Don’t Miss These Hallyu Movies and TV Shows

Christina Klein

Since the late 20th century, the global success of South Korea’s films and television shows has helped propel the country to a major cultural player on the international stage. To celebrate “Hallyu! The Korean Wave” at the MFA, Boston College professor Christina Klein goes beyond blockbuster favorites like Parasite and Oldboy, and TV hits like Squid Game, to share her recommendations for some of the can’t-miss hallyu movies and TV shows from the 21st century. Learn more about Klein’s picks, watch their trailers, and find out where to stream them.

Join Klein on Wednesday, April 24, for “Hallyu Cinema,” a survey of Korean film from the late 1990s to the present. Attend in-person or via live stream.


Memories of Murder

Directed by Bong Joon-ho (South Korea, 2003, 132 min.).

Director Bong Joon-ho, the auteur behind Parasite, brings his unique brand of black humor to this seemingly straightforward genre film about two detectives trying to track down a serial killer. Set in 1986 during the military dictatorship of Chun Doo-hwan, it gradually reveals the deeper crimes of police brutality, corruption, and incompetence that characterized one of Korea’s darkest decades.

Stream it on Tubi, Vudu, YouTube, and Apple TV+.

Welcome to Dongmakgol

Directed by Park Kwang-hyun (South Korea, 2005, 133 min.).

What happens when a group of soldiers from South Korea, North Korea, and America accidentally converge on an isolated mountain village seemingly untouched by the passage of time? This film toggles between gentle magical realism and scenes of combat as it imagines an alternate history of the Korean War—one that reconfigures the identities of enemies and allies and explores what might have been.

Stream it on Viki and Amazon Prime.


Directed by Lee Chang-dong (South Korea and France, 2010, 139 min.).

When 66-year-old Mija receives an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, she enrolls in a poetry class in an effort to hang on to her language before it disappears. At the same time, she discovers that her teenage grandson is implicated in a horrific crime. This is a film about learning how to truly see what’s right in front of you. Made in a deceptively restrained style, it offers a devastating exposé of how a patriarchal society works. Writer-director Lee Chang-dong is also a novelist, and Poetry won the Best Screenplay Award at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.

Stream it on Kanopy.

Hill of Freedom

Directed by Hong Sang-soo (South Korea, 2014, 66 min,).

When a young woman returning from a trip drops and scatters a packet of undated letters from her would-be Japanese lover, she struggles to reconstruct the story they tell. Set in a quaint neighborhood of Seoul where the would-be lover has been awaiting the woman’s return, this quirky and charming film recounts the man’s mild adventures of love and longing in the order in which the young woman reads about them. Director Hong Sang-soo is a film festival favorite.

Stream it on Apple TV+.

A Taxi Driver

Directed by Jang Hoon (South Korea, 2017, 137 min.).

Based on a true story, this heartwarming film centers on a Seoul taxi driver (played by Song Kang-ho, star of Parasite and Memories of Murder) who unintentionally becomes involved in the Gwangju Uprising of 1980. Initially wanting only to stay out of trouble, he is forced to choose between looking out for his young daughter and playing a role in his country’s uneasy transition from authoritarianism to democracy.

Stream it on Viki, Amazon Prime, and YouTube.


Jewel in the Palace

Produced by Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (South Korea, 2003, 54 episodes).

Unlike more recent offerings, this historical drama set during the Choson dynasty was not made with international audiences in mind. It focuses on a virtuous, strong-willed, and brilliant woman who arrives at the royal palace as an 8-year-old orphan and rises through the ranks to become the king’s personal physician, overcoming innumerable hardships along the way. Many episodes are set in kitchens and revolve around the preparation and consumption of food, which sparked a revival of royal court cuisine. One of the first Korean dramas to export successfully, it became a hit across East Asia.

Stream it on Viki.

Mr. Sunshine

Produced by Studio Dragon and Hwa&Dam Pictures (South Korea, 2018, 24 episodes).

Another historical drama, Mr. Sunshine is set during the early 1900s and centers on the fight to preserve Korea’s independence in the years before Japanese colonization. Its hero was born into slavery and as a child escaped to the United States, where he later became a Marine Corps officer. When he returns to Korea on a military mission, he falls in love with a rebellious young aristocratic woman who moonlights as an independence fighter and assassin. One of the first Korean dramas to be licensed by Netflix.

Stream it on Netflix.

SKY Castle

Produced by HB Entertainment and Drama House (South Korea, 2018–19, 20 episodes).

This satirical drama revolves around a group of upper-class housewives who live in an elite neighborhood and spend their days pushing their husbands and children to ever-higher levels of achievement. Alongside some over-the-top elements, it offers a realistic depiction of the relentless academic pressures—and the resulting social and mental health problems—young people face.

Stream it on Netflix.

Crash Landing on You

Produced by Studio Dragon (South Korea, 2019, 16 episodes).

This drama begins when a business heiress on a paragliding expedition is accidently blown off course and into North Korea, where she literally drops into the arms of a North Korean Army officer. Romance follows, along with a remarkably evenhanded depiction of the drawbacks and appeals of life on both sides of the Korean Demilitarized Zone, with eight episodes set in each country.

Stream it on Netflix.

Extraordinary Attorney Woo

Produced by KT Studio Genie and Nangman Crew (South Korea, 2022, 10 episodes).

Woo Young-woo is a newly minted lawyer who is on the autism spectrum and in possession of a photographic memory. When a prominent law firm hires her, she and her coworkers must learn to adjust to one another, even as Woo’s brilliance leads to success in the courtroom. With each episode revolving around a different legal case, the show sheds light on a variety of social issues—from class conflict to land development—and deftly explores disability. A second season is scheduled to drop sometime in 2024.

Stream it on Netflix.


Christina Klein is a professor in the English department at Boston College, where she directs the American Studies and Literature Core programs. She has published widely on Korean and East Asian film. Her most recent book is Cold War Cosmopolitanism: Period Style in 1950s Korean Cinema (University of California Press, 2020).