become rich comes to the fore.

From pulse-pounding underwater action sequences to high-stakes heist to satisfying comedy, all bound by Korean retro charm, Smugglers has plenty of fun to reel you in and keep you hooked throughout. 

Watch Smugglers on Prime Video.  

5. The Point Men

Amidst a critical international conflict, a group of evangelists from a South Korean Presbyterian church comes to Afghanistan, against governmental protocols, aiming to evangelize Afghans. 

The group is abducted by the Afghani terrorist group Taliban, which then presents a series of demands in exchange for the hostages' release.

The Korean government dispatches a seasoned NIS agent, Park Dae Sik (Hyun Bin), and a skilled diplomat, Jung Jae Ho (Hwang Jung Min), to negotiate.

Casting veteran actors Hwang Jung Min, Hyun Bin, and Kang Ki YoungThe Point Men draws inspiration from the real-life events of the 2007 hostage crisis involving South Korean Christian missionaries in the Middle East. Apart from the fabulous sets, scenic locations, and the actors' dedicated performances, the film was lauded by global viewers for keeping the story grounded in reality and not twisting major facts.

Watch The Point Men on Prime Video, Viki, and Netflix

6. Noryang: Deadly Sea

Post seven years of Japan's invasion of Joseon, Admiral Yi Sun Shin (Kim Yoon Seok) prepares for the final battle in the Noryang Straits. His goal is to thoroughly destroy the Japanese navy, which is seeking to flee Joseon by breaking the blockade.

The conclusion to Kim Han Min-directed trilogy, Noryang: Deadly Sea surpasses the scale of its previous installments. The Korea Herald reports that "some 30 billion won ($22 million) was spent on the battle sequence alone"

Noryang: Deadly Sea is currently not available on global OTT streaming services. 

7. Next Sohee 

Next Sohee is loosely based on true events and tells the story of a high school student named So Hee (Kim Shi Eun) who dies after she starts field training in a call center. In her pursuit of the truth, a determined female investigator, Yoo Jin (Bae Doo Na), embarks on an investigation that leads to startling revelations.

Next Sohee will keep you invested with its slow-burning plot, powerful performances, and candid portrayal of the harsh reality of youths in South Korea.

Next Sohee is currently not available on global OTT streaming services. 

8. Love Reset

Love Reset is a rom-com K-movie about No Jung Yeol (Kang Ha Neul) and Hong Na Ra (Jung So Min). The couple had married after fighting hard for their love and are now seeking divorce after tolerating each other for two years. 

But, before they part ways for good, they get into an accident and lose their memories just 30 days before they finalize their divorce. This brings their relationship back to square one. 

If you are looking for a light-hearted comedy that also surprises in unexpected ways, Love Reset is a perfect pick. 

Watch Love Reset on Viki

9. The Devil's Deal

The Devil's Deal is a crime saga that follows the story of Jeon Hae Woong (Jo Jin Woong), an aspiring assemblyman, as he enters the dark world of politics. 

Hae Woong is determined to go to any length to change his fortunes after being kicked out of the electoral competition by Kwon Soon Tae (Lee Sung Min). He then obtains classified materials and joins hands with a local gang leader, Kim Pil Do (Kim Mu Yeol), for help in return for real estate profit. 

Now, Hae Woong returns to the political race and seeks revenge on Soon Tae. 

Top-tier performances, nail-biting tension, and a complex plot elevate The Devil's Deal to the ranks of Korean cinema's best crime and political thrillers.

Watch The Devil's Deal on Viki.

10. Soulmate

Soulmate tells the story of two best friends, Ahn Mi So (Kim Da Mi) and Ha Eun (Jeon So Nee). 

The two became buddies when they were teenagers and have been inseparable since then. But they experience a rift in their friendship when Ham Jin Woo (Byeon Woo Seok) comes into the picture. 

Fast forward to the present, Mi So lives as a successful businesswoman. She finds Ha Eun's blog through a series of events and looks back on the years of their friendship.

Keep your tissues handy because this tearjerker thaws the hearts of even the most stoic.

Soulmate is currently not available on global OTT streaming services. 

11. Ransomed

Diplomat Lee Min Joon (Ha Jung Woo) has a simple wish — to be appointed to work in the United States or Europe. But all his requests and efforts are in vain. One day, he was working late at night when he received a coded message from a diplomat who had gone missing in Lebanon. 

Seeing this as an opportunity to score big, he volunteers for the unofficial rescue mission in the hopes of securing a promotion to the United States. 

However, the task appears to be more difficult than anticipated. When things don't go as planned, Min Joon joins hands with Pan Su (Joo Ji Hoon), a Korean taxi driver and con artist. 

Based on the actual events of a Korean diplomat gone missing in 1987, Ransomed impresses with its light-hearted humor, well-shot car chases, and compelling character dynamics between a bickering duo forced to work together in dangerous circumstances.

Ransomed is currently not available on global OTT streaming services. 

12. Boston 1947

At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Son Gi Jeong (Ha Jung Woo) won gold. But instead of proudly holding his head high, he shrank in pain for wearing the Japanese flag on his chest despite being a Korean because Korea was a colony of Japan at the time.

The year is 1947, and Korea enjoys two years of liberation from Japanese colonialism. Seo Yoon Bbok (Yim Si Wan) is a 24-year-old marathon runner. He is training for the 51st Boston Marathon, and training him are Head Coach Son Gi Jeong (Ha Jung Woo) and Coach Nam Seung Yong (Bae Sung Woo). Son Gi Jeong not only wants his trainee to win, but he wants him to win while wearing the Korean flag on his chest. 

Despite its simple story, Boston 1947 impresses with the actors' performances, as they express emotions of struggle and pride for their nation in a way that strikes a chord with the viewers. 

Boston 1947 is currently not available on global OTT streaming services. 

13. Sleep

Soo Jin (Jung Yu Mi) and Hyun Soo (Lee Sun Kyun) are a newlywed couple. Their life is turned upside down when Hyun Soo starts behaving strangely during sleep.

Initially, it starts with sleepwalking but worsens to abnormal behavior, causing Soo Jin to worry that Hyun Soo might harm his family.

A unique story, talented cast, and a blend of horror and comedy make Sleep one of a kind. 

Sleep is currently not available on global OTT streaming services. 

14. Ballerina

Jang Ok Ju (Jeon Jong Seo) had one dear friend, Choi Min Hee (Park Yoo Rim). One day, Ok Ju visits Min Hee's home and discovers her dead. Her dying wish: Revenge against Choi Pro (Kim Ji Hoon). 

The former bodyguard sets out on the road for a bloody vengeance. 

Violence, gore, action, and an angry female lead — Ballerina is a must-watch for action movie enthusiasts. 

Watch Ballerina on Netflix

15. Hopeless

Yeon Gyu (Hong Xa Bin) is a teenager living in a slum village. His family comprises a depressed mother, an abusive stepfather, and a teenage stepsister, Ha Yan (BIBI).

He dreams of escaping from his hellish reality and saves money to leave the country. 

One day, Yeon Gyu attacks a classmate, who beat his stepsister, and lands in trouble. Now, he has to settle the case with money. His abusive father and depressed mother are of no help to him. 

In these dark circumstances, Chi Geon (Song Joong Ki), a mid-level boss in a local gang who sees in Yeon Gyu a glimpse of himself when he suffered from his alcoholic father, gives Yeon Gyu the money. Following that, he becomes a member of Chi Geon's gang.

Yeon Gyu, who wanted to escape from the dark pit he lives in, now finds himself sinking deeper into it.

Reeking of violence and brimming with emotion, Hopeless stands out for its well-executed plot, flawless acting, and vivid depiction of what it means to grow up surrounded by brutality. 

Hopeless is currently not available on global OTT streaming services. 

16. Unlocked

Na Mi (Chun Woo Hee) leads an ordinary life as a marketer at a start-up company. One day, she loses her phone which is picked up by Jun Young (Yim Si Wan). He then approaches Na Mi, threatens her, and commits crimes using her smartphone. Na Mi now struggles to escape from the clutches of the criminal. 

Thought-provoking, powerful, and suspense-filled — Unlocked is sure to keep you on the edge of your seats. 

Watch Unlocked on Netflix.

17. Jung_E

The time is the 22nd century. Climate change has left Earth inhospitable, which prompts humans to build a man-made shelter to survive. 

Civil conflict breaks out in these dire circumstances. To end the war, a brain cloning operation is carried out on the legendary mercenary Yoon Jung Yi (Kim Hyun Joo) to build an invincible A.I. warrior. 

Despite mixed reviews, Jung_E is considered one of the best K-movies of 2023, thanks to its well-shot dystopian scenes, jaw-dropping CGI, and tear-jerking tale.

Watch Jung_E on Netflix.  

18. The Childe

To help his ill Filipino mother, aspiring boxer Marco (Kang Tae Joo) journeys to Korea in quest of his father. However, his search takes a dangerous twist as he becomes the target of dangerous and powerful forces.

Gripping suspense, violent fights, unexpected comedy, and Kim Seon Ho's debonair charm will have you glued to your seat throughout this thriller.  

The Childe is currently not available on global OTT streaming services.

19. Brave Citizen

So Si Min (Shin Hye Sun) used to be a pro boxer. Now, she works as a temporary teacher at a high school. Si Min decided to keep a low profile and avoid getting into trouble to become a permanent teacher. As a result, she turns a blind eye to all the injustices at school. 

But, when she encounters a notorious bully, Han Su Kang (Lee Jun Young), she is unable to look the other way. 

Starring the queen of versatility, Shin Hye Sun, and the talented Lee Jun YoungBrave Citizen is a fun action comedy that will leave you with a sense of catharsis. 

Fun fact: Shin Hye Sun performed her own action scenes.

Brave Citizen is currently not available on global OTT streaming services.  

20. Dr. Cheon and Lost Talisman

Dr. Cheon (Kang Dong Won) can't hear or see ghosts but has made a living performing fake exorcisms. 

Despite this deception, he solves people's problems with his insight. 

One day, he gets a new client, Oh Yoo Kyung (Esom), who asks Dr. Cheon to help her possessed little sister. Believing it to be just another case, Dr. Cheon agrees to help Yoo Kyung until he realizes that this case is unlike any he has ever solved. 

The perfect blend of action, horror, and suspense, topped with comedy, makes Cheon and Lost Talisman an unmissable Korean flick of 2023. 

Cheon and Lost Talisman is currently not available on global OTT streaming services. 

21. Iron Mask

Jae Woo (Joo Jong Hyuk) wants to be a part of the national kendo team. To secure his spot, he must defeat Tae Su (Moon Jin Seung), who happens to be his elder brother's murderer.

Iron Mask stands out for its portrayal of the storm of emotions the protagonist experiences as he comes face to face with his brother's murderer. 

Fun fact: Iron Mask comprises only about 800 lines, significantly fewer compared to the 2,000 lines an average film includes.