Looking for a Korean film to remind yourself of a lost love, watch with a significant other, or even help get over a breakup? Look no further than this list of the 16 Best Korean Romance Movies, updated for 2018 with streaming links included.
As East Asia’s media powerhouse, South Korea not only has romantic TV dramas, but also plenty of romantic films. Korea has romantic comedies, atypical romances, melodramas, and even fantasy romances — creating a very diverse set of movies for every occasion, be it a breakup or first date.
We’ve compiled a list of 16 movies that reflects the rich diversity and quality of Korean romance. Most of these films are from within the past decade, though we’ve included a few titles from the early 2000s that you won’t want to miss.
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Korean title: 오직 그대만 (Ohjik geudaeman)| Released: 2011 | Starring: So Ji-sub, Han Hyo-joo
Inspired by the 1931 Charlie Chaplin silent film City Lights, Always (alternatively known as Only You) features the love story between a former boxer named Jang Cheol-min (played by So Ji-sub) and a blind female telemarketer named Ha Jung-hwa (played by Han Hyo-joo).
The film has the outlines of a typical melodrama — male character with a dark past, female character with a health condition — but never becomes too excessive. Instead, Always offers a low-key yet heartfelt and poignant look at the sacrifices people make to keep love alive. Both leads feel like three-dimensional people, not archetypes; they’re easy to empathize with. Great camerawork and careful background music lend additional emotional weight to the movie.
15. My Sassy Girl
Korean title: 엽기적인 그녀 (Yeopgijeogin Geunyeo)| Released: 2001 | Starring: Jun Ji-hyun, Cha Tae-hyun
If you’re an Asian or Asian-American millennial, you’ve probably heard of My Sassy Girl. This 2001 romantic comedy was a smash hit across all of East Asia, drawing comparisons to Titanic and helping launch the Korean Wave. Needless to say, My Sassy Girl has touched the lives of many young people across Asia and beyond.
The movie stars Cha Tae-hyun as a bumbling engineering student who meets a sassy (what else?) girl played by Jun Ji-hyun. This odd couple embarks on an eccentric, whirlwind romance with many twists and turns. Through many shots of soju, some classic film re-enactments, and a performance of Pachelbel’s Canon in D, My Sassy Girl‘s protagonists provide a highly unique and entertaining love story that’ll make you both laugh and cry throughout its entire two hour run-time.
Jun Ji-hyun’s unnamed “sassy girl” character is the film’s standout personality. Never before had Korean cinema — or Asian cinema in general — seen a female lead with such sass and personality. Audiences loved the “sassy girl” concept, and apparently other movie studios did too. My Sassy Girl inspired American, Nepalese, and Indian remakes, as well as Japanese and Korean drama spin-offs. The movie also has a sequel called My New Sassy Girl, which came out in 2016 and stars Victoria of the K-pop group f(x); you can read a review of that sequel here.
Korean title: 내 여자친구를 소개합니다 (Nae yeojachingureul sogae habnid)| Released: 2004 | Starring: Jun Ji-hyun, Jang Hyuk
Loved My Sassy Girl, and want to see more movies like it? Fortunately, there’s Windstruck, which also stars Jun Ji-hyun and has the same director (Kwak Jae-yong) as My Sassy Girl.
Beyond cast and crew, there’s a lot of similarities between the two movies. In Windstruck, Jun Ji-hyun also plays a strong female character: an ambitious police officer named Yeo Kyung-jin. While trying to catch a thief, she accidentally apprehends a physics teacher named Go Myung-woo (played by Jang Hyuk).
Go and Yeo end up falling in love with each other, though the film then takes a turn towards melodramatic fantasy as tragedy befalls one of them. While Yeo initially satisfies the “sassy girl” archetype at the start of Windstruck, her character becomes more introspective and emotional as the movie progresses. I won’t give too much away, but if you’re looking for a balance between the comedy of My Sassy Girl and classic melodrama, Windstruck might be a good choice. Also: Windstruck has a bunch of subtle references to My Sassy Girl which you can look out for.
13. My Girlfriend is an Agent
Korean title: 7급 공무원 (7keup kongmuwon) | Released: 2009 | Starring: Im Yeong-ho, Chun Sung-il, Shin Hye-yeon, Park Kyung-duk
Offering a blend of romance, comedy, and action, My Girlfriend is an Agent feels like a Korean version of Hollywood’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith.
Actress Kim Ha-neul and actor Kang Ji-hwan play secret agents Ahn Soo-ji and Lee Jae-joon, respectively. Agents Ahn and Lee get into a love-hate relationship, but don’t know about their respective secret identities. Unbeknownst to each other, both of them get assigned to stop Russian mobsters from deploying a biological weapon in Korea. Amidst a turbulent romance, the two must save the day behind each others’ backs.
My Girlfriend is an Agent did quite well at Korea’s box office and even inspired a K-drama remake called 7th Grade Civil Servant.
12. Architecture 101
Korean title: 건축학개론 (Geonchukhakgaeron)| Released: 2012 | Starring: Uhm Tae-woong, Han Ga-in, Lee Je-hoon, Bae Suzy
For a story of nostalgia and lost love, look no further than Architecture 101 — a moving Korean romance that happens to star Suzy from the hit K-pop group Miss A.
The movie starts in the present day, when a woman named Yang Seo-yeon approaches an old college classmate named Lee Seung-min to help design her house. The two first met in an architecture class, where Lee started falling in love with Yang. Architecture 101 traces the evolution of their youthful romance, linking it poetically back to the present day.
11. Il Mare
Korean title: 시월애 (Siworae)| Released: 2000 | Starring: Jun Ji-hyun, Lee Jung-jae
While Il Mare didn’t have a strong premiere at the box office, it’s become a cult classic among Korean romance fans. The film depicts a “time-transcending love” between a woman named Eun-joo (Jun Ji-hyun) and a man named Sung-hyun (Lee Jung-jae).
Eun-joo and Sung-hyun live in the same house by the sea — but at different points in time, two years apart. Somehow, the two begin to write letters to each other (don’t ask how… realism isn’t the movie’s strength), and gradually develop feelings for each other. Il Mare offers a calm meditative view on romance — contrasting with more rambunctious rom-coms like My Sassy Girl. The film’s famous for its great cinematography and scenery, which create a dreamy aura.
Il Mare also gained enough renown to spawn a US remake. Starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, The Lake House transplanted the original time-transcending concept to Chicago.
10. All About My Wife
Korean title: 내 아내의 모든 것 (Nae anaeui modeun geot)| Released: 2012 | Starring: Im Soo-jung, Lee Sun-kyun, Ryu Seung-ryong
Oftentimes, we see other countries remaking Korean romances. In this sense, All About My Wife is unique. This romantic comedy is actually the remake of an Argentine movie called A Boyfriend for My Wife.
This movie has an amusing premise. Lee Doo-hyun (played by Lee Sun-kyun) is a mild-mannered man who can’t stand his endlessly nagging wife (played by Im Soo-jung). Too timid to ask his wife for a divorce, Lee hires his casanova neighbor Jang Sung-ki (played by Ryu Seung-ryong) to seduce his wife away.
All About My Wife did pretty well at Korea’s box office, beating out The Avengers when it premiered. The film includes lots of witty jokes, and maintains strong storytelling momentum throughout.
9. Love 911
Korean title: 반창꼬 (Banchangkko)| Released: 2012 | Starring: Go Soo, Han Hyo-joo
A firefighter and a doctor fall in love: that’s the basic outline of the aptly named Love 911. Go Soo stars as a firefighter named Kang-il —who can’t get over his wife’s death— and Han Hyo-joo plays a cold-hearted doctor named Mi-soo.
When Mi-soo gets sued for malpractice, her lawyer highlights Kang-il as a witness who can cast doubt on the suing patient’s character. Wanting to keep her medical license, Mi-soo cozies up to Kang-il, secretly aiming to convince him to testify. The two end up growing closer, and you can figure out the rest from here.
Despite its characters’ serious occupations, Love 911 provides a light-hearted story. It’s a no-nonsense romantic comedy which will both tickle your funny bone and touch your heart.
8. Love, Lies
Korean title: 해어화 (Hae-eohwa)| Released: 2016 | Starring: Han Hyo-joo, Chun Woo-hee, Yoo Yeon-seok
Love, Lies is a unique romance movie set in the 1940s, when Korea was under Japanese occupation. Han Hyo-joo and Chun Wo-hee star as Jung So-yul and Seo Yeon-hee, respectively, two female entertainers (gisaeng) learning the dwindling practice of traditional Korean jeongak music.
One day in 1943, So-yul meets and falls in love renowned pop music songwriter. This strains her relationship with Yeon-hee, and also forces her to struggle between “traditional” and “modern” musical traditions. Love, Lies carries a lot of historical weight. The movie contains many undertones about Korea’s suffering under Japanese imperial rule, and Korean media praised its exquisitely detailed re-creation of 1940s Seoul.
This title is not currently available for streaming.
7. 200 Pounds Beauty
Korean title: 미녀는 괴로워 (Minyeoneun Goerowo)| Released: 2006 | Starring: Kim Ah-joong, Joo Jin-mo
South Korea leads the world in plastic surgery. Therefore, it’s no surprise that one of Korea’s most popular romances of all time uses plastic surgery as a big plot point.
In 200 Pounds Beauty, an overweight ghost singer (who provides a famous pop star’s voice) named Kang Han-na decides to undergo drastic cosmetic surgery after feeling under-appreciated and depressed. She emerges slender and beautiful, assuming a new identity and resolving to enter the music industry on her own terms.
200 Pounds Beauty provides an accessible, though not necessarily nuanced, way to learn about beauty standards in South Korea. If you’re not looking to learn anything though, this box office favorite will entertain you with song, dance, and dramatics.
6. Be With You
Korean title: 지금 만나러 갑니다 (Jigeum Mannareo Gamnida)| Released: 2018 | Starring: So Ji-sub, Son Ye-jin
The 2018 melodrama Be With You swept the box office upon its premiere, becoming the fastest Korean melodrama (ahead of others like Architecture 101) to reach 1 million unique viewers (in 7 days). Starring So Ji-sub and Son Ye-jin in its lead male and female roles, respectively, Be With You is the Korean remake of a popular Japanese movie of the same name.
So Ji-sub plays Woo-jin, a man raising a young son. Woo-jin’s wife Soo-ah (Son Ye-jin) passed away a year ago — but suddenly, she returns on one summer day, albeit with no memory of her own death. Be With You follows a pretty standard melodrama plot, so if you’re looking for a strong contender in the genre, it’ll be a good choice.
This title is not currently available for streaming.
5. I’m a Cyborg but that’s OK
Korean title: 싸이보그지만 괜찮아 (Ssaibogeujiman Gwaenchanha)| Released: 2006 | Starring: Rain, Im Soo-jung
One of Korea’s most critically acclaimed directors, Park Chan-wook is best known for his “Vengeance Trilogy”, which includes the 2003 noir hit Oldboy. However, Park also directed I’m a Cyborg, but that’s OK — a quirky and memorable movie that’ll give you a new perspective on love.
I’m a Cyborg, but that’s OK takes place in a mental institution. Its two protagonists belong to a veritable menagerie of patients. Park Il-soon (played by pop star Rain) has been hospitalized for antisocial behavior and kleptomania, while Cha Young-goon thinks she’s a cyborg. Despite the obvious challenges of institutionalization, the two develop a highly unique romance that embraces their respective mental disorders.
If you’re looking for a break from mainstream romances, I’m a Cyborg, but that’s OK offers excellent respite. The film’s two protagonists are anything but normal; they show how love can blossom even beyond “standard” societal expectations. Even without flowers, fancy candlelight dinners, and other materialistic romantic hallmarks, Park and Cha have a love as genuine as any other. That’s a refreshing—and sadly uncommon—message.
4. The Beauty Inside
Korean title: 뷰티 인사이드 (Byuti Insaideu)| Released: 2015 | Starring: Han Hyo-joo, Park Shin-hye, Go Ah-sung
Woo-jin has an unusual life. Every day, he wakes up in a different body — sometimes he’s a guy, sometime’s he’s a girl, sometime’s he’s not even Korean — but retains the same mind. Oh, he also retains the same love interest: a girl named Yi-soo, played by perennial K-romance actress Han Hyo-joo.
That’s the novel concept behind The Beauty Inside, a highly acclaimed Korean romantic comedy. This movie will keep your attention with its variety of scenes, situations, and acting talent. Since Woo-jin changes bodies every day, over a dozen actors play “him” —including stars like Park Shin-hye and Go Ah-sung.
3. A Moment to Remember
Korean title: 내 머리 속의 지우개(Nae Meorisogui Jiugae)| Released: 2004 | Starring: Jung Woo-sung, Son Ye-jin
Apparently A Moment to Remember is also “a movie to remember”. This melodrama is one of the most well-received Korean romances of all time, and set many precedents for the genre.
Actress Son Ye-jin plays the film’s female lead, a woman named Kim Su-jin. Through a series of happenstances, she meets Choi Chul-soo (Jung Woo-sung), a construction foreman. Though Kim comes from a rich family, she’s smitten by Choi’s rough-and-tumble nature. She actively pursues them, and the two eventually get married.
Of course, this is a melodrama — so something has to get in the way of that marriage. In this case, it’s early onset Alzheimer’s, which strikes Kim Su-jin. As her condition worsens, Choi resolves to remain by her side all the way.
Fair warning: A Moment to Remember is a massive tearjerker! Though memory loss is now a well-worn K-romance trope, this movie was an early pioneer that set a high bar. It executes the memory loss concept beautifully, with elegant camerawork and emotional acting. Bring tissues: A Moment to Remember will touch your heart… and tear ducts.
2. A Werewolf Boy
Korean title: 늑대소년 (Neukdae Sonyeon)| Released: 2012 | Starring: Song Joong-ki, Park Bo-young
In the present day, an old woman named Kim Sun-yi receives a call about the sale of her old family home. Returning to the home, Kim begins reminiscing about a unique relationship she had 47 years ago.
As the title A Werewolf Boy would suggest, this isn’t a normal relationship. When she first moved to that family home in the 1960s, the young Kim discovers a feral boy. She first assumes he’s an orphan from the Korean War, and her kindhearted mother adopts him as names him Chul-soo. However, he’s not a normal orphan. His body temperature is higher than normal, and he behaves like a wild beast, unable to read or speak.
While Kim Sun-yi first thinks Chul-soo is annoying, she begins to grow fonder of him. She starts “taming” him and opens her heart to him. In turn, Chul-soo also begins to show affection to her.
Atop this premise, A Werewolf Boy ends up telling a heartwarming story that’ll bring tears to your eyes. A special shoutout goes out to Song Joong-ki for his delicate portrayal of Chul-soo. While A Werewolf Boy isn’t dialog-heavy; it manages to convey plenty of meaning through gestures, details, and great cinematography. It’ll leave a strong visual imprint of beautiful melancholy that’ll echo in your heart.
1. Castaway on the Moon
Korean title: 김씨 표류기 (Kimssi Pyoryugi)| Released: 2009 | Starring: Jung Jae-young, Jung Ryeo-won
Completing our list is Castaway on the Moon, a criminally under-appreciated atypical romance. This is one of those movies that’ll make you rethink the meanings of love and life after you finish watching.
Suicide and internet addiction aren’t popular Korean romance tropes. However, they’re front and center for Castaway on the Moon, making it this list’s most meaningful and socially resonant movie.
When the film starts, a man named Kim Seong-geun (Jung Jae-young) stands at the edge of Mapo Bridge, Seoul’s most popular suicide spot. Saddled with debt, Kim’s done being a failure at life. Unfortunately, he’s also a failure at death. Kim jumps from the bridge, but wakes up alive on an abandoned island in the middle of Seoul’s Han River. He decides to try living alone on the island, becoming a modern Korean Robinson Crusoe.
Meanwhile, a woman named Kim Jung-yeon (Jung Ryeo-won) goes about her hobby of photographing the moon. She accidentally points her camera at the island, and notices Seong-geun. Through a creative exchange of messages in bottles, sand scribbles, and jajangmyeon (black bean paste noodle) deliveries, Jung-yeon and Seong-geun begin to strike up a meaningful connection.
Why the “creativity”, you might ask? Well, as it turns out, Jung-yeon is an internet addict who shuns physical interaction. Both of Castaway on the Moon‘s protagonists live at the edge of society, and shun “traditional” social norms and modes of interaction. At the same time, those “edges” they inhabit actually aren’t that abnormal.
South Korea has the highest suicide rate among developed countries, and considers internet addiction a “public health crisis”. These are mainstream problems that mainstream Korean romances often ignore. Castaway on the Moon grapples with them both, and does so beautifully. Entertaining and heartwarming, the movie shows that — amidst the vagaries of modern urban life — you can still find genuine connection in the most unlikely places.
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Want more Asian romance movies? Check out our list of the 16 Best Japanese Romance Movies!