K-dramas and K-pop music are definitely responsible for spreading the hallyu wave across the globe. However, Korean romantic movies are no less responsible for this boom, having built a strong fan base with their sensational storylines, fresh concepts and passionate romance.
While movies like My Sassy Girl garnered international popularity and became a major hit throughout Asia, The Handmaiden, from acclaimed director Park Chan-wook, bagged the first ever win for a Korean film at the BAFTA Awards in 2018. This shows how well-received Korean romantic cinema is among critics and romantic film lovers. And, though Korean cinema excels in all genres, the romance section alone deserves praise for its unique tales, leaving viewers asking for more.
This might be the romance genre we’re talking about, but it’s not just sappy love stories; there’s something for everyone here, from dramatic romance and romantic comedies, to atypical romance and more. And some can be called truly exceptional with power-packed emotions and top-notch performances, making them stand out from the list.
10 best romantic Korean movies to watch
My Sassy Girl (2001)
Extremely popular among millennials and the youth, My Sassy Girl starring Jun Ji-Hyun and Cha Tae-hyun, went to the extent of drawing comparisons to Titanic. Because of its blockbuster status, the film also attracted multiple remakes from few countries including India.
Based on the story penned by Kim Ho-sik as a web novel, My Sassy Girl follows Kyun-woo (Cha), an engineering student whose daily routine includes drinking with friends and ignoring his nagging mother.
One day, while taking the subway, he accidentally meets the unnamed sassy girl (Jun) and suddenly finds himself in an intriguing relationship with her. Their story which is filled with interesting twists and turns and the brilliant character portrayal by the actors entertain viewers to the core.
The Kwak Jae-yong rom-com became the second-highest grosser (2001) in South Korea after selling 4,852,845 tickets in its 10-week run, making it one of the best Korean romantic movies of all time.
With So Ji-Sub and Han Hyo-joo as leads, Always, also known as Only You, might seem like a regular romantic film with a basic storyline — a man with a troubled past and a vulnerable woman but is more than that with the plot offering relatable situations and realistic consequences.
The love story, inspired by the popular Charlie Chaplin film City Lights (1931), follows the romance between ex-boxer Cheol-min (So) and a visually impaired telemarketer (Han). The two evoke a sizzling yet sweet chemistry throughout the film, while playing the lovers who would do anything to keep their love alive.
The chemistry between the two stars and the background score are definitely the highlights of the movie which further elevates its soulful plot.
Love 911 (2012)
Another Han Hyo-joo starrer romantic film, Love 911 is considered as one of the most romantic Korean movies of all time and is a fan-favorite. Having both funny and loveable elements, this movie lures viewers with its simplicity and low-key romance that doesn’t fail to impress young hearts.
Go Soo plays Kang-il, a tough firefighter, who is recovering from his wife’s death and Han portrays a determined yet cold-hearted doctor, Mi-soo.
After being accused of malpractice, she is scared to lose her license. However, as a witness, Kang can save her from losing her occupation. Hence, in order to get him to testify, Mi-soo starts finding ways to get close to him and the rest can be figured out by lovers of the genre easily.
A clean entertainer from beginning to end, Love 911 is no-nonsense rom-com which offers superb direction and a well-written screenplay from Gi-hoon Jeong. The film also stars Eternals (2021) star Ma Dong-seok.
The Handmaiden (2016)
Coming from the director of hit noir film Oldboy, The Handmaiden is a masterpiece taking viewers beyond the periphery of societal understanding of truth and lies. Part thriller, part romance and set in Japanese-ruled Korea, the film tells the love story of two women, Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) and Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri).
Lady Hideko is a wealthy heiress living on an estranged estate, while frequently trying to free herself from the harness controlled by her Uncle Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong). On the other hand, Sook-hee, a con-woman, is hired as Hideko’s maid to steal her fortune.
Park’s film is carefully divided into three chapters with each of them having its own importance. Also, the film takes multiple emotions — lust, anger, romance and sensuality — to a whole new level.
Il Mare (2000)
Although Il Mare didn’t do well at the box office, it is considered as an epic film by the Korean romance movie lovers and deserves a worthy watch. Squid Game (2021–) famed Lee Jung-jae and My Love From The Star (2013–14) famed Jun Ji-hyun take up the lead roles, engaging in a heartfelt fantasy romance.
The film tells the love story of Kim Eun-ju (Jun) and Han Sung-hyun (Lee), who live in the same house, but at different time intervals — two years apart. While departing from Il Mare, a seaside house, she leaves a Christmas card in the (magical) mailbox. The letter is received by an architecture student in 1997 and a sweet friendship follows.
Different from the common rom-com path, Il Mare is a calm, sad and romantic film and makes you experience butterflies in the stomach. The film successfully integrates science fiction and romance with its time-transcending plot concept.
Also, an American remake of the film titled The Lake House, starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, was released in 2006.
Tune in for Love (2019)
While emotional attachment is common in all Korean romances, Tune in for Love brings peace and faith into the picture, making it one of the best Korean romance movies released recently.
Starring Kim Go-eun and Jung Hae-in as Mi-soo and Hyun-woo, respectively, the movie explores their relationship over a timeline of ten years. They first meet while working together at a bakery but as they become adults, their paths change. Challenged with different events in their life, the two try to find each other, reconnect and manage to create a simple yet appreciable relationship.
Tune in for Love has a moving story which might look simple initially, but may eventually force you to shed tears as the characters’ grow, depicting sincerity and love for each other.
The Classic (2003)
Another hit from My Sassy Girl famed Kwak Jae-yong on the list is The Classic. It features Son Ye-jin of 2019 hit romantic drama Crash Landing On You and Zo In-sung in the lead roles.
The romance drama movie revolves around the parallel love stories of a mother and daughter, Ji-hae and Ju-hie, both played by Son.
The movie opens with Ji-hae finding an old box with letters. As she begins to read, each letter takes the audience to the flashback while showing her mother’s love story. Meanwhile, Ji-hae is presently in love with a fellow student, Sang-min, played by Zo.
Cited as one of the best romantic Korean movies ever made, The Classic brilliantly follows the concept of dual-storytelling while also displaying the emotions of mothers and daughters.
I’m a Cyborg, But That’s Okay (2006)
A little twisted from other Korean romance movies, I’m a Cyborg But That’s Okay is another gem from Park Chan-wook. Following a specific style and imagination, the flick stars K-pop superstar Rain as Park Il-sun and Lim Soo-jung as Cha Young-goon.
Park Il-sun is admitted to a hospital for his antisocial behavior and kleptomania. On the other hand, fellow patient, Cha Young-goon believes that she is a cyborg. Transforming an unconventional setting into a great love story and romance film is the best and the most unique factor about the film.
The lead characters and their ability to embrace each other despite being dysfunctional and going through personal hardships makes them extremely unique. The two protagonists from the film are anything, but normal, just like love, as they travel far into fantasies while exploring real emotions.
Consequently, the film and the cast received many accolades including the Best New Actor Award to Rain at the Baek Sang Art Awards (2007) and the Alfred Bauer Award (2007) to Park Chan-wook.
A Moment To Remember (2004)
If you are an emotional person, A Moment To Remember is sure to leave you teary-eyed.
The movie stars Son Ye-jin as Kim Su-jin, who has a rich background. However, she soon falls in love with Cheol-su, a rough foreman, played by Jung Woo-sung.
The two get married to kick-start their love story, but the plot takes a turn when Su-jin is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Originally jaded and tough, Cheol-su begins to transform his aura and stays by her side as her condition worsens.
Even though the love between the two characters is the best part of the film, the writers have done a remarkable job in penning a beautiful character with Alzheimer’s disease.
The film is sure to touch your heart indeed.
A Werewolf Boy (2012)
With two mega K-drama actors — Song Joong-ki and Park Bo-young — leading a fantasy romantic Korean film, you can expect wonders.
After receiving an unexpected call about her old family home being sold, an elderly woman, Sun Yi (Lee Young-ran), goes back to her native place. She visits the country cottage where she lived as a child (younger counterpart played by Park). As soon as she arrives, her mind goes back to the relationship she developed with a boy 47 years ago.
In the 1960s, she finds a feral boy, whom she assumes as a child who lost his family to the Korean War. Her kind mother brings him home and names him as Chul-soo (Song).
As time goes by, it comes to light that Chul-soo is not normal and possesses beast-like features. However, Sun-Yi is still unaware of this and comes closer to him, getting the same response from him too.
Been released in the Contemporary World Cinema section in the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012, and getting a pre-screening at 17th Busan International Film Festival in the same year, A Werewolf Boy is one of the best Korean romance movies ever made.
(Hero and Featured images: Courtesy IMDb)
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