Abrupt plot-twists, unfinished endings, a failed justice system or unbidden hatred - are not always the base of a movie, but can be seen in real life too. Over the years, crime around the world has steadily increased, even with better policing and advanced technology. While conviction rates are higher, so are the number of victims. Crime movies based on real-life incidents have a separate fanbase altogether. Sometimes, these movies act a reminder of what humans are capable of. Sometimes they can bring about a revolution. They can stir up long-asleep emotions and provoke a judicial system into action.
Here's a list of different crime movies inspired by real-life incidents. While most have been dramatised for effect, with changed names and added characters, they still narrate real stories. Some of them were still unsolved when the movie was released and the renewed interest resulted in new culprits bring caught!
Memories of Murder, 2003
Set in 1986, Memories of Murder is a slightly dramatised account of a serial killer prowling around the countryside, responsible for the death of at least 14 women, and the rape of 30 others, not to mention numerous failed attempts at both. This is truly one of the most heart-breaking crime movies I have ever seen. It follows the story of 2 detectives assigned to the case after 2 women are found murdered. While the local detective hurries to close the case by trying to beat a confession out of a disabled boy, the arrival of the new detective from the city thwarts his plan. Mr City Detective is slick and goes by the book. But it is difficult to make things run in a local, country police station where the biggest criminals the police have ever faced are some petty thieves.
As shown in the movie, even in real life, many important cases of the clue were lost simply due to the limited technology of the time, or late arrival of police upon the scene resulting in contamination from onlookers. As the crimes get more and more gruesome, the detectives work around the clock but come up empty-handed. The haunting end is bound to make you look at every person with distrust, at least for a little while. The real shocker came in 2019 when the supposed murdered confessed to his crimes but could be put to trail due to the statute of limitations expiring. He was, however, placed behind bars for other, more recent crimes. I often wonder if this is justice?
Whistle Blower, 2014
Directed by Yim Soon-rye, Whistle Blower is the story of real-life scientist Hwang Woo-suk, a (then) professor at the famed Seoul National University. Named Lee Jang-hwan in the movie, the story follows that Dr Lee has achieved a great deal of fame and a national-hero status with his recent work on the cloning on human embryos. On the other side, we have a TV producer who has been running circles in search of a good story. After reaching several dead ends, he gains information that the method in which Dr Lee obtains the embryos are illegal. Being a small-time producer with no big connections, he lets the information be, without turning any stones.
However, further tips from anonymous numbers prompt him to put his life on the line and find out more about Dr Lee's clinic. What he uncovers is far more than just unethical obtaining of data. Hwang Woo-suk was eventually jailed and his life's work was discredited and removed from publications.
The Chaser, 2008
Chaser deals with two unethical people - one of them is a detective and the other is a serial killer. Based on Yoo Young-chul, a serial killer now awaiting execution, Chaser has an ex-detective as its lead. Ex-detective Joong-ho is now a pimp, and a very dishonest, scheming one at that. However, when two (soon to be three) of the women working under him go missing after being seen with a specific customer, he decides to take matters into his own hands. A serial killer is bad for business and Joong-ho has no intention of letting it ruin him.
Armed with only the district the killer lives in, a cat-and-mouse chase ensues where each tries to outwit the other and the police department which seems to pop in at unseemly times. While he does manage to catch the killer and drag him to the station, the police cannot find any evidence connecting him to the crimes and will have to release him in 12 hours (the longest they can detain a person without evidence). Thus, Joong-ho engages in a race against time to collect evidence and perhaps save at least one of his girls. If you're looking for a fast-paced crime movie with an ending that will leave you satisfied, check out the Chaser and you won't be disappointed.
This movie is based on a novel, which is based on real-life incidents at the Gwangju Inhwa School. The Gwangju Inhwa School served children with hearing impairment. The protagonist Kang In-ho is a newly appointed teacher at the school, looking to turn over a new leaf after certain dark moments in his life. However, all his attempts at forming connections with the children are met with stony silence. While he cannot understand why the children seem to be so afraid of the teachers, he persists nonetheless. When he finally uncovers the secret, it is too dark for him to cope with again. It turned out that the teachers were involved in assaulting the students, and often got away with light warnings or monetary donations when the crimes were reported to the police.
The movie brought about huge protests, leading to the school, its teachers, several judges and police officers being thoroughly inspected. Unfortunately, when the matter came to light most teachers could not be prosecuted due to the statute of limitations expiring. But not everything was lost. the Government realised the grave injustice and introduced a new law which removed any such limitations for sexual assault cases on children under 13 and on the specially challenged. Earlier, disabled victims would also have to prove that their handicap was hampering their ability to ward off the attacker - however, the newer law no longer required them to give this statement. After the heavy investigation, the school had to shut it doors and has been empty since.
New Trial, 2017
A taxi driver dies from multiple stab wounds. A 16-year old boy comes forward with information regarding the killer. The police arrest him for being the killer. Does this make sense? Well, that is what happened on a day in 2000. Now known as the infamous Yakchon Junction murder, the teenager Hyun-Woo Choi reached out to the police to help them create a sketch of the killer. However, a few days later the police announced that Choi had confessed to the crime and arrested him. Choi initially maintained that the confession was a result of physical assault and coercion, but was soon sentenced to 10 years in prison.
In the middle of this, the real killer was caught, however, there was not enough evidence to link him to the long-forgotten crime and Choi went on to serve the entire term for a crime he did not commit. As they say, fact is stranger than fiction. After being released, Choi fought for years to clear his name, while suffering from trauma and mental disorders. The police denied any mismanagement in fear of being slapped on with a lawsuit. Backed by a lawyer with a money-driven motive, Choi tries to fight the case and uncover clues covered with dust for over 13 years. In the end, he received a compensation of 840 million won in the end. A fair price for 10 years of his youth?
Crime movies based on real-life are a reminder of how our systems and values can fail. Know any more such films that are a must-watch?