Oldboy And Other Great Park Chan-wook Movies And How To Watch Them

Choi Min-sik in Oldboy
(Image credit: CJ Entertainment)

In October, Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave had a limited release in theaters in the USA. The film is half-suspense thriller and half-star-crossed romance. It’s a beautiful film that gets a lot right with how it crafts a haunting story of love, obsession, and freedom. The film is just one of the great Park Chan-wook movies. His excellent work includes Oldboy, Joint Security Unit, and The Handmaiden.

If you’ve seen Decision to Leave and now want more Park Chan-wook movies, we have a few recommendations. For this list, I've selected movies that he directed and are (mostly) available to stream or rent. I didn’t include any movies he only wrote or produced.  

Choi Min-sik in Oldboy

(Image credit: CJ Entertainment)

Oldboy (2003) 

Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is mysteriously kidnapped and held prisoner for 15 years. Once released, he has one mission: find out who stole his life and why. Oldboy is a cat-and-mouse type thriller where one shocking twist after another leaves viewers disturbed and perplexed. It’s a movie hard to forget…in a good way.

Oldboy is one of Park Chan-wook’s most well-known movies because it’s violent and shocking, and touches on the lengths people go to for revenge and justice -- especially justice for love. Oldboy takes the revenge genre to another level because it also highlights the petty nature of vengeance. There are no winners in this situation.

Surprisingly, only the American Oldboy adaptation is currently available to stream or rent in the States. However, Amazon has the original Oldboy available to purchase on Blu-ray or DVD.

Buy Oldboy on Blu-ray/DVD on Amazon. (opens in new tab)

Kim Min-hee and Kim Tae-ri in The Handmaiden

(Image credit: CJ Entertainment)

The Handmaiden (2016) 

The Handmaiden is a lesbian love story centered on two women of opposite class status, Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) and her maid, Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri). They both may not be as they seem. It’s based on Sarah Waters’ book, Fingersmith

This movie is one of Park Chan-wook’s sexiest movies -- one of the very erotic films that are far from modest. Beyond all the sex, it’s a film about love and con artists. You’re never sure who is tricking whom. However, there is no denying these women’s feelings for each other. The Handmaiden sets up a very intriguing mystery that turns the film into a fun thriller about who will get the final win. It’s also about whether love conquers all.

Stream The Handmaiden on Amazon. (opens in new tab)

Lee Byung-hun, Song Kang-ho, and Shin Ha-kyun in Joint Security Area

(Image credit: CJ Entertainment)

Joint Security Area (2000) 

 Joint Security Area follows two South Korean soldiers and two North Korean soldiers who strike up a friendship. The friends try to keep politics out of their interactions. This gives their friendship a purity that cannot possibly last. Joint Security Area is also a suspense thriller that explores the mysterious circumstances that lead to one of their deaths and the others’ involvement in it. 

Joint Security Area stars Lee Young-ae, Lee Byung-hun, Song Kang-ho, Kim Tae-woo, and Shin Ha-kyun. The film offers a brutal and haunting look at the conflict between North and South Korea, and how the divide makes peace impossible, even if they may share some commonalities. You follow and come to enjoy these men’s interactions only to be left heartbroken by the end. Park Chan-wook is a master at breaking hearts with his movies. Joint Security Area is one of the many great Korean movies on Tubi.

Stream Joint Security Area on Tubi.
Rent/buy Joint Security Area on Amazon. (opens in new tab)

Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode in Stoker

(Image credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Stoker (2013)

Stoker is Park Chan-wook’s first English-language film that he directed. It was written by Wentworth Miller and stars Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, and Matthew Goode. After the death of the patriarch of the family, his mysterious and estranged brother comes to live with his daughter and wife.

The uncle and daughter instantly bond creating a student-teacher relationship that borders on incestuous.  They also share an unusual urge. Many may not consider Stoker one of Nicole Kidman’s best movies, but she and the entire cast give great performances. Stoker is a twisted, dark film that’s very enjoyable. It possesses many of the traits that make Park Chan-wook movies great, including a few shocking twists, and the blurred lines between love and obsession. Stoker proves that Park Chan-wook is a master of storytelling in any language.

Rent/buy Stoker on Amazon.  (opens in new tab)

Song Kang-ho and Kim Ok-bin in Thirst

(Image credit: Focus Features)

Thirst (2009)

Thirst is a unique vampire love story that highlights why a lust for blood and someone can only end in tragedy. A medical experiment turns a priest, Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho), into a vampire. The first half of the movie deals with his transformation and his growing attraction to the wife of a childhood friend.

The second half deals with Tae-ju’s (Kim Ok-bin) and his chaotic, toxic relationship. And how vampirism and complicated humans aren’t a perfect match. The film takes many of the vampire movie tropes and remakes them in a way that helps highlight the intensity of an all-consuming romance. It’s a stylish film that’s dark and poetic.

Rent/buy Thirst on Amazon. (opens in new tab)

Shin Ha-kyun in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

(Image credit: CJ Entertainment)

Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance (2002) 

Ryu (Shin Ha-kyun) goes to extreme lengths to save his sister who needs a kidney transplant. All his methods seem to fail until things spiral beyond his control. It ends in a double dose of tragedy for both male leads. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance also stars Song Kang-ho and Bae Doona.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is one of the great revenge films. It really plays into the idea of “before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” This is another Park Chan-wook movie heavy on violence but even heavier on empathy for these characters. There are no heroes or villains in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, just broken people making decisions that make things worse. In the end, you have sympathy for these characters but the bleak reality of their situation makes their fates inevitable.

Stream Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance on Tubi.

Lee Young-ae in Lady Vengeance

(Image credit: CJ Entertainment)

Lady Vengeance (2005)

Lady Vengeance tells the timeless tale of a person imprisoned for a crime they didn’t commit. Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae) spends time in prison for murder and kidnapping. She uses her time to earn favors with the other inmates. This is all part of a plan to enact revenge on the real person responsible for the murder. However, a reunion with her young daughter complicates things. 

Lady Vengeance features many of Park Chan-wook’s signature elements, including appearances by regulars in his films (Song Kang-ho, Yoo Ji-tae, and Shin Ha-kyun have small roles in this movie, and Choi Min-sik is the main antagonist).  It’s another film with a lot of violence and a story of love being central to it. Lady Vengeance concludes Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance trilogy. It ends things with one last brutal hit—both emotionally and with some stone-cold violence. 

Stream Lady Vengeance on Tubi.

Decision to Leave is currently playing in limited theaters. Make sure to follow CinemaBlend’s upcoming movies list for news of it expanding its release or coming to a streaming service.  

Jerrica Tisdale
Freelance Writer

Spent most of my life in various parts of Illinois, including attending college in Evanston. I have been a life long lover of pop culture, especially television, turned that passion into writing about all things entertainment related. When I'm not writing about pop culture, I can be found channeling Gordon Ramsay by kicking people out the kitchen.