by Elias, April 15, 2020

A thing I am passionate about is Korean cinema. Over the years of watching a decent number of movies, I stumbled upon a couple of movies that are very good but haven’t gotten the number of viewers they deserve, so today I will try to change that!

Defining my scope

Before writing about certain movies, I first want to define what I mean by “overlooked”. I want to discuss movies that fly slightly under the radar but aren’t so unknown that literally nobody has heard of them before. All the movies I’ll discuss are movies I have seen myself, so in the future, I might write a part 2 with more overlooked movies. :) I decided to compare data from two websites where people log movies they have watched: MyDramaList and Letterboxd. The reason I chose to use two websites is that they both have a different audience. From my experience, MyDramaList users are often more focused on dramas than movies, while Letterboxd users tend to watch more Hollywood productions than international movies. Because both websites don’t focus solely on Korean movies, comparing their data clear up which movies are truly overlooked, but not completely unknown.

The numbers I decided to go with are the following:

  • Between 200 and 2000 viewers on MyDramaList
  • Between 1000 and 5000 viewers on Letterboxd
  • The average ratings in my article are the average of both websites.

Movie #1 – Intimate Strangers (2018)

Viewers at the time of writing: 854 on MDL | 1211 on LB
Average Rating: 7.9/10
Duration: 115 minutes
Genres: Drama, suspense and bits of comedy

Intimate Strangers is a story about a group of childhood friends getting back together because of a birthday dinner. When one of them comes up with the idea that everyone has to read everything on their phone out loud, secrets get revealed throughout the night.

The movie is a remake of Italian movie Perfect Strangers, and while many people live by the rule that the original can’t be beaten and remakes are always worse, for Korean entertainment fans this doesn’t have to be the case as the movie is well made and it boasts a well-picked cast.

As a fan of Cho Jin Woong, I was very excited to see him in action again, but I have to admit that he didn’t steal the show, he was just himself. It was Yeom Jung Ah who steals the spotlight in this movie. Her performance in this movie gets overlooked easily as she also played in SKY Castle during that year, for which role she won numerous awards for best lead actor in a drama.

Recommended for people who are looking for a character-driven nail biter that slowly gets crazier over time.
Not recommended for people who have seen the original or get bored when movies take place in the same room for 2 hours.

Movie #2 – Gonjiam: The Haunted Asylum (2018)

Viewers at time of writing: 1497 on MDL | 3447 on LB
Average Rating: 6.9/10
Duration: 94 minutes
Genres: Found-footage horror

The premise of Gonjiam: The Haunted Asylum isn’t too original: A group of live-streamers in their early 20's get together and decides to visit the haunted abandoned psychiatric hospital of Gonjiam while live-streaming their adventure to the world.

For me personally, the most important part of horror movies is how scary they are, and that’s the one thing that Gonjiam does perfectly. There is a flip side to this, though, as the character development is almost non-existent, and the acting isn’t always perfect. Still, the movie keeps you on the edge of your seat and succeeds very well in its main goal, scaring the viewer.

Whenever people talk about Korean horror, they're quick to mention A Tale of Two Sisters or the more recent horror hit The Wailing, while Gonjiam often gets forgotten because it is a low budget score. Let's change that!

Recommended for people looking for a good found footage horror movie that will definitely scare them.
Not recommended for people who either can’t stand jump scares, or need proper character development to be invested in a movie


Movie #3 – The City of Violence (2006)

Viewers at time of writing: 249 on MDL | 1750 on LB
Average Rating: 6.9/10
Duration: 92 minutes
Genres: Action, Crime, some comedy elements

City of Violence is an action movie about a detective and a gangster who were childhood friends, who decide to investigate the death of their old friend, together. They have lived on different sides of society over the past years, but both men are good with their hands and will fight their way to the truth if they must.

The backstory for City of Violence is just an excuse to display the two big strengths of this movie: Its fight scenes and unique camera work. Even though some interactions aged a bit poorly and are laughable at times, the fight scenes are done very well and remind me of the 90’s Hong Kong classics at times.

Recommended for people who like well-crafted and original fight scenes that remind you of 90's Hong Kong classics.
Not recommended for people who dislike swearing and are looking for a deep story.

Movie #4 – The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil (2019)

Viewers at the time of writing: 1049 on MDL | 3672 on LB
Average Rating: 8/10
Duration: 110 minutes
Genres: Action, Thriller, Crime

A ride of pure fun and adrenaline is my way of describing The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil (GCD from here on out). The story revolves around a tough detective chasing a serial killer. After a mob boss (played by the lovely Korean monster Ma Dong Seok) gets stabbed by said killer, he is out for revenge and ends up teaming up with the detective to catch him.

GCD takes inspiration from the well-known Korean thrillers like I saw the Devil and The Chaser, adds a lot of neon lights and an extra cop/gangster buddy relationship and turns it into an exhilarating two hours of chasing, fighting, and swearing.

Recommended for people who can’t get enough of the Korean detective-thriller genre and good action scenes on top of it.
Not recommended for people who want a relaxing or romantic movie to watch on a slow Sunday night.

Movie #5 – Attack the Gas Station! (1999)

Viewers at the time of writing: 624 on MDL | 2036 on LB
Average Rating: 7/10
Duration: 113 minutes
Genres: Comedy, a bit of action

Attack the Gas Station is probably the most difficult film to put into words out of all the movies on this list. The story revolves around 4 bored youth who are all troubled in their own way who take over a gas station by holding the employee’s captive. The events that unfold in the next two hours are hard to explain.

The movie is a cult classic in every sense. A lot of people consider this movie a masterpiece of early “new age Korean cinema”, others consider it a boring mess that aged like milk and doesn’t make any sense. I will leave it up to you to decide which side you’re on.
Warning: Finding a high-quality version of this movie is no easy feat.

The most high-profile actor in this movie that is still relevant today is Yoo Ji Tae, who rocks a very 90's white-coloured hairdo.

Recommended for people who want to watch a movie that is completely different from anything they’ve ever seen.
Not recommended for people who are looking to watch a movie that always makes sense and hasn't aged at all.

Movie #6 – Inside Men (2015)

Viewers at the time of writing: 492 on MDL | 1708 on LB
Average Rating: 8.2/10
Duration: 180 minutes
Genres: Thriller, Crime

Inside Men is a political thriller with huge stars Lee Byung Hun, Cho Seung Woo and Baek Yoon Shik as lead actors. Baek plays an editorialist of an influential newspaper who uses his power to put the politician of his choice in the position of being a presidential candidate. Lee Byung Hun plays a henchman who helps Baek’s character in all of this. Cho Seung Woo plays a prosecutor who won’t rest until his investigation is done, with every criminal put behind bars. The three play cat and mouse game to see who ends up on top.

With an amazing cast and a great script, Inside Men is one of the best political thrillers of the past decade. There are two versions: A 130 minute one and a 180 minute one. I would advise watching the 3 hours one as political thrillers are story-driven, and the director has 50 extra minutes to lay his story out for the viewer.

Recommended for people who enjoy typical Korean political thriller where rich and powerful people go up against a vicious prosecutor. 
Not recommended for people don’t like movies about politics and corruption where you have to remember a bunch of names to have a clue about what's going on. 


Movie #7 – 1987: When the Day Comes (2017)

 Viewers at the time of writing: 1598 on MDL | 2472 on LB
Average Rating: 
129 minutes
Drama, Thriller, History

1987 is a movie based on a true story of a Korean student/activist who died after being tortured by police during a time where the Korean people lived suppressed under a military coup. The movie shows the story from the viewpoint of many different people around the time of this happening, from journalist trying to unravel the truth to the chief of anti-communist activities trying to hide the truth.

Movies about this time in Korean history have a big impact on Korean society (see movies about the Gwangju uprising, like A Taxi Driver) and I have no idea how this movie didn't do as well, as it is beautifully shot and it has a killer cast (most notable actors: Kim Tae Ri, Ha Jung Woo, and Yoo Hae Jin)

Recommended for everyone. They often say keep the best for last, and that is what I did with this list. This movie is historically accurate and important, well shot and boasts a really strong cast.

Honourable Mentions

There are a couple of movies that I had planned to write about as they definitely deserve it, but they fell outside of my scope.

A Moment to Remember (2004)

There is a clear lack of romantic movies in this list that I planned to fill with this romantic but heartbreaking classic, A Moment to Remember. It has 3500 viewers on Letterboxd, but I was surprised to see it has close to 11000 viewers on MyDramaList, making it fall outside of my scope. It is an essential watch that will make you bawl your eyes out. If you want to enjoy the movie more, don’t read what it is about in advance, just watch.

Han Gong Ju (2013)

A heartbreaking movie about a girl who went through hell and transfers to a different school. Not for the faint of heart as there are some heavy topics within the movie, but worth the watch. I didn’t make my list because even though it has 2200 viewers on Letterboxd, it has 2700 viewers on MDL.

If you made it this far, congratulations!
Thank you so much for reading my first article! I have been thinking about writing this for a couple of months and finally got myself to do it. I hope my writing was enjoyable and concise enough that it didn’t bore you.

Let me know in the comments where I can improve and if you know of any movies that I missed/have to watch!

Edited by: Yuanwei (1st editor), BrightestStar (2nd editor)

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