10 Best Korean Slow-Burn Thrillers That'll Keep You Glued to the Screen

10 Best Korean Slow-Burn Thrillers That'll Keep You Glued to the Screen
Image credit: Well Go USA Entertainment, Magnet Releasing

Korean cinema is just another level of mind-blowing experience.

In the realm of thrillers, the Korean film industry has carved out a solid niche for itself with its slow-burn masterpieces. With their meticulous storytelling, deep character development, and gradually building suspense, these movies can't leave anyone behind.

If you're a cinephile who appreciates a thought-provoking and suspenseful movie experience, here are 6 of the best Korean slow-burn thrillers that will keep you hooked from start to finish.

1. Broker (2022)

In Hirokazu Kore-eda's Broker, starring South Korean stars Song Kang-ho, Gang Dong-Won, and Bae Doona, we witness a new addition to the Korean cinematic landscape of gems. The movie offers an intriguing exploration of the actions of two men who steal babies from a church for the black market.

When a mother reclaims her child and travels with the men to meet the prospective adoptive parents, the narrative takes a unique turn. With its meticulous storytelling and in-depth character development, Broker unfolds a slow-burning narrative that gradually reveals the hidden secrets and motivations of its characters, ultimately leading to a gripping climax.

2. The Call (2020)

A unique blend of science fiction and thriller, The Call, directed by Lee Chung-hyun, tells the story of a mysterious phone call that connects two women living in different timelines, allowing them to change each other's destinies. As the characters work together to change their fates, the tension gradually builds, drawing the viewer into a complex web of choices and consequences.

The slow-burn element of the film lies in the complicated intertwining of time, space, and human choices, culminating in a gripping climax that will leave you speechless by the time the story ends.

3. Memories of Murder (2003)

Another Bong Joon-ho masterpiece, Memories of Murder is a crime thriller inspired by South Korea's first serial crimes. Set in the 1980s, the movie follows a group of detectives as they investigate a series of brutal murders of young women in a rural town.

What makes the film truly chilling is not its explicit violence or gore, but the lack of poetic justice in the ending, which leaves a haunting and lasting impression on the viewer.

4. The Chaser (2008)

In his debut film, Na Hong-jin skillfully blurs the lines between thriller and police drama. The first half of the movie unfolds as a gripping thriller, and then it seamlessly transitions into a procedural without losing momentum.

Telling the story of a former detective turned pimp who discovers that his girls are disappearing one by one, Hong-jin demonstrates his directorial skills by avoiding the pitfalls of a slow-moving procedural by infusing it with a high-stakes cat-and-mouse chase.

The film's slow-burn approach is often hailed as the epitome of Korean serial killer cinema, slowly building tension before exploding into an intense blaze of suspense.

5. Confession of Murder (2012)

Jung Byung-gil's film is the story of a serial killer who publishes a book of confessions after the statute of limitations on his crimes has expired. This revelation places the authorities and the victims' families in a moral dilemma as detective Jae-yeong Jeong and a victim's mother search for the truth, delving into the psychological and emotional toll of the pursuit of justice.

As the cat-and-mouse game between the killer and the detective escalates, the movie's suspense steadily builds and the meticulously crafted script keeps the audience on the edge of their seats.

6. Burning (2018)

Directed by Lee Chang-dong, Burning is a complex and enigmatic slow-burn thriller that explores themes of class divide and obsession. This gripping psychological film follows a delivery man who becomes entangled in a web of mystery and chaos after reuniting with a former neighbor, a girl, and her enigmatic boyfriend, Ben.

As tension and suspense grow, rich with metaphors that encourage deep reflection on the complexities of life, Burning offers a hypnotic narrative and a provocative exploration of human nature.

7. The Wailing (2016)

Directed by Na Hong-jin, The Wailing is a haunting supernatural thriller that showcases his exceptional ability to create horror and suspense. As the epitome of a slow-burn thriller, the story follows a small-town dim-witted detective, Jong-Goo, investigating a series of gruesome deaths that lead him to dark rituals and possession.

The Wailing is a slow-burning masterpiece that blurs the line between good and evil, leaving viewers in suspense long after the credits roll.

8. Mother (2009)

Directed by the acclaimed Bong Joon-ho, Mother is a psychological thriller that delves deep into the complex relationship between a mother and her mentally impaired son. As the mother embarks on a journey to prove her son's innocence in a murder case, the movie gradually uncovers the layers of the small town they call home.

Bong Joon-ho is celebrated for his next-level storytelling style and talent for seamlessly blending multiple genres into a single movie, and Mother is a prime example of his ability to combine drama, thriller, and dark comedy.

9. Forgotten (2017)

Directed by Jang Hang-jun, this movie follows a young man who begins to suspect that his brother is not who he claims to be after experiencing a series of mysterious events. Tension mounts as he seeks help from the police, discovers the truth about his family, and delves into a dark and disturbing past.

This Korean psychological thriller is a masterclass in the execution of dark and twisted plots, keeping viewers guessing with its suspense and mystery, and making it a standout entry in the slow-burn thriller genre.

10. I Saw the Devil (2010)

A brutal yet mesmerizing thriller directed by Kim Jee-woon, I Saw the Devil is one of Korean cinema's best revenge films. Taking the concept of vengeance to a whole new level, the film follows a secret agent as he hunts down a sadistic serial killer who murdered his fiancée.

The suspense and psychological intensity of the film make it a chilling experience as it challenges viewers to grapple with the moral implications of revenge. Not for the squeamish, I Saw the Devil is a gripping, stylish, and truly terrifying film that will keep you glued to the screen.