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Best LGBTQ+ Korean Movies, Ranked – TheFantasyTimes

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By Jitin Gambhir

Best LGBTQ+ Korean Movies, Ranked



Over the last decade, South Korean cinema has experienced a resurgence in the Western world, with directors like Park Chan-wook, Hong Sang-soo, and Lee Chang-dong gaining global recognition through international film festivals. Korean entertainment has made its mark with neo-noir elements and a lingering sense of tragedy in many plotlines, as well as both lighthearted and heavier Korean dramas for streaming platforms like Netflix. However, LGBTQ+ cinema in the country has remained sparse in mainstream Korean narratives, despite filmmakers tackling queer subjects since the 1960s, even amid deep censorship and regulation.

Fortunately, it is now more accepted, hence why filmmakers like Park can secure funding and distribution with these topics. These are some of the best LGBTQ+ movies to come out of South Korea so far.

No Regret is a profound and evocative film that delves into the tumultuous dynamics of a same-sex relationship between Su-min, an orphaned factory worker, and Jae-min, a wealthy businessman. The film distinguishes itself with powerful performances, especially Lee Yeong-hoon’s portrayal of Su-min, which infuses realism and intensity into the storyline.

Method portrays LGBTQ+ themes with finesse and innovation. The film depicts a nuanced relationship between seasoned actor Jae-ha and idol star Young-woo within the confines of a play they are both part of. The complexity of human emotions and sexual orientations is delved into, without resorting to sensationalism.

Night Flight is an emotionally charged narrative that weaves a compelling story about a gay relationship. The film traces the journey of high school friends Yong-ju and Gi-Woong, who are separated by their disparate socioeconomic statuses only to be reunited amidst the turbulence of their sexual awakenings.

Moonlit Winter is a romantic and serene film that finds beauty in the little details to create a story that leaves quite the impression. It stars Kim Hee-ae as a single mother who lives alone with her daughter when the daughter discovers a big secret about her mother: she had a female first love that lives in Japan.

Man on High Heels is a noir film that features South Korea’s biggest actors. The movie’s lead actor Cha Seung-won alone should have been enough to draw in audiences. Yoon Ji-wook, a homicide detective with a streak of catching any criminal, no matter how violent they are, and bringing them to justice, harbors a big secret: he identifies as a woman and seeks to live as such.

The King and the Clown is set during the Joseon-era reign of King Yeonsan. Kam and Lee portray two street clowns who, after recently relocating to Seoul, end up being arrested for treason after insulting the king. Somehow, they gain the king’s favor after amusing him, but an internal war between the king’s concubine and one of the clowns begins after the unstable king’s gaze romantically shifts toward the clown.

Our Love Story is often overshadowed by the bigger release of the year: The Handmaiden. Lee Sang-hee and Ryu Sun-young star as a fine arts student and a bartender who meet by chance one day. Yoon-ju, the fine arts student who thought she was straight due to her past relationships, finds herself smitten with the bartender, thus beginning a wholesome spiral where she questions her sexuality and the two further their relationship.

Two Weddings and a Funeral was done by one of South Korea’s few openly gay directors: Kim Jho Kwang-soo. Released in 2012, this modest film did not reach mainstream success when it came out in theaters but was successful for a queer film in Korea due to the number of tickets it sold. This romantic comedy follows two doctors at a hospital, one of whom is gay and the other a lesbian.

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Lastly, Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden made splashes worldwide when it was released in 2016, winning a BAFTA and becoming a favorite film for many. Kim Tae-ri and Kim Min-hee star as a maid and an heiress who become tangled romantically when the maid enters the household for the first time. Set in the era during which Korea was colonized by Japan, there’s a sense of tension and danger throughout the film that adds to its emotional resonance.

Over the past decade, South Korean cinema has had a renaissance in the Western world. It began even before Bong Joon-ho took home many Oscars for Parasiteas the works of directors like Park Chan-wook, Hong Sang-soo, and Lee Chang-dong were gaining recognition globally through the international film festival circuits. Known for neo-noir elements and a lingering sense of tragedy that encompasses many plot lines, as well as both lighthearted and heavier Korean dramas for streaming platforms like Netflix, Korean entertainment has made its mark. But what about LGBTQ+ cinema in the country?


Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden was the biggest release out of Korea in 2016 and that comes with good reasons. LGBTQ+ representation has remained sparse in mainstream Korean narratives, but filmmakers have been tackling queer subjects since the 1960s, even amid deep censorship and regulation. While it may not have been openly acknowledged by creators, fans, and storylines, it was still observed and present in movies and television. Nowadays, it is more accepted, hence why filmmakers like Park can secure funding and distribution with these topics. These are some of the best LGBTQ+ movies to come out of South Korea so far.

Updated June 2023: If you enjoy watching LGBTQ+ movies, especially ones from South Korean cinema, you’ll be happy to know this article has been updated with additional content by Darren Gigool.

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9 No Regret

Lee Yeong-hoon and Kim Nam-gil in No Regret (2006)
CJ Entertainment

Profound and evocative, No Regret delves into the tumultuous dynamics of a same-sex relationship between Su-min, an orphaned factory worker, and Jae-min, a wealthy businessman. The plot skillfully unravels the trials and intricacies of their relationship against societal norms.

The film distinguishes itself with powerful performances, especially Lee Yeong-hoon’s portrayal of Su-min, which infuses realism and intensity into the storyline. Director Leesong Hee-il’s creative narrative techniques and cinematography further enhance the plot, amplifying its emotional resonance.

No Regret holds a unique position as South Korea’s first major film helmed by an openly gay director and for its public reception. The film sparked dialogue about homosexuality within a traditionally conservative society, striking a chord with a wide array of viewers.

8 Method

Park Sung-woong and Seung-Hoon Oh in Method (2017)
At9 Film

Innovative and gripping, Method portrays LGBTQ+ themes with finesse. A nuanced relationship unfolds between seasoned actor Jae-ha and idol star Young-woo within the confines of a play they are both part of. While playing their parts, reality, and fantasy start intertwining, spurring a profound exploration of their sexual identities both on and off stage.

Expertly constructed, the film juxtaposes life and theater. The complexity of human emotions and sexual orientations is delved into, without resorting to sensationalism. A powerful blend of reality and fiction emerges through story development and character portrayals, contributing depth to the narrative. The lines between life and art, reality and fiction, become beautifully blurred under Bang Eun-jin’s compelling direction.

Related: 8 Must-Watch Movies From LGBTQ+ Filmmakers

The movie enjoyed widespread acclaim from viewers and critics alike. The film’s genuine depiction of LGBTQ+ themes and characters resonated broadly, thereby securing its position as an important addition to the LGBTQ+ Korean film landscape.

7 Night Flight

Si-Yang Kwak and Jae-Joon Lee in Night Flight (2014)
Finecam

Emotionally charged, Night Flight weaves a compelling narrative about a gay relationship. The story traces the journey of high school friends Yong-ju and Gi-Woong, who are separated by their disparate socioeconomic statuses only to be reunited amidst the turbulence of their sexual awakenings.

Kwak Si-yang’s (Yong-joo) and Lee Jae-joon’s (Ki-woong) performances add depth to their roles. A narrative marked by director Lee Song Hee-il’s sensitive storytelling and an absorbing script presents a touching portrayal of love, societal expectations, and individual identity.

Upon release, Night Flight achieved significant critical acclaim, boosting Lee Song Hee-il’s standing as an influential figure in queer Korean cinema. The film’s box office success and the heartening public response showcase its ability to resonate with audiences through its genuine exploration of love.

6 Moonlit Winter

Two women walk through the snow in Moonlit Winter
Little Big Pictures

Kim Hee-ae stars in 2019’s Moonlit Winter. As a single mother, she lives alone with her daughter when the daughter discovers a big secret about her mother: she had a female first love that lives in Japan. Compared to the daughter, the mother is fairly closed off and never discussed this openly, so it comes as a big surprise. The two ultimately decide to take a trip in the winter to Otaru, a small Japanese town on the coast, where the past and present will slowly begin to collide. Romantic, serene, and beautiful all at the same time, Moonlit Winter finds beauty in the little details to create a story that leaves quite the impression.

5 Man on High Heels

A scene from Man on High Heels
Lotte Entertainment

Jang Jin’s Man on High Heels did not make much of a splash when it was originally released in 2014, although it features South Korea’s biggest actors. The movie’s lead actor Cha Seung-won alone should have been enough to draw in audiences, as well as its subject matter.

This noir film features Cha as Yoon Ji-wook, a homicide detective with a streak of catching any criminal, no matter how violent they are, and bringing them to justice. Yoon, despite being a stereotypical role model for masculinity in society, harbors a big secret: he identifies as a woman and seeks to live as such. That’s what eventually leads him to decide to get the surgery to live out his dreams, but the world of crime wants to interfere and suck him back in before he can do so.

4 The King and the Clown

A scene from The King and the Clown
CJ Entertainment

Kam Woo-sung, Lee Joon-gi, and Jung Jin-young starred in 2005’s The King and the Clownwhich was the most popular release in South Korea that year and the country’s nomination for an Oscar. Adapted from a stage play written in 2000, the movie is set during the Joseon-era reign of King Yeonsan. Kam and Lee portray two street clowns who, after recently relocating to Seoul, end up being arrested for treason after insulting the king. Somehow, they gain the king’s favor after amusing him, but an internal war between the king’s concubine and one of the clowns begins after the unstable king’s gaze romantically shifts toward the clown.

3 Our Love Story

Two women lay on a mattress next to each other in Our Love Story
Indie Plug

Released in 2016, Our Love Story is often overshadowed by the bigger release of the year: The Handmaiden. Lee Sang-hee and Ryu Sun-young star as a fine arts student and a bartender who meet by chance one day. Yoon-ju, the fine arts student who thought she was straight due to her past relationships, finds herself smitten with the bartender, thus beginning a wholesome spiral where she questions her sexuality and the two further their relationship. Our Love Story feels real, like a story that one would find talking to a friend, which makes it refreshing to watch as it positively portrays lesbians.

2 Two Weddings and a Funeral

Two gay couples, one male and another female, stand next to each other in wedding attire in Two Weddings and a Funeral
Jinjin Pictures

Two Weddings and a Funeral was done by one of South Korea’s few openly gay directors: Kim Jho Kwang-soo. Released in 2012, this modest film did not reach mainstream success when it came out in theaters but was successful for a queer film in Korea due to the number of tickets it sold — an impressive amount for a film about gay characters at the time.

Related: 12 Groundbreaking LGBTQ+ Movies of the 21st Century

This romantic comedy follows two doctors at a hospital, one of whom is gay and the other a lesbian. They make a pact to get married so that they can reap the benefits of society while pursuing their sexualities on the side, but when one of their parents starts to get a little too nosy with the newlyweds, this ploy can potentially fall apart just as quickly as it was made.

1 The Handmaiden

Woman holds umbrella for another woman in The Handmaiden.
CJ Entertainment

Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden made splashes worldwide when it was released in 2016, winning a BAFTA and becoming a favorite film for many. Kim Tae-ri and Kim Min-hee star as a maid and an heiress who become tangled romantically when the maid enters the household for the first time.

Set in the era during which Korea was colonized by Japan, there’s an even deeper element of forbidden romance added with that nuanced detail, making the viewer root for them even more. The Handmaiden is gory, full of twists, and exciting to watch, although it becomes obvious at times that it was a male director and writer who created it.

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