Memories of Murder (2003)

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Photo from Lincoln Center

Memories of Murder takes place in 1986 and follows a murder case in South Korea that is based on true events. Detectives Park (Song Kang-ho) and Seo (Kim Sang-kyung) take different approaches in their investigation, but they must come together in order to find the elusive killer.

This is one of the earlier works from Oscar winning director, Bong Joon-ho. Here, Joon-ho already shows what an outstanding director he is. Though the film can be a slow-burn at times, he keeps the viewer guessing and on edge on what’s to come as this cold case unfolds.

The crime thriller genre has turned into quite a phenomenon nowadays especially with an increase of serial killer documentary shows. I almost feel like I’ve seen it all when it comes to crime thrillers, but Memories of Murder stands out with its story structure and characters.

I was really impressed with Seo’s character arc in the film. He is a detective brought in from the city of Seoul. He is portrayed as more intelligent than the other two detectives and also has more of a moral center. However as the investigation continues and eventually grows fruitless, you see how desperate and hopeless he becomes, and it’s truly quite heartbreaking.

Park, on the other hand, is aggressive and quick to judge. At first, he doesn’t care to look deeper at a suspect and, along with Detective Cho (Kim Roe-ha), is willing to torture their suspects in order to get confessions. He and Detective Seo butt heads a lot, but Seo challenges him to think harder and to stop being so rash. And it’s a testament to Song Kang-ho that he is able to make a cruel character on the page seem so likable.

The police brutality aspect in the movie also helped make it stand out. I haven’t ever really thought about police brutality happening in other countries like South Korea before. It shows just how desperate they were to catch this serial killer, but it also shows how inhumane and in the wrong the police were. The police in that area were shown to be incompetent in the film, as they couldn’t keep pedestrians or reporters from interfering with the crime scenes. It calls into question if the police resorted to this method in order to show that they should be taken seriously and it astounds me that they were able to get away with it for so long in the film.

Memories of Murder reminds me of David Fincher’s Zodiac a lot, not only because Joon-ho himself compared the two films, but because of the way the story unfolds itself. Both have memorable characters, dark themes, beautiful shots, expert direction, a haunting script, and a sense of unease that stays with you throughout the film.

Overall, Bong Joon-ho’s second feature was just as compelling and gripping as the other features from him that I’ve seen. Memories of Murder is a film that has stayed with me, though not as much as Snowpiercer or Parasite did with their commentary on class. However, if you’re a fan of the crime thriller genre, I’d say that Memories of Murder is a must watch.

I give Memories of Murder an A.

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