South Korean movies based on actual accounts started gaining attention in the beginning of the 21st century.
Of course, not all the movies have remained true to the actual story, but some of them were so thought-provoking, that they provoked public outcry, reopening criminal cases and even changing the judicial system.
Here are 10 South Korean movies based on (or inspired by) true events you have to watch:
1. Silenced (2011)
Also known as The Crucible, this 2011 film is based on the novel by Gong Ji Young.
It was inspired by actual events at Gwangju Inhwa School for the hearing-impaired where students were sexually assaulted by the school staff over a period of five years in the early 2000s.
The teachers were let off with minimal punishment. Worse still, four out of six of them were reinstated after they escaped punishment under the statute of limitations. The other two received jail terms of less than a year.
After the film’s release, there was public outrage over the lenient court rulings, prompting police to reopen the case.
A revised bill called the Dogani (Silenced) Bill was passed in late October 2011 to abolish the statute of limitations for sex crimes against minors and the disabled.
In 2012, the former administrator was sentenced 12 years in prison and ordered to wear an electronic anklet for 10 years following his release.
The movie stars pre-Goblin Korean heartthrob Gong Yoo and Jung Yu Mi.
2. Memories of Murder (2003)
Memories of Murder is based on the true story of the first known series of murders in South Korean history which took place in Gyeonggi Province.
Between October 1986 and April 1991, female victims ranging from 14 to 71 were each found gagged and murdered. Some have compared the murders to those of the Zodiac Killer.
While the film itself never mentions the total body count, authorities found a total of 10 similar murders. Forensic evidence indicates that the suspect was a man in his 20s, about 165cm to 170 with a B blood type.
Spoiler alert: Just like the film murderer, the real murderer has not been caught.
3. Han Gong Ju (2013)
The Miryang Gang rape which happened in a South Koreas middle school in 2004 saw at least 41 male high school students gang-rape a number of middle- and high school girls over the course of 11 months.
As if these incidents weren’t bad enough, the way the police managed the case sparked more controversy as they mistreated the victims and treated the offenders leniently.
In the end, the court sent only five suspects to juvenile detention centres. Additionally, none of them were convicted of criminal charges.
Loosely-based on the incident, the movie circles around Han Gong Ju (Chun Woo Hee) who loses her friend after both became victims of a terrible gang rape incident.
Hope is based on the infamous Nayoung case in 2008.
Nayoung is the alias given to a 8-year-old girl who was found nearly dead in a public toilet. Later, authorities convicted a 57-year-old man – who had a history of sexual assaults – for raping and beating Nayoung.
The court sentenced the perpetrator to only 12 years in prison which sparked an outrage in the country due to the brutality of the crime.
Nayoung sustained irreversible injuries to her genitals, anus and intestine. Initially she had to wear a colostomy bag to replace her missing organs.
As to why a movie about such a horrendous tragedy has such an uplifting title?
Hope’s director Lee Joon Ik told Korean Cinema Today that he wanted to make a happy movie that begins with a tragedy.
“I am going to present a human drama where hope blooms at the edge of happiness and desperation, after a series of ordeals and hardships.”
5. Children (2011)
When five boys went out to spend the national holiday catching frogs at Mount Waryong and never returned, it was bound to create a media frenzy.
The group disappeared on March 26, 1991 but their bodies were only found 11 years later.
The initial cause of death was believed to be hypothermia. Further investigation, however, revealed that three of the skulls showed blunt-force trauma and one had been shot in the head with a shotgun.
Not only does this case remain unsolved, but the statute of limitations on this case expired in 2006.
Besides Children (2011), the incident also inspired a 1992 movie called Come Back, Frog Boys.
6.Way Back Home (2013)
In 2004, the French immigration authority arrested a Korean housewife named Jang Mi Jeong upon her arrival at Paris Orly Airport.
She claimed she was asked by a family friend, whom she had known for more than 10 years, to bring a bag of uncut diamonds to France.
That bag of precious stones turned out to be some 17kg of cocaine.
The movie follows the case which led Jang to serve two years in prison in Martinique, an island in the Carribean Sea.
The filming of this movie took place over three weeks at a women’s prison in Martinique. It features actual guards and prisoners as supporting characters.
7. The Case of Itaewon Homicide (2009)
When two friends are suspected of murder, it could turn into a “he said, she said” situation which is what happened in The Case of Itaewon Homicide.
In the actual murder which was called the Itaewon Burger King Murder, Arthur Patterson and Edward Lee were accused of fatally stabbing Hongik college student Jo Jung Pil in 1997.
Lee was freed a year later due to lack of evidence. As for Patterson whose father was a former US army officer, he was released on special amnesty.
After the release of this film, Jo Jong Pil’s family demanded the case to be reopened. DNA evidence discovered by authorities revealed Patterson as the killer.
Critics praised Jang Geun Suk who played Robert J. Pearson (character inspired by Patterson) for his first English-speaking role in this movie.
Jiseul is set during the Jeju Uprising or Jeju Massacre, an insurgency on Jeju Island following an anticommunist suppression campaign that lasted from April 3, 1948 until May 1949.
This movie, however, does not focus on the suppression but rather on the true story of a group of villagers who hid in a cave for 60 days to escape military attack.
They struggled with cold and hunger, surviving on jiseul (potato in Jeju dialect).
The movie was the first Korean film to have won the prestigious World Cinema Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
9.The Chaser (2008)
The Chaser is loosely based on Yoo Young Chul, a convicted serial killer and self-confessed cannibal.
Yoo admitted to killing 21 people, mostly prostitutes or masseuses and wealthy old men although he was only convicted of 20 as one case was dismissed on technicality.
His backstory or motives seem straight out of an episode of Criminal Minds as he says he hated the rich due to his childhood raised in poverty and his former lover working as a masseuse.
Ha Jung Woo who portrayed Je Yeong Min (the character inspired by Yoo) became The Chaser’s breakout star as he garnered high praise from local and international critics.
It even gained some props from The Dark Knight trilogy director Christopher Nolan who cited this as his favourite Korean movie.
10.Voice of a Murderer (2007)
This film is a fictionalised story based on the abduction of nine-year-old Lee Hyung Ho on Jan 29, 1991.
Although 87 calls were made to the parents demanding USD75,000 in ransom, Lee’s body was found 44 days after he went missing. What makes this even more tragic is that he was actually killed two days after being kidnapped.
Like some of the movies listed here, the killer was never caught.
In Voice of a Murderer, the boy’s name is Han Sang-woo, and it focuses on the haunting and emotionless voice of the kidnapper as he taunts the boy’s parents, who become restless, frustrated and angry day by day.