Simon McEnteggart from the Korean movie review site Hanguk Yeonghwa gives his list of 5 amazing Korean films based on shocking real-life events. Not only do these films hold historical value, but many of them also caused a lot of controversy before and after their release.

Within 50 years of the end of hostilities with the North, South Korea went from being a poverty-stricken third world nation to one of the strongest ‘tiger’ economies in Asia. It’s a truly staggering achievement that displays the incredible work ethic and passion of the Korean people, whose resolve to develop the country for future generations is second-to-none. However, the path from totalitarian military regimes to democracy hasn’t always been smooth, with the peninsula playing host to some shocking real-life events that still loom large in public memory.

The traumatic events have provided fertile ground for an array of filmmakers, who strive to capture the essence of such tragedies alongside Korea’s growing pains as it endeavoured for progress. As such, films are a brilliant way to learn and appreciate Korean history, revealing the social, political, and personal issues of all involved.

To truly understand some of the difficulties of the past 50 years, here are 5 amazing Korean films based on shocking real-life events.

Memories of Murder (2003)

amazing korean films based on real-life events

Director Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder to rightly heralded as one of the greatest Korean films ever made, and it’s also one based on the story of the country’s first serial killer. Between 1986 and 1991, 10 women from the ages of 14 to 71 were found murdered in Hwaseong, located south of Seoul near the city of Suwon.

Two detectives are assigned to the case yet they are untrained and ill-equipped to deal with the situation, which quickly escalates out of control. An absolute modern classic. (Click here to read the review)

“based on a real-life unresolved case provides authenticity and a mixture of genuine fascination and horror”
Peppermint Candy (1999)

amazing korean films based on real-life events

A man stands in the path of an oncoming train, stretches out his arms, and screams, “I WANT TO GO BACK!” It’s a powerful opening that continues to resonate as the film goes back in time to key situations from the man’s life, which also happen to be important national events – the IMF crisis, the authoritarian brutality in the ‘80s, the 1980 Gwangju Democratization Movement, and more.

Each period reveals the trauma of a man and country growing together, and is a masterpiece of cinema from director Lee Chang-dong. (Click here to read the review)

“Peppermint Candy is a journey both personal and national and an absolute must-see film”
The President’s Last Bang (2005)

amazing korean films based on real-life events

It’s hard to imagine that a black comedy could be made of the assassination of military strongman/President/ Park Chung-hee (current President Park Geun-hae’s father), but director Im Sang-soo manages it brilliantly. The film begins shortly before the assassination is due to take place, as the men involved all run around haplessly trying to fulfil the mission and cover their involvement. It’s darkly satirical and shocking, and to get the full enjoyment from the film a quick read of the events online is a good idea.

The film was so controversial that director Im and the production company were sued by the Park family. (Click here to read the review)

“a brilliantly dark, highly controversial political satire depicting the assassination of military ‘strongman’ Park Chung-hee.”
Han Gong-ju (2013)

amazing korean films based on real-life events

The most recent film on this list is also the most personal. Gong-ju – which translates as ‘princess’ in English – struggles to rebuild her life in the aftermath of a traumatic attack. While she is forced to leave her family and home the story flashes back into the past to reveal what actually happened to the once lively girl.

The film is based on a story that shocked the nation and caused public outrage when it occurred back in 2004, and is an incredibly emotional and powerful viewing experience. (Click here to read the review)

“an extraordinary tale of a girl struggling to reconcile with a traumatic past”
Silenced (2011)

amazing korean films based on real-life events

Silenced is based on the true story of hearing impaired children who were sexually assaulted by the principal as well as other teachers. The story, which occurred in 2000, shocked the nation in a manner that only a story of this nature can possibly achieve, while the extremely lenient punishments for the offenders as well as the seemingly indifferent attitude of lawmakers sparked even greater outrage.

The film resonated the true story so strongly that laws were changed upon its release to protect children from such predators. (Click here to read the review)

“Silenced is an incredibly powerful film expressing the horrors of sexual abuse against children”

There are of course many, many more films based on shocking real life events in both commercial and independent Korean film, that serve as both captivating stories of human endeavour as well as educational material for people curious about Korean history. Stay tuned to Hanguk Yeonghwa for more great films that explore Korea’s fascinating past.

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