In the 1920s, the town of Gando, located somewhere in northeast China, was no man’s land. That’s what made it so dangerous – with no laws or law enforcement, the town was consistently pillaged and stripped of its resources, residents and livelihood by a number of outside forces. From Japanese imperialists to rogue mercenary bandits, Lee Yoon (played by Kim Nam-gil) comes to their aid by rounding up an elite team of independence fighters to protect the town from further harm.
But Netflix’s Song of the Bandits is not as simple as that. Yoon is plagued by an incident in his past, shrouded in mystery, that took place in Gando. Yet, upon receiving an anonymous letter informing him of a man he’s tracking down, he found himself compelled to return. He is on the run from Lee Gwang-il, a major in the Imperial Japanese Empire, who hires an elite gunman to assassinate Yoon for his betrayal of the army.
Nine episodes chock full of nonstop action, nail-biting mysteries and stunning cinematography to boot, Song of the Bandits emerged as a gripping and suspenseful portrayal of a dark chapter in Joseon’s history. If you’ve finished watching all nine episodes and are itching for a similar follow-up, NME has curated five more K-dramas ranging from political action-thrillers to heart-pounding period pieces to consider for your watchlist.
Similarly set during the Joseon era, tvN’s 2018 romance-action stars Lee Byung-hun as its main hero, Eugene Choi, who was born into slavery. After successfully escaping to the US during the Shinmiyangyo in 1871, he enlisted into the Marine Corps. Upon returning to Joseon for a mission, he meets and falls for the granddaughter of an aristocrat, Go Ae-shin (played by Kim Tae-ri). who is also a member of a group of Korean independence fighters. Mr. Sunshine begins to pick up steam by exploring the complexities of romance across social classes and Choi’s fight for his country’s sovereignty as Japan begins its plans of colonising Joseon.
Where to watch: Netflix
Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Min Jin Lee, Pachinko is an award-winning, time-spanning epic that follows four generations of a Korean family, from 1915 to 1989. Told through the eyes of the family’s matriarch, Kim Sun-ja (played by Youn Yuh-jung, Kim Min-ha and Yu-na across various stages of her life), the story starts when she leaves her family living in colonial Korea for Osaka, Japan in hopes for a better life. This bittersweet tale sheds light on the mass exodus, institutional oppression against Zainichi Koreans and generational trauma as Sunja and her descendants struggle to reclaim the meaning of home.
Where to watch: Apple TV+
Starring Yoo Ah-in and Go Kyung-po, this 2017 period drama begins in the modern day, when celebrity writer Han Se-joo, in the midst of a particularly bad case of writer’s block, recovers an antique typewriter. As he begins to use the typewriter in an attempt to overcome his slump, he is tossed into a whirlwind of fractured visions of himself in a past life as a member of a resistance fighter team in the 1930s who sought to push back against Japanese colonial forces. Chicago Typewriter explores themes of reincarnation, destiny, and the endurance of literature and love by unravelling the relationships between its characters across two timelines.
Where to watch: Viki and Viu
Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo
When present day Go Ha-jin (played by IU) accidentally and mysteriously time travels back to the Goryeo Dynasty, she is thrust into the political treachery and palace conspiracies of the royal court, now with her new identity as Hae-soo. She becomes deeply entangled with the eight princes of the ruling Wang family, and has to navigate her connections and (some) romances with the princes. 2016’s Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo has since become one of the most celebrated period K-dramas, heralded for its nuanced characters, emotional storytelling and gut-wrenching plot twists set against the backdrop of ancient Korean history.
Where to watch: Prime Video and Viki
Moon Embracing The Sun
Within the confines of the royal palace during the early Joseon era, the crowned prince Lee Hwon (Kim Soo-hyun) and a shaman’s daughter Wol (Ha Ga-in) grew up as childhood best friends and sweethearts, until political conspiracies drove a wrench between their relationship. Years later, when Lee Hwon takes on the mantle as Joseon’s king and weds to a different woman, strange occurrences and deaths of mysterious circumstances plague the court, leading to widespread rumours of a curse. When the king consults a shaman to uncover the truth behind these incidents, he realises the shaman is his first love, Wol. They reconnect, confront the secrets of their past and become deeply embroiled in a knotty entanglement consisting of harsh politics, power struggles, justice and the truth behind prophecy.
Where to watch: Netflix, Viki and Viu