Classic Movie Review: Memories of Murder

Note: Contains spoilers for the movie.

While he’s been highly-regarded in his native Korea and among art film audiences worldwide for some time now, it is only with his Oscar-winning 2019 hit Parasite, that filmmaker Bong Joon Ho really broke through into the mainstream. I personally became aware of him with his 2006 monster movie The Host, and immediately fell in love with his style, following his career from that point forward, but it is only this past week that I finally got around to watching his second feature film Memories of Murder, which debuted back in 2003 to critical acclaim.

The movie tells the story of 2 detectives assigned to discover the identity of the same serial killer. At the beginning, Park Doo-Man (Kang-ho Song) and his partner Cho Yong-koo (Roe-ha Kim) are fumbling through the case, barely keeping control over crime scenes, missing key details, and attempting to beat confessions out of suspects. As the local press badgers the precinct about the lack of progress and the alleged Police violence, the chief brings in Detective Seo Tae-Yoon (Kim Sang-kyung) from Seoul to try and bring some more professional methodology to the investigation. Even this proves futile however, as every new clue seems to bring them closer but still leaves them without an answer, while additional victims start piling up.

It’s an interesting look into South Korea in 1986, when the then ruling military dictatorship is busy dealing with both the lingering threat of North Korea and popular uprisings at home, leaving very little resources to devote to the usual Police business of solving crimes. Bong Joon Ho’s signature mix of genre-defying storytelling is present here, as he deftly careens from comedy to thriller to social commentary to human drama and back again, often in the same scene. The movie never answers the question of who the killer is, which is fitting considering that it is based on a real serial killer case of the time that remained unsolved until 2019. It isn’t really about solving the mystery however, despite that being the theme that moves the story along. Rather, in addition to commenting on the state of his home country during the period, it’s really about the ways that obsession can alter a person, causing them to act in ways seemingly contradictory to their nature (though possibly just hidden all along). The final sequences are chilling in both their depiction of how far a man can descend and in the ultimate provocation that the killer could be anyone, including those of us in the audience. ★★★★

Not rated. Contains language throughout, violence, nudity, and sexual content.

★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor

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