Best K-dramas based on real-life serial killers

Gabriela Silva
Yeon Jin-goo as Joo-won in Beyond Evil

When it comes to serial killers and crime, K-dramas know how to keep fans hooked, but a few storylines instill more fear as some are based on or inspired by real-life serial killers.

South Korea is no stranger to historic killers, some more notorious than others. In 2021, Netflix released The Raincoat Killer: Chasing a Predator in Korea. It told the harrowing story and investigation into Yoo Young-chul, one of the country’s worst of the worst.

While there are many Korean movies about serial killers like Memories of Murder and Chaser, some K-dramas have taken inspiration from them and turned them into spectacles. For anyone who knows about South Korea’s crime scene, some episodes in Taxi Driver would appear familiar.

These K-dramas do the job as good as any movie, even more so as the characters fight to stop a killer before its too late.

Taxi Driver Season 1 focused on a serial killer with a familiar MO

The first season of Taxi Driver had the Rainbow Taxi team going after a killer with a modus operandi similar to real-life murderer Yoo Young-chul.

Taxi Driver became popular among fans for its storyline of a group of individuals using their taxi company as a front to enact revenge for the people the justice system had failed. In the first season, Do-gi (Lee Je-hoon) learns his mother was the victim of a serial killer 20 years ago.

She was killed by Oh Chul-young (Yang Dong-tak), who’s already in prison after being convicted for multiple murders. But crime aficionados would have noticed the parallels between Chul-young and real-life killer Yoo Young-chul.

Yoo terrorized Korea in the early 2000s, targeting elderly rich couples and later sex workers. He was also a self-proclaimed cannibal. To make matters worse, he fashioned his own murder tool out of a sledgehammer. In Taxi Driver, Chul-young is seen in flashbacks having a similar MO.

Taxi Driver is a worthy K-drama for crime fans as Season 2 took on darker cases like the Nth Room cyber crimes and the Burning Sub sex scandal.

Tunnel K-drama was inspired by a real-life late 80s serial killer

Before the infamy of Yoo Young-chul, South Korea was plagued with the fear of the Hwaseong serial murders, and this became the basis for the 2017 K-drama Tunnel.

Tunnel is a fun twist on time travel and murder as detective Park Gwang-ho (Choi Jin-hyuk) leads a new case of a possible serial killer. While on the hunt for the suspect, he runs through a tunnel and finds himself in the year 2016.

In a new era, Gwang-ho tries to adjust to a new partner. But the past returns when the serial killer strikes again and uses the same modus operandi. Gwang-ho realizes the culprit was never caught in the past. To stop the murders, he must find clues and evidence of the killer before it’s too late.

Tunnel’s storyline was inspired by the real-life Hwaseong serial murders. Lee Chun-jae wreaked havoc in Korea, having murdered 15 young women and girls from 1986 to 1994. He was arrested for the murder of his sister-in-law in 1994. But due to the statute of limitations for the other cases, the DNA evidence and his confession were unusable.

Infamous serial killer inspires Beyond Evil

Lee Chun-jae is one of South Korea’s more infamous serial killers, having inspired many on-screen works, including the 2021 K-drama Beyond Evil.

One day at the Manyang Police Substation, Han Joo-won (Yeo Jin-goo) arrives high and mighty from the big city to become Dong-sik’s boss. Lee Dong-sik (Shin Ha-kyun) and Joo-won are also forced to become partners. The small town soon gets caught up in a series of murders. But the twist is that the killings appear to be the same as 20 years ago.

Looking for the culprit, Joo-won begins to question the loyalty and innocence of everyone around him, even his partners. Beyond Evil is loosely based on the Hwaseong serial murders and Lee Chun-jae. Its storyline doesn’t make clear parallels to the crime cases, but it does draw some similarities.

Gap-dong was another crime K-drama based on the Hwaseong murders

It’s no surprise that so many K-dramas took inspiration from Lee Chun-jae’s reign of terror in South Korea, with 2014’s Gap-dong as another added to the list.

Gap-dong depicts more clear parallels to Lee’s murder history in the 80s and 90s. The K-drama focuses on two different timelines. First, in 1986, young women were getting murdered and the police struggled to find the killer. By 1993, police thought the suspect was someone with the nickname Gap-dong. But Detective Yang Cheol-gon (Sung Dong-il) is convinced otherwise and thinks the killer is a local man who’s intellectually challenged.

Hounded by police, the man dies by suicide to prove his innocence. In return, his son Ha Moo-yeom (Yoon Sang-hyun) vows to become a detective, and he does. 17 years later and a lot of loose ends, Moo-yeon believes Gap-dong is dead. A new series of crimes in town share a resemblance to the previous murders. With Cheol-gon back, they vow to stop the killer once and for all.

You can read more K-drama content here, who the killer was in Behind Your Touch here, and the truth behind Min-ju’s murder in A Time Called You here.

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