When a murder has been committed, the detectives are the first on the scene and will stop at nothing until the case is solved, or in most cases, all leads have been investigated leaving the case to go cold or to be solved in the future. Investigating a murder or a series of them has been a popular choice for movies, television, video games, books, comics and even short stories. Following the path of the detectives hard at work envelopes the audience into the mystery and instead of watching the film passively, we are actively assessing all the clues and leads so that we can figure out who the culprit is just as when the detectives do.
Bong Joon-Ho’s mystery film titled Memories of Murder finally had a release in the United States in most theaters nationwide. While it was only in theaters for two days, if you had the chance to see it, it was surely quite an experience. If you haven’t, iTunes does offer the film via streaming. This film was first released in 2003 and tells the story of a small rural community impacted by the vicious murders of young women. They are raped, bound and strangled to death with the killer leaving behind virtually no clues. The movie takes place in 1986 South Korea and is loosely based on the real-life Hwaseong serial murders that occurred between 1986-1991 as well as the play from which this movie takes it title which was written by famed South Korean poet Kim Kwang-rim.
What transpires is a film that is equal parts evocative and thrilling, in relation to following the investigation, and is surprisingly funny with some unexpected comedic moments. After the film concluded, Edgar Wright (director of Shaun of the Dead & Baby Driver) and Bong Joon-Ho (director of Memories of Murder, The Host and the Oscar Winning Parasite) sat down for a zoom interview to discuss the film in depth. A nice added feature following the film. So, being that this is a seventeen year old picture, why is it highly regarded? What makes the film stand out when compared to other police procedural films? And, why is this the perfect film to watch with Halloween just around the corner?
As mentioned before, the film opens with the discovery of a young woman found dead in a field. It’s a small rural community that isn’t used to seeing something like this happening in their parts of the country. As with this small town, they don’t have all the modern technology or man power to deal with a crime of this caliber. The crime scene isn’t taped off, evidence is improperly collected and even worse, there are no leads whatsoever. The lead detective on the case Park Doo-man (Song Kang-ho) doesn’t have the experience as say a seasoned officer in the bigger cities would have but he does offer a unique way of thinking. He thinks he can tell if a suspect is guilty just by looking into their eyes. He partner on the case is Cho Yong-koo (Kim Roi-ha) who isn’t shy in torturing suspects in order to get a confession out of them. A popular choice it appears to be in this small rural town.
As the case goes on and the leads become fewer, a younger detective arrives from Seoul named Seo Tae-kyung (Kim Sang-kyung). Although he’s younger, he has more experience and having a third helping hand on the case is just the thing the local detectives need in order to narrow their sights on a suspect. The clues we discover are rather interesting. The murders seem to happen whenever it rains, the attacks always occur outside and semen is found on the victims but with no DNA database in Korea, they have no way to test the semen sample. The only country that can offer assitance is the United States. It’s the younger detective who deduces the vital information that lures all three detectives to one crucial suspect.
Although, you’d think they would work together on this type of case, each detective has their own way of working the case. Detective Park is merely simple-minded and doesn’t invest much thought into the DNA evidence or even a weird radio song theory that’s proposed. He’s used to holding a suspect in police custody and forcing a confession and when it suits him, and even goes so far as to plant evidence to suggest actual evidence. It’s a very slippery slope whereas Detective Seo, the younger one from Seoul actually “hits the streets” and visits the farms, the factories and talks to the people in order to determine who should be looked at as a suspect.
The comedic moments do come often but this isn’t a movie where it’s funny majority of the time. One minute we are laughing and the next we are grabbing our seat when something scary happens. While watching the film, I found myself deducing all the evidence, or what little could be found, since rain is a very good trick for the killer to implement into his crimes when it washes away all the evidence. At times, I did say, almost out loud, “there is the smoking gun” or “that’s him, that’s the killer” and even then my suspicions were proven wrong. By the film’s final moments and stark ending, I was gripped the entire time. This isn’t a movie that ends with a shootout or a one-on-one fight to the death scenario although there are some hints along the way, but this is a movie that focuses on the painstaking toll the detectives go through while investigating these vicious and brutal crimes.
I’m grateful to not have seen any scenes that involved murder as I find it highly inappropriate especially when it’s based off an actual case but there’s one moment where a woman is stalked and that scene alone is going to keep me awake for the next several nights. Memories of Murder has been compared to another incredible detective film Zodiac and while that was released four years later, both share the same accolades as being one of the best in the serial killer genre of movies.
Right from the opening shot to the final one, Memories of Murder is excellently directed by Bong Joon-ho, his second film following Barking Dogs Never Bite. His impressive filmography finally landed him the Oscar for Best Director and Best Picture for Parasite just earlier this year! It’s such a shame that I heard about this director only a couple of years ago and have yet to see most of his films. Foreign films are among my favorite movies to watch because they bring a different type of storytelling to the table. They aren’t like Hollywood type movies and sure enough, the ending to Memories of Murder fits that bill perfectly well.
What impressed me most about the film is the amount of suspense and allowing the audience to figure out what’s going on. This movie didn’t need to settle for action sequences or gory moments, but it’s the effective way the story is told is what sold me. Being released in the early 2000s, the film has aged quite well. I love how the story isn’t fully complete (you’ll know once you view the ending) and even hearing about the real-life case is daunting enough. What makes this film stand out is seeing the lack of forensics and poor police work on full display. These cops make mistakes and it is with great regret that the women who died paid the ultimate price. Nobody is perfect and seeing how the two main detectives are wholly different from one another works tremendously although there is a critical moment when the tables are turned and it’s one of the most powerful scenes in the film.
Memories of Murder is a fascinating portrayal of the failure of the local police and outside thinking that is implemented once the outside detective arrives to assist. A sharp contrast. This isn’t a movie that ends how you’d think and challenging the audience to different endings is something I cherish. This film ranks high with the likes of The Silence of the Lambs, Se7en, Zodiac and countless other movies that have delved into the world of depravity. It shines with its tremendous cast and perfect script and such a great direction from Bong Joon-ho. He’s a director that we all need to pay attention to and while I haven’t seen every film he’s made, he’s a director that has certainly caught my eye these past few years.
With Halloween approaching you may be tempted to watch the classic slashers, monster movies or even the paranormal ghosts features but I challenge you to watch something you’re not familiar with. Check out Memories of Murder, it’s the perfect title for a film that engrossing, entertaining and nail-biting. It’s hard to forget and being that it’s a mystery should entice even the slightest fans of the murder-mystery genre. Memories of Murder captures your attention and begs you to answer one burning question- how far will you go to solve a case that has ripped through your community?