Memories of Murder (2003) Review

"Memories of Murder" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Memories of Murder" Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Bong Jun-Ho
Writer: Bong Jun-Ho, Shim Seong-Bo
Producer: Cha Seung-Jae
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Kim Sang-kyung, Kim Roi-ha, Park Hae-il and Byun Hee-bong
Running Time: 127 min.

By Raging Gaijin

“Memories of Murder” was a blockbuster hit in South Korea in 2003 and it’s just now finally seeing a DVD release in the US. The film is the chilling tale of South Korea’s first recorded case of a serial killer. Given the movie’s success and its subject matter, one might expect “Memories of Murder” to be a slick, commercial thriller modeled after “Seven” and “Silence of the Lambs”. Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. “Memories of Murder” is an irreverent and unconventional detective film that is original in nearly every way. Simply put, this is one of the best Korean films I’ve ever seen.

Although it tackles a grisly topic, “Memories of Murder” is actually full of quirky humor and laughs. The central characters are a group of colorful and unique cops, each with their own distinct personalities. Their various methods and inadequacies at tracking down the killer provide the “Memories of Murder” with an unexpected charm and humor. Kang-ho Song (JSA, Shiri) shines in the lead role as a simple cop whose life in the countryside has left him totally unprepared for such a cunning serial killer. He and his partner’s idea of interrogation is hanging a suspect upside down and beating him until he gives them the confession they want to hear, regardless of whether or not the prisoner is guilty. Once it’s clear that they’re in over their heads, a streetwise detective from Seoul is set in to help them. Sang-kyung Kim gives an incredible performance in this role and, in my mind, he slowly but surely steals the film as the most interesting character to watch. When he is first introduced to the case, he is calm, methodical, and ready to catch the killer. His world is gradually pulled out from underneath him, however, when he begins to learn that even his university education and big city sleuthing may not be enough to solve the case.

The cinematography is gorgeous: the opening shot immediately grabs your attention and the film doesn’t let go until it’s over. Joon-ho Bong’s direction is fluid, superb storytelling. There’s honestly very little to critique about this film. I’m sure a few minutes could have been trimmed here and there (the movie is over two hours long) but it rarely seems slow or tired. There are several scenes which are hilarious yet they don’t feel out of place, even though it’s a film about a serial killer. Joon-ho Bong effortlessly maintains this tone where anything can happen, whether it’s Kang-ho Song belting it out in a karaoke bar, the cops taking part in a violent bar brawl or stumbling upon a pervert dressed in women’s underwear trying to pull a Pee-Wee Herman, or the killer springing forth from out of nowhere when you least expect him. In “Memories of Murder”, anything can happen and it makes the movie that much more exciting to watch.

I sat down to watch “Memories of Murder” expecting to see a grim and gloomy film about a serial killer terrorizing the citizens of South Korea. What I got was one of the most entertaining and offbeat Korean films I’ve seen in a long time. One thing that always made me laugh was the cops’ way of stopping suspects; whenever they needed to apprehend someone, they would usually leap through the air with both legs straight out to perform a drop-kick. They’d typically jump off a hill or table first as well. It’s hilarious; just another example of this film’s off-the-wall humor.

“Memories of Murder” is based on a true story (it actually takes place during the 80’s as well). I’m not sure how much of it corresponds to reality as sometimes the movie gets rather strange; but, hey, truth is often stranger than fiction. Regardless, “Memories of Murder” is a film I highly recommend to anyone with an interest in Korean cinema. It’s simply a delight to watch, and a movie I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

Raging Gaijin’s Rating: 8/10

By Equinox21

Before I get into this review, I’d like to post a disclaimer· I am NOT a psycho. I have never killed a person, nor do I ever intend to. That said, on with the review·

I LOVE serial killer movies. Not necessarily the “stylized” and “flashy” serial killer movies out of Hollywood (such as Seven [even though I loved it, it wasn’t the type of “serial killer movie” I prefer] and The Cell [which was fairly lame]), but instead the realistic and gritty ones. I love seeing the process the police use to narrow in on the killer, catch him [I say “him” as there’s only been one recorded case of a female serial killer], and see the resolution and an end to the killings. I don’t know WHY I enjoy them so much; maybe it’s because in my impressionable youth I saw the events of the media extravaganza that was the Jeffrey Dahmer case play out in my home town of Milwaukee. But, don’t worry, my interest in them is only in knowing about and even studying them. I even applied for the FBI (and even though, at the time of writing this review, I haven’t heard back from them yet, I am, unfortunately, pretty confident that I won’t be an FBI agent), because I would have liked to have been a part of those types of investigations.

So, when I found out about a Korean movie based on a real-life serial killer in rural Korea in the 80’s, I was excited. I was really anticipating this movie, and was thrilled when it was finally released and I got the chance to take it in, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The movie starts out by saying that it was based on “an unresolved criminal investigation”, so you know right off the bat that they never find the killer. However, that’s not enough to make you disinterested, because you’re able to make up your own mind about which of the potential suspects you think is the killer, if it’s even one of them.

Detective Park (Song Kang-ho) is a rural cop, none too experienced in solving crimes such as serial murders. Though as a detective, he has undoubtedly “solved” regular murders (is there such a thing?) in the past. Normally, he and his sidekick just beat confessions out of suspects they feel perpetrated the crimes they’re investigating, guilty or not. However, after the first two bodies are discovered murdered in a similar fashion, Seoul Detective Suh (Kim Sang-kyung) joins them in an effort to help crack the case. The first half of the movie has Park and Suh constantly butting heads over how to proceed with the investigation; with Park set in his small town ways, without many realistic ideas as to how to track down a serial killer, and Suh resented by Park for his big city ideas, and no knowledge of the area or community he finds himself in. Eventually, as they get closer and closer so the murderer, their differences get worked out, and they find themselves on the same page.

This was the best element of the movie, in my opinion. They start out barely talking to each other with Park even laughing and ridiculing the ideas that Suh comes up with (which ultimately tend to be the best ideas). But, eventually their relationship grows to the point that they’re working together like a well-oiled machine and making real progress on the investigation.

The cinematography was pretty amazing as well. There were lots of long shots of green fields (which inevitably became crime scenes), grey skies and, whenever the murderer struck, lots of rain. The inside settings were dank, dark basements and cement buildings, all with very little color. There was very little color in any of the characters’ clothes, as well. There just seemed to be no color anywhere, except in the vivid red clothes that the victims usually were wearing. There were very few bright, sunny scenes. Perhaps this was to convey the dark, depressing and constricting feel of the military dictatorship that South Korea was under at the time. Whatever the reason, it worked wonders for the feel of the film.

I needn’t dwell on the acting, which was as expected· brilliant. At this year’s Grand Bell Awards, Song Kang-ho won Best Actor and Joon Ho-bong won Best Director for their work on this film, which also took home the Best Film Award.

If you like realistic cop/investigation movies, this is definitely one to check out. I really feel like I want to dock it points because of the ending, but as it simply followed real life events it can’t be blamed. So, it’s pretty much a flawless film.

Equinox21’s Rating: 10/10

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