I’m a sucker for true stories. Usually most of these types of films are packed with so much emotion it can make even the macho of men become crybabies. Some directors and screenwriters go beyond the necessary “tweaking” to ensure a coherent narrative because quite frankly, a true story shouldn’t be made into a film unless the source material is a story people would be interested in hearing about. Below we count down the Top 10 most pleasing direction, music and captivating performanced true story films we’ve seen. Kicking off with the number 10 entry…
*Editors Note: War films have been excluded from this Top 10 list as the majority of them are based on actual events and would overwhelm the selection process.
The Case of Itaewon Homicide is a 2009 South Korean film, based on a true story, which shocked Korea when college student Jo Jong-Pil was found dead at an Itaewon Burger King in 1997. Two teenagers, Arthur Patterson, the son of an American service member and Korean mother, and Edward Lee, became suspects but were eventually freed due lack of evidence and the case was never solved. At the time the military investigation team focused on Patterson as the most likely suspect. But prosecutors, acting on the results of a lie detector test and the theories of experts, indicted Lee for the crime and accused Patterson of merely possessing the weapon and destroying evidence. Lee was sentenced to 20 years in prison on appeal, but the Supreme Court pronounced him not guilty, saying “the statements of Patterson, who was with Lee, lack credibility.”
Last Train Home doucments that every year, 130 million workers return from China’s industrial cities to their homes in the countryside. This temporary shift in population, which the film calls the largest human migration in the world, is one of those numbers that seem impossible to comprehend. Director Lixin Fan, travelled with one couple who have embarked on this annual trek for almost two decades. Like many of China’s rural poor, the Zhangs have left their native village of Huilong in Sichuan province and their newborn daughter to find work in Guangzhou in a garment factory for 16 years and see her only once a year during the Spring Festival. Their daughter Qin, now a restless and rebellious teenager- bitterly resents her parents’ absence and longs for her own freedom away from school and her rural hometown, much to the dismay of her parents.
Silmido is based on a military uprising from the island of Silmido in the 1970s. On 21 January 1968, 31 North Korean commandos of Unit 124 infiltrated South Korea in a failed mission to assassinate President Park Chung-hee. As a means of retaliation, the South Korean military assembled a team of 31 social outcasts and death/life criminals, training them on the island of Silmido, off the coast of Incheon, in order to execute Kim Il-sung. The mission, regarded a suicide mission, was seen as the only way for these new recruits to redeem themselves and show their loyalty to their country. If they succeeded, they would win their freedom and a new life. With this goal in mind, they endured gruelling, almost inhumane training, becoming finely honed killing machines.
In 1960s China, a young boy name Li Cunxin is taken from his family by the government to attend a rigorous ballet academy. He is then given the opportunity to dance in the West in the early 80s. Li is forced to examine his conscience as he must choose between his career, family, culture, politics and love whilst having to make heart-wrenching decisions of what he must choose to sacrifice and what he must choose to save. Closing credits announce that: Li Cunxin danced in China with the Houston Ballet in 1995, a performance broadcast to an audience of over 500 million people.
Memories of Murder is a 2003 South Korean crime-drama film directed by Bong Joon-ho. It is based on the true story of the country’s first known serial murders, which took place between 1986 and 1991 in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province. While a total body count was never mentioned in the film, a total of 10 similar murders were committed in the Hwaseong area between October 1986 and April 1991. Over 300,000 policemen took part in the investigation and over 3,000 suspects were interrogated. As in the film, the actual murderer has not been caught.
Echoes of the Rainbow tells the story of a working family in Hong Kong whose eldest son, a popular boy and star athlete, becomes ill with leukemia. The story is a personal one and yet portrays the time frame of Hong Kong in the 1960s so perfectly that one feels immense into the every situation. It is rare that you come out of a commercial Hong Kong film with the same subtle feelings not seen since Ann Hui’s The Way We Are. Yet, this film is far more accessible, simple and yet astonishingly moving.
The film focuses on people affected by the building of the Three Gorges Dam across the Yangtze river in Hubei, China. The dam flooded archaeological and cultural sites and displaced some 1.3 million people, and is causing significant ecological changes, including an increased risk of landslides. The theme of the film is the transition towards consumer capitalism from a farming, peasant-based economy as China develops its rural areas. The film is rich in detail about ways of life, dreams, and aspirations and is a great view into the reality of Chinese life.
In 1924, Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor in the agriculture department at the University of Tokyo, took in Hachikō as a pet. During his owner’s life, Hachikō greeted him at the end of each day at the nearby Shibuya Station. The pair continued their daily routine until May 1925, when Professor Ueno did not return. The professor had suffered from a cerebral hemorrhage and died, never returning to the train station where Hachikō was waiting. Every day for the next nine years the golden brown Akita waited at Shibuya station. Many of the people who frequented the Shibuya train station had seen Hachikō and Professor Ueno together each day. They brought Hachikō treats and food to nourish him during his wait. This continued for nine years with Hachikō appearing precisely when the train was due at the station. This is a story that was remade for American audiences but still holds the essence that dog will always be a mans best friend.
Nobody Knows was inspired by the true story of the Sugamo child abandonment case. The incident, in which a mother abandoned her four underage children, took place in 1988 in Tokyo’s Toshima Ward. The children’s names were never released; they were referred to simply as Children A, B, C, D, and E. As a result of news coverage of the incident, the mother turned herself in on July 23. Her testimony revealed that the children had been alone for about nine months and that the whereabouts of Child E were unknown. In August 1988, the mother was indicted for child abandonment. She received a three-year sentence, but after the mother’s three-year sentence, she regained custody of the two daughters (WTF!?).
The Chaser follows Yoo Young-chul, a South Korean serial killer and self-confessed cannibal. Although he admitted to murdering 21 people, mostly prostitutes and wealthy old men, the Seoul Central District Court convicted him of 20 murders (one case was dismissed on a technicality). Yoo burned three and mutilated at least 11 of his victims, admitting he ate the livers of some of them. He committed his crimes between September 2003 and July 2004, when he was arrested. Yoo explained his motives in front of a TV camera saying “Women shouldn’t be sluts, and the rich should know what they’ve done.” He was sentenced to death on June 19, 2005 by the Supreme Court. The film, was shot on location around Mangwon in the Mapo-gu district, Seoul, which makes this film even more bone-chilling.