Is Netflix’s The Whirlwind Based on a True Story?

The Netflix political K-drama ‘The Whirlwind’ charts an invigorating battle between two politicians desperate to seize control of the government during a crisis. The protagonist, Prime Minister Park Dong-ho, uncovers the covert corruption of the South Korean President, Jang Il-joon, and realizes the only way to bring justice is through taking over the administration, even if only momentarily. As a result, he orchestrates the latter’s secretive assassination, pegging himself up to the position of Acting President. Nevertheless, the same puts him in direct opposition to the Deputy PM, Jung Su-Jin, and a handful of other officials and Chaebol leaders.

Thus, unbounded by limits, Dong-ho and his close-knit group of supporters find themselves hurled down a quest for justice. However, within this story full of political ploys, are there any connections to be made between the characters’ circumstances and reality?

The Whirlwind: A Fictional Story About a Political Savior

Even though ‘The Whirlwind’ dives headfirst into the political world, presenting rivalries and conspiracies between government officials, the show’s premise itself remains a fictionalized concept. Therefore, the characters, their relationship, and situations are works of fiction created by screenwriter Park Kyung-soo under Kim Yong-wan’s direction. The show centers around a plot of presidential assassination that unfolds in South Korea by the country’s Prime Minister once he finds himself backed into a corner of corruption and coercion. From there, the narrative unfolds into a riveting war fought in boardrooms through blackmail and deception. While the same makes for entertaining drama, it lacks a natural basis in reality.

In real life, South Korea last saw an assassination plot against a President in 1979 when Park Chung-hee died after his friend, Kim Jae Kyu, a military officer, shot him. At his trial, the latter vocalized that he believed killing Shung-hee was essential in restoring democracy within the country. Even though the situation seems reminiscent of the central conflict between Dong-ho and Il-joon in the show, the former holds little ties to the narrative due to the significant differences in details. For instance, Dong-ho’s assassination attempt in the show is accompanied by an extensive plan to abolish corruption by fulfilling the power vacuum caused by the President’s death.

Furthermore, the show references the 1979 incident, which effectively distances its storyline from speculations of a dramatic retelling. Instead, it remains a fictional story that stems from the director’s relationship with the current reality of South Korea’s political climate. “I felt the reality we’re living in right now is very stifling,” Director Yong-wan said in a press conference, expanding upon the show’s origin. “The present is dominated by the worn-out past, blurring a vision for the future. No matter how frustrating and bleak it is, I believe we should live to fix things among ourselves. But hoping for a superhuman on a white horse is just impossible in real life. That’s why I wanted to create it as a series.”

The Whirlwind Highlights Corruption That Reflects Reality

‘The Whirlwind’ explores political corruption in a unique way by equipping its protagonist with a nuanced storyline that remains ripe with a steady bastardization character arc. Consequently, through Dong-ho’s character, the story dissects the idea of corruption as a glacial descent. The same leads to invigorating disputes between characters and unforeseeable plot twists that enrich the overall narrative. Yet, while these elements amplify the show’s dramatic themes and plot lines, its depiction of politics grounds it in reality, allowing for a sense of realism.

As per Transparency International’s 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index, Corruption in South Korea has decreased in recent years. In a list of 180 countries, the nation falls in the 32nd place, sporting 36 points out of 100. The same remains an improvement from its previous ranking of 22 in 2016. The Anti-Corruption and Bribery Prohibition Act is often helmed as one of the notable factors instrumental to this change. Therefore, the show’s depiction of South Korea’s persisting corruption and its focus on bribery of governmental officials presents an authentic reflection of reality.

Thus, even though the show’s events remain confined to a fictional landscape, the portrayal of real-life issues surrounding corruption and the government helps the political drama retain ties to reality. Nevertheless, none of the characters, their conspiratorial ploys, or their interpersonal relationships hold any firm basis in reality. For the same reason, ‘The Whirlwind’ remains a fictional story.

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