[Film Review] Memories of Murder (2003)

Memories of Murder poster

Title: Memories of Murder
Original Title: Salinui chueok
Year: 2003
Country: South Korea
Language: Korean, English
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Bong Joon-ho
Shim Sung-bo
based on the play of Kim Kwang-rim
Music: Tarô Iwashiro
Cinematography: Kim Hyung-ku
Song Kang-ho
Kim Sang-kyung
Song Jae-ho
Kim Roe-ha
Park No-shik
Park Hae-il
Jeon Mi-seon
Byun Hee-bong
Yoo Seung-mok
Seo Yeong-hwa
Jung In-sun
Ko Seo-hie
Rating: 8.5/10

Memories of Murder 2003

South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho’s consequentially tub-thumping second feature, MEMORIES OF MURDER strenuously tackles with South Korean first serial murder case happened in the late 80s, and an opening caption overtly vouchsafes its military dictatorship milieu (to audience who are not familiar with its history) and the aftermath that the case remains unresolved.

Converse to common sense, bearing in mind that it is s a cold case doesn’t at all impede thrill and poignancy from this hard-boiled police procedural, or embroil viewers into a cynical mire: when raped and murdered female corpses being discovered in a rural town, the modus operandi of local cop Doo-man (Song Kang-ho) and his partner Yong-koo (Kim Roe-ha) is winnowing suspects in broad stroke, them hectoring them into pre-rehearsed confession, aided by physical violence, which is not a secret among the populace, and their latest suspect is a mentally disabled man Kwang-ho (Park No-shik, radiant with animated versatility and credence), who is press-ganged into rehearse the crime scene. On the other hand, a newly arrived detective from Seoul, Teo-yoon (Kim Sang-kyung), brings a different style of investigation reliant on meticulous observation, data collection and scientific proofs, the two methods clash inevitably, but we all know, only one of them is the drill.

After ruling out Kwang-ho’s suspicion, the investigation is reshuffled and headed by the Sergeant Dong-chul (Song Jae-ho), with more victims crop up, the accelerating protest condemning police’s inaction stoked by media frenzy and the political turmoil understated in the background, a seemingly viable pattern of the cold-blooded crime has been trawled through collective wisdom and effort (at one point, Doo-man even seeks recourse to superstition for revealing the culprit), they have their second suspect but only to be corroborated as another red herring. Finally, through a lead apropos of letters sent to the radio station with request of playing the same song, which coincide the actual time of each crime (a knotty head-scratcher which deserves further elucidation of how the connection works, those letters needed to be sent beforehand, so is there a radio program particularly meets the requirement based on the weather condition?), a third suspect emerges, a young worker Hyeon-gyu (Park Hae-il), but without sufficient proof, the police cannot charge him, nerves start to fray and the ineffectiveness of police brutality reaches a breaking point, its reverberations have a violence-prone Yong-koo dismissed from the investigation and subsequently gets himself involved with some tussles with local students, eventually will cost one of his legs, and ironically, it is the habitually aggressive one, Bong masterfully alludes to a play of karma with trenchancy.

The investigation hits a halt when the police is eagerly waiting for the report of a key DNA test which has been outsourced to USA (the scientific disadvantage is discouraging), its result becomes the only proof can implicate Hyeon-gyu, yet, at that point, due to negligence, Teo-yoon lets Hyeon-gyu slip from his sight during stakeout, which results in another murder, this time, is a young school girl he acquaints with. Here, Bong ups the ante by permitting the face-undisclosed perpetrator free will to choose his next victim, one is the school girl and another is Seol-yung (Jeon Mi-seon), Doo-man’s girlfriend, to inform us the chilling revelation: literally, the tragedy could happen to anyone, as long as the evil is still at large, today you are still breathing, solely because your luck hasn’t run out yet, doesn’t mean you are immune to evil’s clutches.

A guilt-ridden Teo-yoon runs rogue, and is intent on executing Hyeon-gyu in person, only to be stopped by Doo-man with the just-arrived report from America, unwittingly, the two cops have undergone a thorough switcheroo in swapping their initial methods, Doo-man tends to be more level-headed after a traumatic experience (which involves the innocent Kwang-ho as a blabbering key witness) where Teo-yoon incandescently relinquishes his integrity under the influence of vengeful urge, this is what we call a gripping script fleshes out its characters with utter acumen and irony.

The result of the DNA comparison is inconclusive, eventually the two cops are left to watch Hyeon-gyu vanish inside the darkness of a tunnel, the metaphor is sheer pungent, but the coda, which jumps to 2003, will ultimately shatter our senses, when Doo-man, now a married business man with two children, returns to that first crime scene in an expansive field, to meditate on his unfinished business, through the words of an innocuous girl, Bong Joon-ho gut-punches us with his heady peroration: evil always disguises itself under ordinary appearances, thus the afterthought is, we can never be too careful in this capricious world, and Song Kang-ho’s perturbed soul-searching gaze can be enshrined as one of the most indelible closing-shots of all time!

Oscar 2003  Memories of Murder


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