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From futuristic sci-fi flicks to historical docudramas, Seoul has provided the backdrop to countless movies and television shows. Here are 10 of the best that truly capture the spirit of the city. Check them out before you visit and you’ll feel like you’ve already landed in South Korea’s dynamic capital city.
While visiting Seoul, you’ll more than likely take a day trip to one of the many gorgeous destinations South Korea has to offer, and you’ll probably get there via KTX, the country’s high-speed railway system. Preview what your ride might be like (but hopefully not) by watching Train to Busan, a story of Seoulites attempting to escape a zombie attack on a train headed for the country’s southern coast. The action-packed film features several contemporary social critiques, and is the most successful Korean film outside of Korea to date.
Comprised of 141 crowdsourced video clips submitted by Korean nationals, international residents and tourists, Bitter Sweet Seoul is an intimate portrait of the many sides of Seoul – the beautiful and ugly, extraordinary and mundane. Despite the lack of a consistent plot, the film flows smoothly, a result of the limitless creativity and vision of world renowned directors Park Chan-wook (The Handmaiden, Oldboy, Stoker, Thirst) and Park Chan-kyong (Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits).
During the 1980s, the Korean government established a special summer camp for gyopo (foreign-born Korean teenagers) where they could spend their summer in Seoul exploring their cultural heritage. While the intentions of the program were honorable, the activities and behavior of the teenage participants were not. Based on a true story about one of the summer camps that took place in 1986, Seoul Searching is a heartwarming yet comical coming of age film inspired by the films of John Hughes.
Unlike the majority of the world’s top chefs, Korean monk Jeong Kwan focuses less on being the best and more on creating soul-nourishing dishes with ingredients plucked freshly from the earth. As this episode of the highly rated Chef’s Table Netflix exclusive follows Kwon’s daily life as she lovingly prepares temple food, viewers get a sense of the rich heritage of Korean cuisine, from age-old recipes to how the country’s history has influenced its dishes.
It’s safe to say that Seoul has experienced its fair share of historical tragedies, with the Korean War being one of the biggest. Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War provides a heart wrenching look at some of the city’s darker days. Set in the 1950s, the film focuses on the relationship between two brothers from a poor but happy family who are forced to flee their home when North Korea invades. After an unexpected series of events, the brothers end up fighting on opposite ends of the border, leading to a dramatic and tragic ending.
Amid national chaos and fear for his life, tyrannical King Gwanghae orders his trusted councillor to find a royal body double. He hires Ha-seon, a peasant mimic who bears a perfect resemblance to the king. But when King Gwanghae collapses from a mysterious poison, Ha-seon is forced to save his country from collapse, avoid assassination and pull off the biggest masquerade in history. The film entertainingly showcases life during the Joseon Dynasty, which can be further explored at Seoul’s palaces such as Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung.
There’s no better way to spend a sunny afternoon in Seoul than on the Han River, a site that is home to a number of recreational facilities, sprawling green spaces and riverside cafes. That is, unless a giant man-eating monster emerges from the depths of the river, which is exactly what happens in The Host. In the midst of the chaos, a slow-witted man and his family must protect their daughter.
Netflix’s wildly popular sci-fi drama follows a group of people across the globe who are mentally linked as they try to find a way to survive being hunted by those who see them as a threat to the world’s order. Filmed in multiple cities, Sense 8 features many spots in Seoul, the home of martial arts expert Sun (played by Korean actress Doona Bae). Get a sneak peek at the city’s most beloved attractions, including the Cheonggyechon, Dongdaemun Design Plaza and Bukchon Hanok Village.
It’s impossible to visit Seoul and not be bombarded with K-pop, a genre of catchy music that has become the latest pop cultural phenomenon to take the world by storm. A year-long chronicle that follows the journey of an emerging female K-pop sensation, 9 Muses of Star Empire illustrates the everyday life of nine girls pursuing their dreams in a world of jealousy, betrayal and scandal.
It’s always helpful to have a good understanding of a city’s culture before visiting, and My Sassy Girl, a wildly popular romantic comedy that tells the story of an accidental couple, is a great way to pick up some cultural tips. For example, respect for one’s elders is highly important, which is clearly evident in the subway scene, while punishments aren’t only given by one’s parents, but also by friends during innocent games.