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#KajoPicks: 10 Korean action dramas you must watch

If you are looking for Korean action dramas to watch, here are 10 of KajoMag’s favourites:

1.Criminal Minds (2017)

Inspired by the American television series Criminal Minds, this Korean action drama stars Lee Joon-gi, Son Hyun-joo, Moon Chae-won, Yoo Sun and Lee Sun-bin.

It follows a group of highly trained profilers in the fictional National Criminal Investigation (NCI Team).

How much action can you expect from this series? Well, first of all it stars Lee Joon-gi who is widely known as for his skills in martial arts.

In this drama, he plays Kim Hyun-joon, a character equivalent to Derek Morgan portrayed by Shemar Moore.

Meanwhile, Son Hyun-joo plays Kang Ki-hyung, the equivalent of Aaron Hotchner (Thomas Gibson).

For those who love Emily Prentiss, don’t worry, Ha Sun-woo (Moon Chae-won) will play the equivalent of this character.

The freakishly ageless JJ or Jennifer Jareau is portrayed by, the Korean remake has Lee Sun-bin as Yoo Min-young.

The team’s genius is Lee Han (Go Yoon) who is similar to Spencer Reid in the American series.

Just like how the American version Criminal Minds cannot live without its Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness), this Korean version has its equivalent character named Nana Hwang (Yoo Sun).

If the crime cases feels familiar, that is because they have been adopted by from the American series.

2.Two Weeks (2013)

In this Korean action drama, Lee Joon-gi uses his martial art skills to play a small-time gangster Jang Tae-san.

Eight years after going to prison to take the fall for his gang boss, Tae-san is now running a small pawnshop.

One day, his former lover shows up telling that their daughter has been diagnosed with leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant.

Tae-san sees it as an opportunity for him to do something good in his criminal life.

However, things get hard for him when he is framed for the murder of an undercover agent.

While being transported in the police car, it gets into an accident. Tae-san takes the opportunity to escape.

Now, he has to run away from the police and an assassin who is being hired to kill him. Tae-san needs to stay alive and prove his innocence before the bone marrow transplant surgery in two weeks time.

3.The K2 (2016)

The main character of this Korean action drama is Kim Je-ha (Ji Chang-wook). He is a former military operative stationed in Iraq until he returns to South Korea after being framed for the murder of his lover.

When his skills get noticed by Choi Yoo-jin, Je-ha is hired to work for security agency JSS Security under the codename K2.

His first task? To guard Go Anna (Im Yoon-ah) who is the secret illegitimate daughter of Choi Yoo-jin’s husband, Jang Se-joon.

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Je-ha and Anna slowly develop feelings toward each other.

Anna might be the main female character but Song Yoon-ah’s portrayal as Choi Yoo-jin is really convincing.

She is ambitious and ruthless in her plan to have her husband become the President of South Korea so that she can become the First Lady.

During the press conference for the drama, Chang-wook said that The K2 would be his last action drama.

He said, “Among all the projects I have done so far, this was by far the hardest. It was so hard it made me resolve to never do another action drama.”

“I worked out so much for this drama. I practiced a lot of martial arts at action school, and because my character is a former mercenary, I wanted to build muscle too, for a masculine look.”

So if you want to watch a shirtless Chang-wook and him fighting bad guys for the last time, this drama is definitely worth-watching.

4.Healer (2014)

Before Chang-wook starred in The K2, he was in another Korean action drama called Healer (2014).

In this drama, he plays the role of an illegal night courier named Seo Jung-hoo who works under the alias “Healer”.

His goal is to save enough money to buy an uninhabited island off the coast of Panama and to live there alone. It is like every introvert’s dream.

Things change for him when he receives an order to find and protect a girl named Young-shin from being killed.

Viewers can expect it is one of those Korean action dramas in which male lead falls in love with the person he supposed to protect.

In an interview back in 2015, Chang-wook admitted that the action scenes in Healer truly challenged his mental strength.

He said, “Honestly, it is scary. Before jumping off high places, various thoughts run through my mind. What if the cord snaps or how much would I get hurt if I fell down.”

At the same time, he was thankful for his stunt double for the action scenes.

5.Heartless City (2013)

Yoon Soo-min (Nam Gyu-ri) grew up in an orphanage with Lee Kyung-mi where they treat each other like real sisters.

When Kyung-mi is murdered while undercover, Yoon Soo-min (Nam Gyu-ri) is driven to pick up when she has left.

While searching for Kyung-mi’s murderer in the criminal world, Soo-min falls for the drug lord Jung Shi-hyun (Jung Kyung-ho).

Not a good idea for a undercover agent especially when Shi-hyun is a suspect in Kyung-mi’s murder.

6.City Hunter (2011)

Want a story that lives by the motto “revenge is a dish best served cold”?

Based on the Japanese manga series of the same name written and illustrated by Tsukasa Hojo, City Hunter (2011) starts with a real-life event called the Rangoon bombing. It took place on Oct 9, 1983 when there was an assassination attempt against the fifth president of South Korea Chun Doo-hwan.

In the actual Rangoon incident, the president survived while 21 were killed, and 46 injured. Three with links to North Korea were hunted down and arrested in connection.

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The events that happen in this Korean action drama are fictionalised events following the bombing.

In retaliation for the loss during the bombing, five high ranking South Korean officials plan a covert operation to go into North Korea and kill North Korean agents without the president’s knowledge.

Bodyguards Lee Jin-Pyo and Park Moo-Yul are instructed to gather men to take part in the dangerous mission.

The men are dropped near the North Korean coastline to enter North Korea to carry out their assassinations and are told that a submarine will be waiting for them to take them back to South Korea when they’re done.

So how many ways can you screw up this operation? The five high ranking South Korean public officers, who initiated the covert operation, change their minds while the operation is taking place.

They decide to give up on the 21 special force members taking part in the covert operation.

So when the special force members complete their tasks, they swim into the ocean looking for the submarine to take them back to South Korea.

They spot the submarine waiting for them and attempt to board the submarine.

Instead, a sniper on the submarine kills all of the special forces members except Lee Jin-Pyo – who survives and swims back to South Korea.

Jin-pyo kidnaps Moo-Yul’s baby and raises the baby Lee Yun-seong (Lee Min-ho) in Thailand while training him into an elite soldier.

After many years, he returns to South Korea to avenge his father’s death.

7.Bad Guys (2014)

This is the Korean version of The Suicide Squad.

When there is a rising number of violent crimes in the area, Detective Oh Gu-tak (Kim Sang-joong) decides to release three convicts from jail to form his crime-fighting team.

In the team, there is Lee Jung-moon (Park Hae-jin), the youngest member of Mensa with a genius IQ of 165 and doctorate degrees in math and philosophy.

But behind his boyish look, Jung-moon is in fact a psychopathic serial killer.

Then there is Pak Un-cheol (Ma Dong-seok), a mob boss who made his way to the top gangster chain in 25 days and is a top dog in prison.

The final member is Jung Tae-soo. He is once a hired hit man who never made a single mistake (in his career as an assaassin) but suddenly turns himself in one day.

8.Last (2015)

Based on the webtoon of the same name by Kang Hyung-kyu, this Korean action drama stars Yoon Kye-sang and Lee Beom-soo.

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Kye-sang plays Jang Tae-ho, a successful fund manager. Things turn upside down for him when a seemingly fool-proof financial deal goes horribly wrong, leading to a loss of 35 billion won and his business partner’s death.

While running from loan sharks, he discovers a secret society of homeless people living inside Seoul Station.

Tae-ho is determined to get his life back by finding out what went wrong with his financial deal.

9.Vagabond (2019)

Directed by Yoo In-sik, Vagabond (2019) is one of the highest rated dramas in 2019.

The plot follows the events after a mysterious plane crash kills over 211 civilians including Cha Dal-gun’s (Lee Seung-gi) nephew.

However, his investigation to search for the truth leads him to cases of corruption. That is when he meets Go Hae-ri (Bae Suzy), a covert operative for the National Intelligence Service.

Most actors would go to an action school before starring in any Korean action dramas including Seung-gi and Suzy.

Speaking about the action scenes in the drama, the director revealed in an interview, “All the actors really went through a lot. The martial arts team took on the role of action coordinator. Dangerous stunts were done by stunt doubles. And the less dangerous ones were done by the actual actors themselves. But the scene in which the main character jumps off a building and the scene in which he is hanging off a car were actually done by Lee Seung-gi himself.”

Vagabond, one of the must-watch Korean action dramas.

10.Iris (2009)

We cannot talk about Korean action dramas without mentioning Iris (2009). It has a reported budget of over 20 billion won. This makes it one of the most expensive Korean dramas to make.

The drama follows two elite National Security System (NSS) agents, Hyun-jun (Lee Byung-hun) and Sa-woo (Jeong Jun-ho) falling for fellow agent Seung-hee (Kim Tae-hee).

Hyun-jun is sent on a solo mission to Hungary where he is betrayed by another fellow agent. Seung-hee comes to his rescue but they both are involved in a car explosion.

In the midst of the chaos, they both got separated and are misled to believe that other person is dead.

Meanwhile, Hyun-jun is saved by an unknown voice and from there he learns about the secret society of “IRIS”.

One year later, Hyun-jun returns to South Korea to seek revenge. During this time, the Korean peninsular is set to reunify.

In the same time, the group “IRIS” is going all the way to stop the reunification.

Do you have any other Korean action dramas that should be on this list? Let us know in the comment box.

Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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