PICK: 3 Best Korean Occult Movies

korean occult movies

Edited by Tailorcontents
Translated by by Kim Hoyeun

Exhuma is enjoying great box office success. No one could have predicted that an occult film would become so popular, as it has always been considered a minor genre. In fact, Korean cinema has historically had a distant relationship with the occult genre. Occult films were rarely produced, and even fewer managed to achieve mainstream recognition. However, a small number of high-quality occult films did manage to find their audience. Now, without further ado, let’s take a look at three such Korean occult films that paved the way for the Exhuma phenomenon.

>> Occult Mystery ‘Exhuma’ Captivates Asia, Shattering Box Office Records

Possessed (2009) – Strange and Ruthless Beliefs
korean occult movies
Credit: Showbox

Possessed is the debut film of director Lee Yong Ju, who rose to fame with romance film Architecture 101. The film is a staple when discussing 21st-century Korean horror films, exploring the themes of shamanism and fanaticism. The movie delves into possession and reincarnation, blind faith and skepticism, desire and false evil, as well as the duality of human nature and various unexplainable phenomena. It traces how false beliefs and greed led to the death of a girl.

The story begins with Hee Jin (Nam Sang-mi) living in Seoul with her devoutly religious mother (Kim Bo Yeon) who believes in the Second Coming of Jesus. Hee Jin receives news of the disappearance of her younger sister So Jin (Shim EunKyung), who was known as the “possessed child” in her town. At first, it seems that the film will explore the religious conflict between family members, but instead, it focuses on showing the horror of blind faith itself. The film takes place in a closed-off apartment, yet it builds tension while creating an eerie atmosphere with mysteries involving disappearance and death. Shim Eun Kyung’s performance as the possessed girl is impressive, and the film has received positive reviews from occult fans who love its strange and unsettling atmosphere.

The Wailing (2016) – Korean Occult Masterpiece
korean occult movies
Credit: 20th Century Studios

The Wailing is the third project of director Na Hong Jin, who solidified his place as a leading director of Korean occult films with The Chaser and The Yellow Sea. Set in a village where a series of mysterious incidents take place, the film follows a police officer determined to restore order and a mysterious outsider facing suspicion behind the unexplainable events. Despite its lengthy runtime of 156 minutes, it pushes viewers into a captivatingly dreary world as it builds up confusion and tension throughout its story.

The film received mixed reviews for its rich use of metaphors and symbolism, as well as its unfamiliar occult themes and ambiguous plot. However, these very aspects ironically contributed to its popularity. The ending, which leaves many questions unanswered, sparked a wave of audience interpretations. Moreover, the film’s catchy line, “What’s important?”, remains a popular quote. Just like Kim Go Eun’s unforgettable ritual scene in Exhuma, Hwang Jung Min’s ritual scene in The Wailing is also considered one of the film’s most iconic moments.

The Priests (2015) – The Birth of Jang Jae Hyun’s Occult Vision 
korean occult movies
Credit: CJ Entertainment

The Priests is a feature film directed by Jang Jae Hyun, based on his short film The 12th Assistant Priest. The film tells the story of two priests who perform a dangerous exorcism to save a young girl who is suffering from mysterious symptoms after a car accident in the heart of Seoul. Kim Yoon Seok and Kang Dong Won star in the film, reuniting after their previous collaboration in the film Jeon Woo-chi: The Taoist Wizard.

Taking viewers on a journey into the rarely explored realm of the occult in Korean cinema, The Priests transported viewers to the unseen world. The film’s atmosphere grows steadily creepier and darker, culminating in a shocking 40-minute exorcism scene. Park So Dam, a then-rookie actress, stole the show as the possessed Yong Shin. Her performance is utterly terrifying, with a complete transformation in both voice and facial expressions.

The Priests received some criticism for its weak story and character development, but it marked the birth of a Korean exorcism film that is on par with Hollywood productions. The film broke the prejudice that occult is a maniacal genre and attracted over 5.4 million viewers with its fresh premise. Director Jang Jae Hyun used this success as a springboard to build his own occult world, leading to the films Svaha: The Sixth Finger and Exhuma.

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