South Korean movies were largely known for melodrama and romance played out between skilled actors and actresses. But over the past decade or so, Korean movies have evolved into other genres.
One of those genres is disaster movies. Everything ranging from disease outbreaks to horrific monster appearances, from world-ending catastrophes to post-apocalyptic survival, South Korea's movie industry has given us some of the best in the genre.
Between excellent CGI and talented acting and uniquely written scripts, South Korean disaster movies have all the ingredients of a thrilling, dramatic, and emotional cinematic experience.
Here are some of the best Korean disaster movies worth watching if you haven't already. Don't miss them!
9. Pandora (2016)
Pandora is about a nuclear power plant, an earthquake, and the resulting disaster that happens when the two collide. The explosion is only the beginning—and when nuclear radiation threatens the country, only the emergency workers can step up to save the day.
This tragic story follows the firefighters and nuclear plant workers who were not prepared for the incoming disaster and how they cope and survive. With citizens in a panic and the government at a loss, all hope rests with these heroes who had no chance to say goodbye.
While the story is comedic at the start—full of happy faces and typical day-to-day lives—the tension grows and the horrors accumulate toward an emotional climax.
8. Train to Busan (2016)
Train to Busan is a zombie apocalypse movie that features a non-stop chase from the moment the undead are introduced. It delivers plenty of thrills without too much dialogue, gripping you to the end—all with a dash of social commentary and exploration of deeper themes.
If you like Train to Busan, you may also want to watch Peninsula, which is something of a sequel that continues on from zombie-struck Busan. While it doesn't have the same level of thrills, Peninsula offers a different take on the zombie invasion.
7. The Tower (2012)
The Tower is the story of a luxury tower that was supposed to be well-maintained and utterly safe. But due to a small maintenance error, the grand party that's organized in the building—which takes place on Christmas Eve—becomes a disastrous event.
Now it's up to the rescue team and firefighters to save the holiday that's fraught with unexpected heartbreak and goodbyes. Between emotional scenes and nail-biting action, The Tower is an excellent disaster movie that'll have you on the edge of your seat.
6. Tunnel (2016)
Tunnel starts with a man driving through the tunnel—which suddenly collapses. Following that thrilling climax is the even more thrilling story of how this man does everything he can to survive with only a couple bottles of water and the birthday cake meant for his daughter.
Being stranded under a cave-in is one of the worst things that can happen. The man puts all his hope on the rescue team, and all he can do is hold and survive.
5. Tidal Wave (2009)
Tidal Wave follows the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami event from 2004, a real-life natural disaster killed almost 200,000 people in 14 countries. This movie is set five years later, with recurring earthquakes that keep starting closer to land.
The film takes a lot of time to build the characters and make us care about them, all before slamming them with a tsunami. Like any good disaster movie, Tidal Wave speaks to deeper themes like hubris, survival, and even governmental failure in protecting the people.
4. The Host (2006)
The Host centers on an amphibious monster that preys on humans. It's a fresh and unique take on what would be an otherwise typical plot about chemical waste byproducts dumped into the Han River.
As if chemical waste wasn't dangerous enough, it leads to a mutated frog-like/fish-like creature that's large enough to swallow humans. There's an undercurrent of social commentary that speaks to the reckless behavior of corporations that ought not be tolerated.
The Host is one of the best Korean disaster movies of all time, which makes sense given that it was directed by the great Bong Joon-ho (who went on to direct Snowpiercer, Okja, and Parasite).
3. #Alive (2020)
The Netflix Original movies #Alive follows a young man who's stranded in his apartment unit during a virus epidemic—a virus that causes humans to become violent and cannibalistic.
#Alive caught a lot of flak when it first came out, not only for its unconventional title, but also because it seemed like it would be a Train to Busan copycat. But unlike Train to Busan, #Alive is more about being a survivor than it is about being chased.
It's a modern look at how one would survive a zombie apocalypse using social media and the internet as one's only tool—with the hashtag #I_will_survive flooding newsfeeds and giving hope to the stranded, encouraging them to hold out until rescue comes.
2. Deranged (2012)
Deranged is one of the most stomach-churning Korean disaster movies. It involves parasitic worms that can invade the human body and manipulate the nervous system, forcing the host to seek out water sources—at which point they die instantly.
After a series of mysterious deaths, an investigator is tasked to find out what exactly is happening. There are several twists and turns along the way, and some social commentary underpinning all of it.
1. Flu (2013)
Flu isn't just the best Korean disaster movie ever made. It's a strong contender for one of the best pandemic movies in the world.
The story begins with a human trafficking scene in a cargo van—a scene that goes horribly wrong due to a virus outbreak. The airborne disease threatens to destroy the whole country, leading to all kinds of chaos while a solution is sought out.
What makes Flu so good isn't the virus itself, but the characters (who are complex in their own ways as they fight the deadly virus) and its realistic portrayal of a modern virus outbreak.