True Stories Behind Korean Films That Will Tug At Your Heartstrings

Korean cinema spans a vast landscape of genres, ranging from heart-pounding zombie apocalypse flicks to slow-burn romances sprinkled with intrigue, such that it sure seems like Korean filmmakers know no limits when it comes to producing delightfully creative fictional storylines.

That said, some of the most powerfully emotive Korean films are those that stem from real life people and events rather than someone’s imagination. More often than not, these works shed light on tragic situations, exploring the despair and desperation of those involved as they struggle to overcome whatever insurmountable challenge stands before them. Below are some films based on true stories that are sure to have you reaching for tissues by the end.

Please be forewarned that this article contains spoilers, as it discusses the real events that inspired these films.

The Attorney

“The Attorney” tells an impassioned story inspired by late president Roh Moo Hyun and his involvement in what became known as the Burim case, in which the government of former authoritarian president Chun Doo Hwan arrested 22 democracy activists in 1981 and charged them with secretly supporting the North Korean regime. Those arrested were detained for up to 63 days without due process, during which time the police tortured them and coerced false confessions stating that they were North Korean sympathizers.

In response to these human rights violations, tax lawyer Roh Moo Hyun — who would go on to become an influential human rights lawyer throughout the ’80s, and later the president of South Korea — formed a legal team alongside now president Moon Jae In and other allies to defend the arrested individuals. Sadly, despite the team’s best efforts, 19 of the activists were convicted of breaking the National Security Law, subsequently serving prison time.

Towards the end of the film, the trial is lost as it was in real life, with the grief and disheartenment of the defendants’ families on full display as Song Kang Ho (who plays the film’s Roh Moo Hyun equivalent) is forcibly dragged out of the courtroom. The film doesn’t end there, though, concluding on a somehow uplifting note thanks to its final moving scene, which depicts the sense of solidarity that surged among Korean citizens in the years following the case as they continued to fight for democracy.

In February 2014, 33 years after the original convictions, five of the 19 defendants in the Burim case were acquitted of all charges through a retrial, during which the presiding judge ruled that the defendants’ original confessions were obtained under duress, as well as that other evidence used against the activists did not constitute a violation of the National Security Law. Unfortunately, due to the statute of limitations having expired, it is unlikely that the police officers involved in the Burim case will ever be held legally accountable for their actions.