It’s been three years since Parasite, and Korean films are still abuzz worldwide.
Therefore, you might wonder: what were the Best Korean Movies of 2022?
Cinema Escapist has crafted this list of the top 11 Korean films from 2022 to answer that question. We selected these 11 Korean movies based on their entertainment value, narrative appeal, production quality, and sociopolitical significance. Depending on availability, we’ve also included links to watch these movies on streaming services like Netflix.
This year’s list of K-movies includes titles from genres like romance, mystery, action, historical, political, and more. Those who like to choose films based on cast will find selections featuring stars like Hyun Bin, Lee Jung-jae, Bae Doona, Lee Ji-eun (IU), Ma Dong-seok, Song Kang-ho, Jung Woo-sung, Kim Tae-ri, So Ji-sub, and more.
Let’s take a look at 2022’s best Korean movies!
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Korean: 외계+인 1부 | Director: Choi Dong-hoon | Starring: Ryu Jun-yeol, Kim Woo-bin, Kim Tae-ri, So Ji-sub | Genre: Scifi, Historical, Action, Fantasy
Korean cinema often attempts genre-combinations that Hollywood would never consider, and Alienoid is notable in that regard. This ambitious blockbuster occurs across three timelines: in 1380 during the Goryeo Dynasty, in 2012 near the present day, and back again during the Goryeo Dynasty in 1381. Why? Because aliens have appeared on Earth, and somehow triggered the opening of a time door between those time periods, which also has some connection to the heist of a sword during the Goryeo Dynasty.
Admittedly, this hodgepodge of fantasy, sci-fi, and action sounds rather confusing; if you’re looking for narrative clarity, Alienoid might not be the best movie for you. However, if you want an action-packed, bonkers blockbuster to blow your mind, then give it a try. As an added bonus, K-celebrity chasers will find stars like Kim Tae-ri, So Ji-sub, and Kim Woo-bin in the movie.
10. Walk Up
Korean: 탑 | Director: Hong Sang-soo | Starring: Kwon Hae-hyo, Lee Hye-young, Song Seon-mi | Genre: Indie, Drama
Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo has garnered a dedicated following with idiosyncratic indie films that meander around quotidian settings and conversations. Hong’s 2022 movie Walk Up continues reliably in this tradition. The film centers on a filmmaker named Byung-soo who takes his daughter to a walk-up building owned by a woman named Ms. Kim. This setup then repeats itself multiple times with slight variations, exploring different dimensions of human existence in the process.
While Walk Up is likely too slow-paced for those accustomed to more action-packed blockbusters, we’re including the film on this list to ensure some representation from art house Korean cinema. Who knows, if you aren’t already, maybe you’ll find yourself drawn into its beautifully naturalistic ambience.
9. Hansan: Rising Dragon
Korean: 한산: 용의 출현 | Director: Kim Han-min | Starring: Park Hae-il, Byun Yo-han, Kim Hyang-gi, Ok Taec-yeon | Genre: Historical, Action, War
2014 epic The Admiral: Roaring Currents became the highest grossing South Korean movie of all time with its depiction of famed Korean admiral Yi Sun-sin at the 1597 Battle of Myeongnyang. Hansan: Rising Dragon is the prequel to The Admiral. As its name suggests, the film depicts the Battle of Hansan Island, which occurred five years before the Battle of Myeongnyang.
Hansan also did rather well at the Korean box office. Critics and audiences enjoyed its sweeping action sequences, distinctive characters, and acting (particularly from lead Park Hae-il, who plays a younger Admiral Yi). We’re including Hansan on this list of 2022 Korean movies not only because it’s entertaining, but also because it represents the continued appeal of Admiral Yi as a figure in modern Korean national identity.
8. The Roundup
Korean: 범죄도시2 | Director: Lee Sang-yong | Starring: Ma Dong-seok, Son Seok-koo, Choi Gwi-hwa | Genre: Crime, Action
The Roundup was South Korea’s top grossing movie for 2022. While its English title might not indicate this, the film is a sequel to 2017’s The Outlaws, which saw burly actor Ma Dong-seok solidify his star power after rising to attention in 2016’s Train to Busan.
Ma returns in his role as tough police detective Ma Seok-do in The Roundup. This time, Ma ends up going to Vietnam, ostensibly to extradite a gangster. However, Ma gets caught in a nasty plot around kidnapped Koreans—and has no formal policing authority given he’s abroad from Korea.
Viewers who want to see Ma Dong-seok beat up baddies will get plenty of that in The Roundup. The film also offers numerous plot twists and keeps audiences guessing about what’ll happen. Southeast Asian viewers might be somewhat disappointed that it paints negative stereotypes about the rule of law in Vietnam and other countries though; Vietnam’s government refused to screen the film in theaters, likely due to these portrayals.
7. Confidential Assignment 2: International
Korean: 공조2: 인터내셔날 | Director: Lee Seok-hoon | Starring: Hyun Bin, Daniel Henney, Im Yoon-ah, Yoo Hae-jin | Genre: Action, Comedy
Sequels to 2017 movies (and sequels in general) were all the rage in Korean cinema during 2022. Confidential Assignment 2: International is a followup to the 2017 blockbuster Confidential Assignment, with Hyun Bin and Yoo Hae-jin reprising their roles as a North Korean intelligence officer Im Cheol-ryung and South Korean detective Kang Jin-tae.
This time, as the movie’s title suggests, Im and Kang get embroiled in a conspiracy that goes beyond the Korean peninsula. North Korean criminals are operating in the United States, and a FBI agent Jack (played by Daniel Henney) ends up joining Im and Kang to form a trio. As with its predecessor, Confidential Assignment 2 blends reliable fight scenes with moments of rollicking comic relief (with a special shoutout to Yoona of SNSD fame for playing Kang Jin-tae’s younger sister).
Korean: 육사오 | Director: Park Gyu-tae | Starring: Go Kyung-pyo, Lee Yi-kyung, Eum Moon-suk, Park Se-wan | Genre: Military, Comedy
If you enjoyed the K-drama Crash Landing On You but want something less romantic and more comedic, 6/45 will serve you well. This movie centers on South and North Korean soldiers who must negotiate over dividing a lottery ticket that blew from South Korea to the North, and was an unexpected hit at the Korean box office this year.
You don’t need to understand Korean politics to enjoy 6/45, though political junkies will also find it appealing. The movie has relatable characters and accessible humor, and trods upon many familiar tropes when it comes to North-South Korea media depictions.
Korean: 킹메이커 | Director: Byun Sung-hyun | Starring: Sol Kyung-gu, Lee Sun-kyunn | Genre: Historical, Political, Drama
Kim Dae-jung is one of South Korean democratization’s most prominent figures. He was a leading opposition figure during the country’s decades of authoritarian rule, and ran for president several times before finally winning and ascending to the post in 1998.
While Kingmaker never mentions Kim Dae-jung by name, the movie is inspired by Kim’s relationship with his adviser Eom Chang-rok. Specifically, the film dramatizes the events behind Kim’s first attempt at the presidency in 1971, when he ran against dictator Park Chung-hee and won 45% of the vote despite an unfair electioneering environment. Korean critics have praised Kingmaker as authentic and attentive to detail; the movie also attracted attention because it debuted just two months before South Korea’s 2022 election during the heat of campaigning.
Korean: 헌트 | Director: Lee Jung-jae | Starring: Lee Jung-jae, Jung Woo-sung | Genre: History, Political, Drama
After gaining global prominence through Squid Game, actor Lee Jung-jae tried his hand at directing with Hunt. This political thriller screened at prominent festivals like Cannes and Toronto, and gained appreciable international attention.
In Hunt, Lee Jung-jae and Jung Woo-sung play the foreign and domestic heads of the KCIA (Korea’s intelligence agency during the Cold War), respectively. After someone tries assassinating South Korea’s president (modeled after Chun Doo-hwan), the two must track down a mole who leaked information enabling the assassination.
History and politics buffs may appreciate Hunt for its rigorous portrayal of 1980s South Korea, though they may also find it filled with tropes from other Korean political dramas. Nevertheless, Hunt offers an intriguing look into the latest historiography from South Korea’s political left; the fact that top actors star in this movie is a great bonus.
Learn more about Hunt in our full review here.
3. Next Sohee
Korean: 다음 소희 | Director: July Jung | Starring: Kim Si-eun, Bae Doona, Sim Hee-seop, Kim Woo-kyum | Genre: Drama
Next Sohee is one of 2022’s most socially significant South Korean movies. The movie focuses on the story of a girl named Sohee who dies after finding the pressure of an exploitative call center externship too much to bear. Kim Si-eun offers a poignant portrayal of Sohee, while veteran actress Bae Doona plays a detective named Oh Yu-jin who investigates Sohee’s death and the broader societal ills behind it.
Through Sohee and Detective Oh’s eyes, we see how South Korea’s society chews up its youth and spits them out in an inhumane capitalist machine. The film’s stirring realism helps us viscerally feel why young South Koreans call their country “Hell Joseon”, and have started to “give up” on life. As a testament to its emotional impact, Next Sohee received a seven minute standing ovation when it debuted at 2022’s Cannes Film Festival.
Korean: 브로커 | Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda | Starring: Song Kang-ho, Gang Dong-won, Bae Doona, Lee Ji-eun (IU) | Genre: Family, Drama
Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda decamped to South Korea in 2022 to make Broker, a movie that continues his interrogation of unorthodox families. The film stars Song Kang-ho and Gang Dong-won as a pair of brokers who sell abandoned babies to families who want to adopt children. When the two encounter a young mother (played by IU, credited as Lee Ji-eun) who wants her baby back, the film embarks on an exploration of what being a parent really means.
With such a prominent cast, it’s no surprise Broker shines through the quality of its acting, which provides an anchor for audiences amidst a rather complex plot. While the film loses some of Kore-eda’s trademark understatement, it’s still an emotionally resonant piece that raises some of the thorniest moral questions of the director’s repertoire.
1. Decision to Leave
Korean: 헤어질 결심 | Director: Park Chan-wook | Starring: Tang Wei, Park Hae-il | Genre: Mystery, Romance
Our choice for the very best Korean movie of 2022 is Decision to Leave. The film is renowned director Park Chan-wook’s first work in six years following The Handmaiden, and won Park the Best Director award at 2022’s Cannes Film Festival.
Like The Handmaiden, Decision to Leave explores an unconventional sensual relationship. However, the sensuality in Decision is vastly different from that in The Handmaiden, and it’s difficult to tell at first glance that the movie comes from the same director as Oldboy—a testament to Park Chan-wook’s directorial prowess.
In Decision to Leave, Park Hae-il plays a brooding detective named Jang Hae-jun, who stumbles upon a Chinese emigrant woman named Seo-rae (Tang Wei) after dealing with her husband’s untimely death. The two end up forming an intimate bond that never involves physical consummation, opting instead for binocular observations of ice-cream eating, as one example. Tang Wei’s performance as Seo-rae especially deserves praise, as does Park’s decision to cast her—he weaves Tang’s alluring demeanor (crafted through past works like Lust, Caution) and lack of Korean fluency into indispensable assets in Decision to Leave.
What’s more is that Decision to Leave isn’t just some inaccessible art house piece. Besides winning plaudits at festivals and awards ceremonies, the film became one of the top 10 highest grossing titles at South Korea’s 2022 box office.
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