Memories of Murder (Salinui chueok)
Starring Song Kang-ho, Kim Sang-kyung, Kim Roi-ha, Song Jae-ho, Byun Hee-bong, Go Seo-hee, Park No-shik, Park Hae-il, Jeon Mi-seon, Yeom Hye-ran, and Yeom Hye-ran
Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Written by Bong Joon-ho and Shim Sung-bo
Rated: 14A for coarse language, violence, sexual content, substance use, and mature subject matter
Runtime: 131 minutes
Now playing at Movies 12 and Metro Cinema (Friday and Sunday) at the Garneau Theatre
Bong Joon-ho… name ring a bell? After 2019’s Parasite, it should. They don't just give out Best Picture and Best International Film Oscars to the same film for nothing, not to mention Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. Oh, and it also took the Palme d'Or at Cannes, so that's something too. Bong knows how to make intelligent, interesting and still subversive works.
That’s a large reason why his 2003 riveting film Memories of Murder – only his second feature at the time – is now being released in North America. It’s the sort of film that deserves to be viewed on a theatre screen for full effect. While not as refined as his later, more celebrated work, it is still a powerhouse drama. Though it does contain some difficult scenes to watch, the commanding performances and cinematography demand a proper venue.
It's loosely based on the true story of Korea's first serial murders, which took place between 1986 and 1991. In this film, Detectives Park and Seo (Song Kang-ho and Kim Sang-kyung, respectively) investigate with growing futility. They find and follow clues that seem solid at the outset before they dissipate into vapour, leading to subsequent similarly unreliable clues.
As a murder mystery, it is utterly fascinating, mesmerizing even, and definitely haunting. It’s also frustrating in that it offers a glimpse into the kind of detective work that is awful from the start and leaves you looking at everyone around you as a suspect. The things that the police discover when they track the elusive killer left me wondering about who people really are. Some scenes are fairly upsetting, so be warned.
As egregious as the criminal is, the film also offers a good long look at police brutality as an ineffective tactic toward catching a perpetrator. "Who is the real bad guy of this movie?" was a thought that occurred to me on more than one occasion.
It reminds me of David Fincher's Zodiac in many ways, and is just as fine and rewatchable, though it did leave me with a sense of feeling grimy. I suspect that was part of the whole point of it. It's a rising crescendo of the shattered hope for justice right until the last frame. Memories of Murder is a masterful examination of crime and procedure gone awry. Its cinematography, score, film editing and performances are top notch, not to mention Bong's astute and distinctive directing and writing. It's presented in Korean with subtitles for a brand new 4K restoration for that extra Fincher-y effect.
Frankly, I could use a shower.