Recommending Korean Historical Films (Part 1)

Hello everyone. Hope you’re enjoy a pleasant semester. Studying in a foreign country does not only mean getting academic knowledge. You actually get to have deeper understanding of diversity through experiencing new culture. I have been wondering what would I be interested in if I were an exchange student in South Korea, then I thought that most of the foreign students do not have a chance to learn Korean history. Cultural knowledge comes from understanding the historical backgrounds. Therefore, this time, I came up with a list of movies about Korea’s modern history. I looked up the internet to search for comments on the quality of the films: historical accuracy, popularity, acting, etc.


# Joseon Dynasty (조선시대): Korea’s history starts from about 5000 years ago. Many wars were fought. Lands were lost and gained. Joseon Dynasty is the latest monarchic society before the Japanese colonization, lasting for about 500 years.


광해, 왕이 된 남자 Masquerade (2012)



Gwanghae was the fifteenth king of Joseon. There is a controversy on the interpretation of his achievements: a wise king or a tyrant. Some historians compliment his leadership and determination on neutral diplomacy against Chinese Ming, while the others criticize him for irresoluteness and killing many to maintain the position. <Masquerade> inserts an imaginative character “Haseon” as a resolver, and sheds a new light on history. The movie shows how the interpretation of descendants can change the whole reputation of such historic figures.

When I watched this, it reminded me of <The Prince and the Pauper> by Mark Twain. Lee Byung-hun from G.I.Joe is acting the main character.

Official trailer:


명량(Myung-ryang) Roaring Currents (2014)


Even little children acknowledge Admiral, Yi Sun-sin as the most admirable war hero in Korea’s history. He defeated Japanese attack which lasted for several years. He was said to be loyal to the country, humble to its people. After the film had been released, the famous quote by Yi, “I still have 12 ships at my command”, was told among people. The sea battle scene is a must-watch.

Official trailer:


# Japanese Colonial Era (일제강점기): As many wars were fought among the country’s neighbouring nations, Joseon Dynasty waned; Korean Empire government was set in 1897. However, the new government did not last long. The country was soon colonized by Japan in 1910. Its sovereignty was lost. The colonial era, which lasted for 35 years, remains as a heart-rending and humiliating memory to Koreans.


동주, Dongju, the Portrait of A Poet (2016)


Yoon Dong-ju is a lyric poet who lived from 1917 to 1945. Many of his poems are still taught in schools and read among Koreans. His poems show internal conflicts that the young intellect had to endure while living under the power of foreigners. Also, the poems represent Yoon’s pursuit of innocence.

I wonder whether you can watch this with an English subtitle, because the film was not that successful compared to the other historic films. However, I had many feelings and thoughts whirling around my mind after watching this, so highly recommend it to everyone! You can listen to some of his famous poems through narration. Also, the actors deserve praise.



밀정 The Age of Shadows (2016)


Some columnists evaluate the film more than just a historic action movie. They say that <The Age of Shadows> is a mixture of noir and melodrama. This film has been lately released, so you can watch it at cinema! I had a chance to watch this last week, so obviously I couldn’t help but write about the film. The plotline is focused around trust and betrayal. I especially liked it because the director focuses on delicate emotional changes of each character. It is thrilling to watch where a person puts his values can influence his attitude toward the future, and eventually change the entire history. I look forward to watching it again because last time, for several murder scenes, I had to close my eyes. Next time, I won’t miss any of the scenes. For those who want to watch similar films, <암살, Assassination> is a great one.

Official Trailer:


The next article, I will come back with films on post-independence day to present days. Hope this post will be helpful for you!





Article by Sangeun, a Junior in Business Administration

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