Monday, July 4, 2011

Memories of Murder (2003)

When you are watching a South Korean film, expect the unexpected! I mean literally….trust them to turn a seemingly conventional plot line into a really twisted one and take us viewers completely by surprise. “Memories of Murder”, a mesmerizing crime drama by filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho is a riveting mystery centering around the true story of the Hwaseong serial murders that occurred in Hwaseong in South Korea between 1986 and 1991.

It all begins one lazy day when the body of a young woman is discovered in a ditch, bound and possibly raped before the killing. Local detective Park Doo-man (Song Kang-ho) is in charge of the case, but just like the town he resides in, his attitude is laid back and nothing of this sort had ever happened in that part of town. Clearly overwhelmed by the incident that is quickly followed by another corpse of a woman murdered under seemingly similar circumstances, Park goes all out in investigating. He really tries but seems to reach dead ends with no witnesses and the handful of clues leading nowhere. Forensic technology was almost non-existent in that part of the globe in those days and determining substantial information solely from the examination of the body was quite difficult.

With the media going berserk, the pressure mounting from all over and the lethargic handling of the case leads to a detective from Seoul, Seo Tae-Yoon (Kim Sang Kyung) being sent to assist Det. Park. Now both these men predictably clash in their methods of investigation (not entirely a new plot device to any such story) but that is hardly the crux of the story. With things getting more and more difficult, Park begins to adopt twisted ways of collecting evidence, “creating” suspects (one of whom is a mentally challenged boy) out of the remotest of things connecting them to the murder, getting confessions out of them and trying to close the vexing case any which way! And this is where Seo Tae-Yoon comes in, and keeps proving Park wrong, in the meantime, carrying out his own investigation.

A few more corpses follow and the detectives lose their sleep solving what could be one of the most challenging cases they may have faced and it almost seems as if they are chasing a shadow....but little by little they do know that the killer isn’t far away…

“Memories of Murder” is one of the finest detective-crime stories I’ve seen in a long long time. It also reminded me of two David Fincher films “Seven” and “Zodiac” both of which dealt with extremely trying serial killer cases which were some rather tough nuts to crack. However, where “Memories of Murder” differs is in its approach to story-telling is that it does not rely on Hollywood gimmicks of any sort and tells it as raw as it should be. It doesn’t have the pretty faces of Brad Pitt or Jake Gyllenhaal trying to solve some romanticized cryptic puzzles left behind by the killer. A lot of unpredictable twists and turns and generous amounts of red herrings are thrown in. The viewer feels the angst, relentless frustration and exasperation these guys feel while attempting to solve the murders as all their clues, attempts to find a pattern, the leads and eventual trails keep meeting their dead ends. At the same time there is the disgust and the growing anger over how the killer manages to prey on yet another victim right under their noses and seems to escape their nets! And what ghastly ways to commit the crime! This is the kind of killer who gags his victims, rapes them and stuffs articles found on them into their vagina…!! 

Yes indeed..”Memories of Murder” is a disturbing film. A lot of things and happenings you see in this film aren’t pleasant to watch. As a matter of fact, the filmmaker manages to evoke a feeling of disgust that comes from the graphically descriptive dialog between the characters narrating the nature of the crime, not from the visuals of the scenes, as there aren’t any particularly graphic scenes depicting the actual crime and most of the violence is off screen.

Technically “Memories of Murder” excels in nearly all departments. The stunning cinematography by Kim Hyung-ku is breathtaking as his camera captures some of the most marvelous locations of the Korean countryside and a rainy night in a desolate area never looked more terrifying! Ditto for the beautiful music score by Tarō Iwashiro which truly reflects the emotion and the mood of some of the key scenes. Acting by the two leads, Song Kang-ho and Kim Sang Kyung is applause-worthy! Song Kang-ho, especially impresses us most, as the incapable detective, desperate in his attempts to get the case over and done with.

The film ultimately belongs to writer-director Bong Joon-Ho, though, who turns a run-of-the-mill, “two detectives on the trail of a serial killer” subject into a  disturbing yet quite refreshing and rewarding movie experience, with an ending so powerful it just refuses to let go! This one’s really worth your while, folks!

Highly recommended!

Score: 9/10.


  1. Terrific review, sounds like a great film!

  2. You've certainly captured our interest with this one. Great review. We'll be looking for it.