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Korean Films to Watch Out for in 2021

Jan 12, 2021
  • Writerby Pierce Conran
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Following COVID-19 Draught Major Projects Hope to Meet Audiences This Year

Following its most difficult year, the Korean film industry is looking to stage a comeback later in 2021. The global COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the film industry, emptying out theaters, delaying releases and even shutting down some productions, but filmmakers and studios are collectively eyeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

The Korean film industry had to hold off on releasing many films last year, which has led to something of a backlog of exciting projects awaiting release. Add in all the new projects that went into production since the pandemic began and what you have is a long list of major titles with something for everyone. Beyond one film hitting Netflix next month, it is still unclear when any of these will find their way to theaters, but once the floodgate opens, it may well be hard to keep up. 

Decision to Leave

After venturing to TV with the John LE CARRÉ adaptation The Little Drummer Girl for the BBC, acclaimed director PARK Chan-wook is returning to Korea with his next project, the romantic thriller Decision to Leave.

Currently in production, the film stars PARK Hae-il (The Host, 2006) as a detective who becomes entangled with a mysterious widow, played by Chinese star TANG Wei (Late Autumn, 2010), who becomes a suspect in his latest murder investigation. The film co-stars GO Kyoung-pyo (Seven Years of Night, 2018), PARK Yong-woo (Hwayi: A Monster Boy, 2013), and LEE Jung-hyun (Peninsula, 2020).

Emergency Declaration

After Joint Security Area /JSA (2000), The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008) and The Age of Shadows (2016), superstars SONG Kang-ho and LEE Byung-hun are reuniting for the fourth time on Emergency Declaration (2020), a new aviation disaster film from The King (2017) director HAN Jae-rim, who previously directed SONG in The Show Must Go On (2007) and The Face Reader (2013).

The story takes place aboard a commercial airliner that is forced to make an emergency landing following a terror incident. Also on board in the star-studded production are JEON Do-yeon (Secret Sunshine, 2007), KIM Nam-gil (Pandora, 2016) and IM Si-wan (The Attorney, 2013).

Hansan: Rise of the Dragon
Seven years after claiming the top spot on the all-time box office charts, director KIM Han-min returns with Hansan: Rise of the the Dragon, the second instalment in a trilogy of stories about the legendary admiral YI Sun-shin, which began with his previous smash hit Roaring Currents.

PARK Hae-il plays the admiral in this story, which focuses on the Battle of Hansan Island in 1592, five years before the events of Roaring Currents. Noryang, the third film in the trilogy with KIM Yun-seok in the main role, is expected to begin shooting this month.


Haeundae (2009) and Ode to My Father (2014) director JK YOUN has been busy producing major hits through his outfit JK Films of late, such as Confidential Assignment (2017), Keys to the Heart (2018) and Pawn (2020), but he’s finally back in the director’s chair for the big-budget period film Hero

Originally expected to hit theaters last summer, Hero is an adaptation of the hit musical of the same name and features CHUNG Sung-hwa reprising his role from the stage as independence fighter AN Jung-geun during the Japanese Colonial Era. He is co-starring KIM Go-eun (Coin Locker Girl, 2015) and NA Moon-hee (I Can Speak, 2017).

Life Is Beautiful

YUM Jung-ah (A Tale of Two Sisters, 2003) and RYU Seung-ryong (Extreme Job, 2019) lead the cast of the upcoming musical Life Is Beautiful, from Default (2018) director CHOI Kook-hee. YUM plays a woman who discovers she has a terminal illness and decides to track down her first love with the help of her husband, played by RYOO.

Originally scheduled for release at the end of last year, Life Is Beautiful is a road movie described as Korea’s first ‘Jukebox musical’ and will feature several popular songs from the 1970s to the 2000s.

Killing Romance

Director LEE Won-suk, known for the cult classic romcom How to Use Guys with Secret Tips (2013) and the period film The Royal Tailor (2014), will be back in theatres this year with his new comedy Killing Romance

Extreme Job (2019) actress LEE Ha-nee plays a former star who marries a corporate magnate on an island, played by LEE Sun-kyun of PARASITE (2019). LEE’s Extreme Job co-star GONG Myoung plays a young shirker she meets on the island who is studying for an exam.


Action maestro RYOO Seung-wan, known for The Berlin File (2013), Veteran (2015) and The Battleship Island (2017), returns with a new action tale in Mogadishu, a ripped-from-the-headlines story of diplomats from North and South Korea who must join forces to escape Mogadishu when Civil War breaks out in Somalia in the 1990s.

Stars KIM Yun-seok (The Chaser, 2008) and ZO In-sung (The King, 2017) team up with RYOO for the first time in this action project that was shot on location in Morocco. The Lotte Entertainment production was thankfully able to complete production just before the pandemic struck.

Like a Virgin (2006), The Silenced (2015) and Believer (2018) director LEE Hae-young is currently shooting his new project, a Japanese Occupation-set spy thriller called Phantom

SUL Kyung-gu (Cold Eyes, 2013), LEE Ha-nee, PARK So-dam (PARASITE) and PARK Hae-soo (Time to Hunt, 2020) lead the cast in this story which takes place in 1933 about five people suspected of being a spy for the anti-resistance codenamed ‘phantom’ who must keep their wits about them while being interrogated in an isolated hotel.


Director LEE Yong-ju makes his long-awaited comeback following his hit romantic drama Architecture 101 (2012) with the highly anticipated sci-fi action-drama Seobok, which was originally scheduled to open in December.

GONG Yoo (TRAIN TO BUSAN, 2016) stars as a former intelligence agent who is tasked with escorting Seobok, the world’s first human clone, to a secure location. The agent strives to protect the clone from several different factions who try to abduct the clone along the way. Young TV superstar PARK Bo-gum, who plays the title character, looks set to conquer 2021 with starring roles in this and Wonderland.

Space Sweepers

Originally scheduled to hit theaters in 2020, the big-budget film SPACE SWEEPERS, Korea’s first ever space-set production, changed its plans late last year and is now scheduled to bow on Netflix this coming February 5.

Director JO Sung-hee reunites with his A Werewolf Boy (2012) star SONG Joong-ki for this tale of a spaceship named Victory that trawls outer space for scrap and takes on some unexpected cargo. SONG is the ship’s pilot while KIM Tae-ri of The Handmaiden (2016) plays the captain, Extreme Job (2019) star JIN Seon-kyu is the engineer and YOO Hae-jin of LUCK-KEY (2016) voices a robot on board.

Acclaimed filmmaker KIM Tae-yong, known for Memento Mori (1999), Family Ties (2005) and Late Autumn (2010), is another major director making a long-awaited return to screen this year. His new project is the big-budget sci-fi fantasy drama Wonderland.

‘Wonderland’ is a virtual world run by an institution that gives people the opportunity to spend time with people they’ve lost or who they are unable to communicate with. JUNG Yu-mi (The Silenced, 2011) and CHOI Woo-shik (PARASITE, 2019) play coordinators of Wonderland, while PARK Bo-gum, BAE Suzy (Architecture 101), GONG Yoo and TANG Wei play characters who use the service.
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