7 Korean Movies That Show the Lives of Koreans in the Japanese Colonial Period

밀정 (The Ages of Shadows)

PERIOD: the 1920s, the second phase of the Japanese Colonial Period

Lee Jung-chul, a Korean police captain who works for the Japanese colonial government, is ordered to dig after the independence activist group. With the plan of destroying Japan’s main facilities in Geyongseong, the members of the group take a train. The bomb-laden train heads to Gyeongseong amid the tension between those who have to be caught and those who can’t be caught.

  • 2016 / historical, action, thriller
  • Directed by Kim Jee-woon
  • Starring Song Kang-ho and Gong Yoo

암살 (Assassination)

PERIOD: 1933, the third phase of the Japanese Colonial Period

The Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea appoints three people who weren’t exposed to Japan to assassinate the commander of the Japanese Stationary Army and the pro-Japanese Korean.

  • 2015 / action, drama
  • Directed by Choi Dong-hoon
  • Starring Jun Ji-yeon, Lee Jung-jae, Ha Jung-woo

박열 (Anarchist from Colony)

PERIOD: 1923, after the Great Kanto Earthquake

In Japan, more than 6,000 innocent Koreans were massacred due to rumors spread after the Great Kanto Earthquake. In order to cover up the massacre, the Japanese government points to the Joseon man, Park Yeol, who was a member of the anti-Japanese group, as the background of the incident. Recognizing Japan’s ridiculous plot, he plans to be the first Korean high-treason criminal in Japanese history.

  • 2017 / historical
  • Directed by Lee Joon-ik
  • Starring Lee Je-hoon and Choi Hee-seo

동주 (Dongju: The Portrait of a Poet)

PERIOD: the 1930s, the third phase of the Japanese Colonial Period

It illustrates the life of poet Yoon Dong-ju, who was an independence activist, a poet, and a writer. Dong-ju and Mong-gyu are cousins of the same age who were born and raised in the same house. Dong-ju dreams to become a poet, and Mong-gyu acts recklessly for his beliefs. The two leave Korea to study in Japan. There, the conflict happens between Mong-gyu, who becomes more focused on the independence movement, and Dong-ju, who writes poems in desperate moments.

  • 2016 / drama
  • Directed by Lee Joon-ik
  • Starring Kang Ha-neul and Park Jeong-min

항거: 유관순 이야기 (A Resistance: Yu Gwan-sun’s Story)

PERIOD: 1919, after the March 1 Independence Movement

Yu Gwan-sun and fellow women are detained in Room 8 of Seodaemun Prison. In a tiny prison cell, Yu Gwan-sun undauntedly unites the prisoners. But Japanese prison officers notice her actions and put her under severe torture.

  • 2019 / historical, action, thriller
  • Directed by Joe Min-ho
  • Starring Go Ah-sung, Kim Sae-byuk, and Kim Ye-eun

말모이 (MAL MO E: The Secret Mission)

PERIOD: In the 1940s, at the end of the Japanese Colonial Period

As Japan ruled Korea for a long time, the Korean language is gradually disappearing. Pan-soo, who is illiterate and an ex-convict, happens to end up working at the Korean Language Society. The society tries to make the Korean dictionary “Malmoe” to preserve it and pass it on to the descendants. There, he learns to read the Korean language and realizes its importance for the first time in his life. However, because the teaching of Korean in schools is banned by the Imperial Japanese government, publishing the Korean dictionary is harder than they expected it to be.

  • 2019 / drama
  • Directed by Eom Yu-na
  • Starring Yoo Hae-jin and Yoon Kye-sang

눈길 (Snowy Road)

PERIOD: 1944, at the end of the Japanese Colonial Period

Jong-bun is poor but brave. Young-ae is rich and smart. They’re living in the same town. Jong-bun hears that Young-ae left for Japan. Jong-bun begs her mom to send her to Japan as well. One day, while Jong-bun’s mom was away from home, she was suddenly taken by the Japanese soldiers and dragged to a train full of young girls her age. There, she sees Young-ae, whom she thought had left to study in Japan. Dragged to Japan, they are now in the midst of a hellish war, not knowing how their fate will be.

  • 2017 / drama
  • Directed by Ham Yeong-hun
  • Starring Kim Sae-ron, Kim Hyang-gi, and Kim Young-ok
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