Hijack 1971 True Story, Explained

The Korean action thriller film ‘Hijack 1971’ revolves around a brutal hijacking attempt aboard a domestic flight bound for Gimpo, where the lives of numerous passengers and crew members hang in the hands of one sole terrorist. The film, set in 1971, features Tae-in— the flight’s co-pilot with a military history as an air force fighter pilot. Nevertheless, despite his past violent history, nothing could’ve prepared him to face off against Yong-dae. The young man, armed with a bomb and a demand for the plane to be flown to North Korea, holds the entire plane hostage after his initial attack partially blinds the Captain, Kyu-sik.

As such, hurled into an impossible situation, Tae-in finds himself helming the aircraft’s control, becoming the passengers’ only hope of survival. The film expertly navigates the high-stakes, immediate, danger-driven narrative of a hijacking and presents a moving story about perseverance. However, in its chronicling of a historical hijacking attempt, does ‘Hijack 1971’ hold any relation to reality? SPOILERS AHEAD!

Hijack 1971 is Based on a Real-Life Hijacking in South Korea in the 70s

Filmmaker Kim Sung-han-I employed the real-life hijacking that took place in South Korea in 1971 as the inspiration behind his directorial debut, ‘Hijack 1971.’ Therefore, the film’s events possess a direct basis in a tragic real-life historical event, cementing the film’s identity as a true story-inspired tale. On January 23, 1971, a Fokker F27 Friendship 500 passenger flight from the Korean Air Lines took off from Gangneung with Seoul’s Gimpo International Airport as its destination. However, following takeoff, one of the passengers, Kim Sant-tae, entered the cockpit and took control of the aircraft.

Sant-tae’s demand remained simple yet chilling— he wanted the airplane to be rerouted for a trip to North Korea. As per reports, the hijacker’s motives for diverting a South Korean plane to the North stemmed from years of being falsely labeled as a North Korean sympathizer. Consequently, he held his co-passengers hostage on a flight that underwent an hour-long struggle. Eventually, as the flight neared the border between the two nations, the pilots attempted to land at a beach. However, Sant-tae activated a grenade, causing an explosion within the cockpit that killed the hijacker along with the co-pilot.

Even so, the Captain was able to crash-land the plane into relative safety on the beach near Sokcho. While the passengers survived, the plane itself was damaged beyond repair. In the end, of the 60 occupants, 16 sustained injuries, and 42 avoided any significant hurt. The co-pilot was the only casualty— besides Sant-tae— having bravely sacrificed his life to save his passengers from Sint-tae’s terror. The film follows similar beats in its narrative, maintaining clear ties with the real-life hijacking as it dramatizes a cinematic interpretation of the event.

The Exploration of Raw Emotions Without Embellishments to Maintain Authenticity

As in the case of any film based on the reality of a traffic event, for ‘Hijack 1971,’ Kim Sung-han-I wanted to ensure his cinematic adaptation remained authentic in terms of its connection to the actual event. For the same reason, Sung-han-I was determined to prioritize not only an accurate portrayal of the hijacking but also the emotional themes within the story. As such, he took into account the cultural perception of the sentimentality that went behind such stories. Sung-han-I elaborated on the same during a CGV press conference for the film, where he said, “Because this event [the 1971 hijacking of a South Korean airplane] actually happened to real people, I aimed to faithfully depict it.

He added, “I’ve noticed that modern audiences aren’t typically interested in overly sentimental stories, although I personally find them appealing. I believe melodrama can be effective if it serves the plot well, but I chose not to emphasize it in this particular work. I wanted the audience to watch it as it is and could feel a sense of heaviness after watching the film.” Therefore, in crafting the film’s narrative, alongside screenwriter Kyung-chan Kim, the filmmaker remained true to the events that took place in real life while filling in the spaces with authentically dramatized storylines.

A Dash of Dramatization Pertaining to the Characters

Even though ‘Hijack 1971’ retains a tangible connection to a real-life hijacking, the film dramatizes parts of the narrative for the sake of carrying a compelling linear plot. As a result, certain aspects of the storyline tend to diverge from the reality of how the events might have unfolded in real life. Therefore, as a reminder of such slight fictionalizations, the story sports characters with differing names and origins than the real-life individuals involved in the actual hijacking.

Consequently, the real-life hijacker, Sant-tae, becomes Yong-dae, and characters like Kyu-sik and Tae-in turn into a conglomerate reference to the real-life officer Park Wan-gyu. Through this slight altering of historical facts, the film finds the space to equip creative liberty without sacrificing biographical details about real people. Ha Jung-woo, who portrays Tae-in in the film— and has a track record of embodying true-story-inspired characters on screen— spoke about his experience as the pilot character in an interview.

“It is much more difficult to act as a character based on a true event,” said Actor Jung-woo. “But thankfully, director Kim Sung-han dramatized some of the parts, which allowed me to reinterpret the pilot, who sacrificed his life for the passengers aboard the hijacked plane.” Similarly, the actor, Yeo Jin-goo, also divulged his process of embodying the character of Yong-dae and shared, “There was a real person that Yong-dae is based on, but I mainly created the character when discussing with the director and watching the films that the director recommended.”

As such, it remains evident that despite characters like Tae-in and Yong-dae’s basis in real people, the film doesn’t shy away from fictionalization when the occasion calls for it. As a result, while the event itself remains authentic to the reality of the Fokker F27 Friendship 500’s hijacking in 1971, the characters themselves employ creative liberty in their depiction. Ultimately, the film remains open to cinematic dramatization while retaining connections to a real-life story, presenting a realistic account.

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