If you’re a hopeless K-drama romantic who needs a break from fictional utopian love stories, then you’re in the right place. Apart from swoon-worthy rom-coms, Korea has so much more to offer especially if you want to change up your watch list and explore the world of crime, drama, and intrigue for a change. Unsurprisingly some of their best ones are actually based on or real life events. As they say, sometimes life truly is stranger than fiction.
Below, we list down eight gripping Korean movies and the true stories they were based on.
1. Northern Limit Line (2015)
This movie features actual events from one of the many conflicts between North and South Korea, namely the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong that took place on June 29, 2002 in the Yellow Sea. The film starts as the rest of Korea fixes their attention on the 2002 FIFA World Cup taking place in SK. Meanwhile, the North Korean Navy takes this opportunity to send spies to cross the sea demarcation line, entering South Korean territory. To the South Korean Battleship Chamsuri 357’s surprise, they are met with a surprise attack by the North Korean fleet. Before assistance arrives on the warzone, both ships are already severely damaged, leaving 6 dead and 19 people injured.
To honor the crew members who passed away as they bravely defended and protected their country, the movie ends by featuring their photos, along with those who survived the battle.
Starring: Kim Mu Yeol, Jin Goo, Lee Hyun Woo
2. Silenced (2011)
Sexual assault is a matter that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Gwangju Inhwa School was a welfare centre for deaf-mute students before it later transitioned into a junior high school. Cases of sexual assault, and physical abuse among the young students were rampant and kept secret until someone from their faculty staff decided to let the authorities know. Though several victims came forward, the fear instilled by these teachers kept other victims silent. Unfortunately, the injustice continued as some of the aggressors were easily freed with minimal punishment.
On a positive note, the release of this film raised public outrage, which led to the school’s eventual shutdown. This also stirred the Korean government to pass a law that removes the statute of limitations against underage sexual assault, and increases the penalties for rape and other similar crimes.
Starring: Gong Yoo, Jung Yu Mi, Kim Hyun Soo
3. As One (2012)
Despite the endless political battles North and South Korea have had with one another, they were once able to set these aside for a common goal. In the 1991 World Table Tennis Championship in Chiba City Japan, representatives Hyun Jung Hwa from South Korea and Li Bun Hui from North Korea were defeated by Deng Ya Ping of China. Strategically, they decided to act as one united Korean team to defeat China’s women’s team. The movie mainly showcases how the two factions united and became true allies as they learned to put their differences and personal ambitions aside.
Starring: Bae Doona, Ha Ji Won, Han Ye Ri
4. Han Gong Ju (2014)
This movie is inspired by the events that occured after the infamous Miryang Gang rape of 2004, where several high school girls were sexually abused by 41 male students in a span of 11 months. The victims were forced to stay silent after they were blackmailed with videos of the their own rape. Though some of the rapists were arrested, they were given very minimal penalties with no criminal charges. To the upset of many, the Korean government took this case lightly and instead simply compensated the victims for having their rights violated.
Starring: Chun Woo Hee, Jung In Sun, Kim So Young
5. Way Back Home (2013)
Way Back Home is based on the real life story of Jang Mi Jeong, a Korean housewife who was accused of smuggling 17 kg of cocaine into France. Without her knowledge, the drugs were hidden in a bag of unpolished gemstones that her husband’s friend had her bring. Without proper and quick protection from the Korean foreign affairs, she was detained and imprisoned in Martinique, France for two years.
Starring: Jeon Do Yeon, Go Soo, Ryu Tae Ho
6. Cart (2014)
Cart is based on an employee-wide strike which transpired in 2007. The movie’s plot centers on Sun-hee, a hardworking mother in a supermarket chain who supports her two children. When she’s notified that she’ll soon be laid off, along with the establishment's other temporary employees, they all band together to stage a strike against the supermarket.
Starring: Yum Jung Ah, Do Kyung Soo, Moon Jung Hee
7. Hope (2013)
Hope is a reimagining of the infamous Cho Doo-soon case, which revolved around the rape of an 8-year-old girl, known to the public as Na Young. In December 11, 2008, the little girl was abducted and raped by Cho Doo-soon, a frequent sex offender with a history of physical violence. Na-Young was found unconscious in a public church restroom where she was raped, beaten and drowned. Suffering from a handful of internal and external injuries, she was placed in the intensive care unit and subjected to an eight hour surgery.
Fortunately, Doo-soon was sent to a maximum security prison in North Gyeongsang province. Na-Young and her family were later compensated with 13 million won for the unnecessary psychological distress caused by the court hearings.
Starring: Lee Re, Sol Kyung Gu, Uhm Ji Won
8. The Whistleblower (2014)
Yet another drama inspired by real life events, The Whistleblower takes from the publicized case of Korean scientist Hwang Woo Suk. In 2006, the disgraced clone expert was convicted for falsifying his research papers and embezzling government funds in the process. He was initially investigated after an anonymous tip from one of his colleagues landed on the lap of a producer in MBC who exposed his fraudulent actions on the Korean reality program PD Notebook.
Starring: Park Hae Il, Yoo Yeon Seok, Lee Geung Young