10 South Korean Movies Based on True Events

With true story lovers in mind, we’ve prepared a list of ten South Korean films based on real events that you can’t miss. These are some of the best Korean movies that you can find that document true events throughout Korean history.

Based on the 1597 Japanese Invasion

The Admiral: Raging Currents (2014)

This nomination is for lovers of war movies so epic that they seem impossible to be real. The film depicts the Battle of Myeongryang, which took place in 1597 during the 2nd Japanese invasion of Korea (1592-1598). In it, Admiral Joseon Yi Sun-sin (Choi Min-sik), with only 13 ships, managed to destroy a fleet of 133 Japanese warships. The battle took place in Myeongryang Strait and is considered Admiral Yi’s greatest victory.

Genre: Action & Adventure, War, Drama, History

Available on: Google Play, Wavve, Watcha

Based on the 1997 Murder of a Korean Student by 2 American Teens

The Itaewon Homicide Case (2009)

“The Itaewon Homicide Case” is based on an unsolved case that took place in 1997 in Itaewon District. A student was brutally stabbed to death. The main suspects in the case were foreigners, two American teenagers. The film takes place inside the courtroom, showing how the case was judged.

Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Psychological, Investigation

Available on: Watcha, Wavve, Google Play

Based on the 1987 Democratic Uprising

1987: When the day comes (2017)

This is probably the most portrayed historical period in Korean series and movies. We have already talked about some Korean series that portray this subject and again we will deal with the dictatorial period of President Chun Doo-hwan, the Gwangju massacre, and the Korean democratic uprising of 1987.

This film tells the story of a university student named Park Jong-chul (Yeo Jin-Goo). During a demonstration, he was captured, interrogated, tortured, and killed by the police – and the government tried to cover it up.

Park Cheo-won (Kim Yun-Seok), the commissioner in charge of investigating suspected communists. He oversaw the interrogation and chose to cover it up. This was done by cremating the body before the autopsy could be performed and reporting the death as a heart attack. But the media and college students fought to reveal the whole truth. Additionally, the film depicts the political true events that led to the Democratic Uprising in Korea in June 1987.

Other films based on this event include 26 Years (2012), May 18 (2007), A Petal (1996), A Taxi Driver (2017) and Taxi Driver (2021).

Genre: Politics, Drama

Available on: Netflix, Amazon

Based on Post-Colonization Relations Between Korean & Japan

26 years diary (2007)

This is not a South Korean production, but it appears on this list because it depicts a story between Korea and Japan. The film is based on the life of Lee Su-Hyun, a Korean boy who goes to study in Japan to broaden his horizons and falls in love with Yuri, the lead singer of a Japanese band. The plot shows the romance between the two and how they face social and racial prejudice.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Available on: Wavve

Based on an Assassination Plot Using Criminals to Kill North Korea’s Leader

684: Combat Unit (2003)

The film begins in January 1968, when a North Korean commando, infiltrates Seoul. He tries to assassinate President Park Jeong-hee. In return, the South Korean government chooses some dangerous prisoners and confines them on the island of Silmido. There, they are trained to form a combat unit and, at the end of the training, are given the mission to assassinate North Korean leader Kim II-sung.

Genre: Action, War, History, Thriller

Available on: Google Play, Wavve, Watcha

Based on the First Battles of the Korean War

In the Middle of the Fire (2010)

The story takes place during the Korean War in 1950. When the inter-Korean war broke out, South Korea had to move its entire military to the region south of the Nakdong River to prevent invasion. With that, Commander Kang Seok-dae left the defense unit in Pohang with 71 soldiers still in training and inexperienced. They had to wage a war against the North Korean army. Untrained and fearful, the soldiers managed to hold off advancing North Korean troops for eleven hours, until Commander Seok-dae returned with experienced soldiers. The film is inspired by a letter written by one of these soldiers.

Genre: Action, War, History, Drama

Available on: Google Play

Based on the Anarchist Group Black Wave

Colony Anarchist (2017)

Before the movie even starts, the sentence appears: “This movie is based on a true story, as well as the evidence that tells and testifies to this story, and all the characters are also real”. This sentence demonstrates how much the directors sought to demonstrate all true events in the most realistic way possible and faithfully followed all historical evidence to compose the plot.

The film is based on the life of activist Park Yeol, who in 1923 formed the anarchist organization “Black Wave” in Tokyo. The group’s mission was to seek Korean independence during the Japanese colonial period. Park Yeol married Kaneko Fumiko, a Japanese woman who saw the injustices committed by her country. She then advocated for the freedom of Koreans. More than 6,000 Koreans who were part of the organization died brutally in Japan. To cover up the massacre, the Japanese government invented a fake conspiracy to assassinate the Japanese emperor. All of the blame was pinned on Park Yeol.

Genre: Drama

Available on: Amazon

Based on the Life of Joseon’s Last Royal

The Last Princess (2016)

This film is set in 1925, with Korea under Japanese rule. It tells how Princess Deokhye, at age 13, was forced to move to Japan. She was the last princess of the Joseon Dynasty.

She was aided by Kim Jang-han, a Japanese army officer who was part of the Korean independence movement, to flee Japan and go to Shanghai, home of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea. But the attempt fails. They are separated and she is forced to marry Count Sō Takeyuki in 1931. Later, she develops schizophrenia after giving birth to a daughter.

Kim becomes a newspaper reporter and ends up finding Deokhye in a Japanese psychiatric hospital, decades after they had been separated. He then convinces the South Korean government to allow her into the country. Finally, in 1962, Deokhye is able to return to her homeland.

Genre: Drama

Available on: Google Play

Based on the 1991 Unsolved Murder of 5 Children

Children (2011)

Another sinister movie about a murder that doesn’t even seem real. The film is based on a case that took place in 1991 and is still unsolved today. Five children went to Mount Waryong to catch frogs and never came back. Eleven years later, in 2002, the children’s bones were discovered in Daegu, South Korea.

Genre: Drama

Available on: Google Play

Based on True Stories of Violence Against Women

*TRIGGER ALERT* Don’t Cry Mommy (2012)

To finish the list, this is a very intense, heavy, dramatic, and scary movie. It was mainly based on the case of teenager Kim Bu-Nam, who killed herself after being gang-raped. But, according to the director, the plot portrays several cases that are all similar.

The main focus is to bring a call for the reassessment of Korean laws on sexual crimes involving minors. In the plot, a teenager falls in love with a boy, but he becomes responsible for the gang rape that triggers her suicide. In mourning, the mother seeks revenge for her daughter.

“Punishments for sexual assault among students are often very weak, or sometimes the perpetrator is even considered innocent. I thought that was what caused a dilemma. Just because the law forgives the guilty does not mean that the victims forgive them too. Instead of making a simple revenge story, I wanted to show how painful it is for the victim from her mother’s point of view…”, director Kim Yong-han told KOFIC in an interview. “Not to mention the need to increase punishments for minor sex offenders, the system of protection for victims and their families is also very weak. They are not adequately protected after their trials, and this causes a vicious circle. I hope this movie can sound the alarm at least as little as possible.”

Genre: Drama

Available on: Amazon

We hope you like the recommendations! If you want to watch something a bit darker and fictional, rather than something based on true events, Click Here for a list of some of the best Korean horror movies.

🇧🇷 Rayssa

Graduated in Business Administration and Marketing. I love producing content on social media and I am addicted to writing. Writing is one of my favorite hobbies. A person passionate about music, world and South Korea. I am discovering all about living in Korea and all the wonders of this country and I want to share it all with you. Shall we travel with me? Follow me on my instagram @rah_hayashi ♥