Korean War in popular culture

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A large number of films, books, and other media have depicted the Korean War in popular culture. The TV series M*A*S*H is one well known example. The 1959 novel The Manchurian Candidate has twice been made into films. The 1982 film Inchon about the historic battle that occurred there in September 1950 was a financial and critical failure. Many films about the war have been produced in Asian countries as well.

Korean War Posters
U.S. Army poster depicting the breakthrough at the Battle of Chipyong-ni.


Compared to World War II, there are relatively few feature films depicting the Korean War.

Western films[edit]

  • The Steel Helmet (1951) is a war film directed by Samuel Fuller and produced by Lippert Studios during the Korean War. It was the first studio film about the war, and the first of several war films by producer-director-writer Fuller.
  • Battle Hymn (1957) stars Rock Hudson as Colonel Dean Hess, a preacher who became a pilot. He accidentally destroyed a German orphanage during World War II, and rejoins the USAF in Korea; he rescued orphans during that war.[1][2]
  • The Bamboo Prison (1954) stars Robert Francis, E.G. Marshall and Brian Keith in a story set in a North Korean POW camp.
  • The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1955) stars William Holden as a Naval Aviator assigned to destroy the bridges at Toko Ri, while battling doubts; it is based on a James Michener novel.
  • The Forgotten (2004) features a decimated tank unit, lost behind enemy lines, battling the vicissitudes of the war as well as their own demons.
  • The Hunters (1958), adapted from the novel The Hunters by James Salter, stars Robert Mitchum and Robert Wagner as two very different United States Air Force fighter pilots in the midst of the Korean War.
  • The Hook (1963), starring Kirk Douglas, portrays the dilemma of three American soldiers on board a ship who are ordered to kill a Korean prisoner of war.
  • Inchon (1982) portrays the Battle of Inchon, a turning point in the war. Controversially, the film was partially financed by Sun Myung Moon's Unification Movement. It became a notorious financial and critical failure, losing an estimated $40 million of its $46 million budget, and remains the last mainstream Hollywood film to use the war as its backdrop. The film was directed by Terence Young and starred an elderly Laurence Olivier as General Douglas MacArthur.
  • Korea: The Unfinished War (2003) is a documentary written and directed by Canadian Brian McKenna, which provides new information and adopts an objective editorial line. It interviews researches that allege that the US committed war crimes by using biological warfare on North Korean territory. The documentary provides information that certain munitions found on the battlefield point to the use of anthrax, bubonic plague and encephalitis by US forces. It also provides information that the US Army deliberately killed civilians on a large scale for fear that the communists were infiltrating them.
  • Birthday Boy (2004) is a short animated film directed by Sejong Park and produced by Andrew Gregory. It depicts a young boy Manuk playing on the streets of a village in war-stricken Korea. When Manuk returns home he receives a package containing soldier's personal effects. Unable to read and too young to understand its meaning he mistakes the package for a birthday present. The film won 30 film festival awards and was also nominated for Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
  • The Manchurian Candidate, a 1959 thriller novel, was cinematically adapted to The Manchurian Candidate (1962), directed by John Frankenheimer, and featuring Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury. It is about brainwashed POWs of the US Army and an officer's investigation to learn what happened to him and his platoon in the war. The 2004 remake starred Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep.
  • MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors, by Richard Hooker (pseudonym for H. Richard Hornberger), was later adapted into a successful film and a television series; the TV series had a total of 251 episodes, lasted 11 years, and won awards. Its final episode was the most-watched program in television history.[3] Yet the sensibilities they presented were more of the 1970s than of the 1950s; the Korean War setting was an oblique and uncontroversial treatment of the then-current American war in Vietnam.[4]
  • Pork Chop Hill (1959) is a Lewis Milestone-directed film with Gregory Peck as an infantry lieutenant fighting the bitterly fierce first Battle of Pork Chop Hill, between the US Army's 7th Infantry Division, and Chicom (Chinese Communist) forces at war's end in April 1953. The movie is lampooned by the Firesign Theatre album Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers in the story of Lieutenant Tirebiter.
  • A Hill in Korea (1956) is a British war film. The original name was Hell in Korea, but was changed for distribution reasons, except in the U.S. It was directed by Julian Amyes and the producer was Anthony Squire.
  • The McConnell Story (1955) Air Force pilot Joseph C. McConnell who served as a navigator in World War II before becoming the top American ace during the Korean War.
  • Battle Circus (1953). A love story of a hard-bitten surgeon and a new nurse at a M.A.S.H. unit. It starred Humphrey Bogart and June Allyson and was directed by Richard Brooks.
  • Fixed Bayonets! (1951). U.S. soldiers in Korea surviving the harsh winter of 1951. Directed by Samuel Fuller.
  • Men of the Fighting Lady (1954). Fictional account of U.S. Navy pilots flying F9F Panther fighter jets on hazardous missions against ground targets. Directed by Andrew Marton and starring Van Johnson.
  • Target Zero (1955). U.S., British, and South Korean troops are trapped behind enemy lines.
  • Men in War (1957) an American film directed by Anthony Mann and starring Robert Ryan and Aldo Ray.

South Korean films[edit]

North Korean films[edit]

In North Korea the Korean War has always been a favorite subject of film, both for its dramatic appeal and its potential as propaganda. The North Korean government film industry has produced many scores of films about the war. These have portrayed war crimes by American or South Korean soldiers while glorifying members of the North Korean military as well as North Korean ideals.[7][verification needed] Some of the most prominent of these films include:

  • Unsung Heroes, a multi-part film produced between 1978 and 1981 which included in the cast several American soldiers who had defected to North Korea. It tells the story of a spy in Seoul during the Korean War.
  • Wolmi Island, a Story of Marines who defended the Wolmi Island which is attacked by the US forces.

Chinese films[edit]

  • Battle on Shangganling Mountain (Chinese: 上甘岭; pinyin: Shànggān Lǐng) is a famous Chinese war movie about the Battle of Triangle Hill. The story is centered around a group of Chinese soldiers that were trapped in a tunnel several days. Short of both food and water, they hold their grounds till the relief troops arrive. The movie's popularity is largely due to the fact it was one of the few movies that were not banned during the Cultural Revolution.
  • Assembly: Parts of this movie depicts Chinese forces in the Korean War, specifically around a special squad of artillery spotters.

Philippine films[edit]


  • Choi In-hun's The Square is one of the most important novels about the Korean War from the 1960s.[8]
  • Jo Jung-rae's ten-volume Taebaek Mountain Range was one of the most popular novels in the 1980s. It also covers the Korean War.[9]
  • In Berts första betraktelser Manne, a friend of Bert's parents, tells he got the three scars who are on his hand in Korea, causing Bert to ask Manne if he fought in the Korean War. However, Manne says he got them when getting stuck in a sewing machine when inspecting yarns at a factory during a business travel.[10]
  • The essay Who are the Most Beloved People? (1951) by Chinese writer Wei Wei is considered to be the most famous literary and propaganda piece produced by China during the Korean War.
  • The war-memoir novel War Trash (2004), by Ha Jin, is a drafted PVA soldier's experience of the war, combat, and captivity under the UN Command, and of the retribution Chinese POWs feared from other PVA prisoners when suspected of being unsympathetic to Communism or to the war.
  • The novel Twin-Sun River: An American POW in China (2011), by Shouhua Qi, tells the story of a young American Korean War POW who chose to go to Red China at the time of armistice (1953–54) to chase his "Walden Dream" and his struggle, in a mountain village, to survive one calamitous event after another, including the Cultural Revolution.


Singer-songwriter David Rovics sings about the Korean War in his song "Korea" on the album Song for Mahmud.


Massacre in Korea (1951), by Pablo Picasso, depicts war violence against civilians.



The Colombian theatrical work El monte calvo (The Barren Mount), created by Jairo Aníbal Niño, used two Colombian veterans of the Korean war, and an ex-clown named Canute to criticize militarist and warmongering views, and to show what war is and what happens to those who live through it.[11]


  1. ^ "Factsheets : Col. Dean Hess". af.mil. Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  2. ^ "Battle Hymn (1957)". imdb.com. Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  3. ^ "What is M*A*S*H". Archived from the original on 2007-08-17. Retrieved 2007-08-22. 
  4. ^ Halberstam, David, The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, p. 4.
  5. ^ The Hollywood Reporter The Frontline: Film Review 9 August 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-14
  6. ^ "Operation Chromite (2016)". IMDb. Retrieved July 19, 2016. 
  7. ^ Delisle, Guy Pyongyang: A Journey Into North Korea, pp. 63, 146, 173. Drawn & Quarterly Books.
  8. ^ Osváth Gábor. "A mai dél-koreai elbeszélő irodalomról" (in Hungarian). Terebess Ázsia E-Tár. Retrieved 2014-11-18. 
  9. ^ K-Literature (pdf). Korean Culture and Information Service (KOCIS). December 2012. p. 52. 
  10. ^ Anders Jacobsson, Sören Olsson (1990). "Måndagen den 24 april". Berts första betraktelser (in Swedish). p. 224. 
  11. ^ "El Monte Calvo". montecalvo.blogspot.com. Retrieved March 31, 2010.