Memories of Murder (2003)
Memories of Murder (2003)

Genre: Crime Drama and Mystery Running Time: 2 hrs. 12 min.

Release Date: May 2nd, 2003 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Bong Joon Ho Actors: Kang-ho Song, Sang-kyung Kim, Roe-ha Kim, Jae-ho Song, Hee-Bong Byun, Seo-hie Ko, Tae-ho Ryu




n October 23rd, 1986, a young woman’s naked, bound body is discovered in a field in a rural town in South Korea. The usual suspects are dragged into the Violent Crimes Division at the police station to be grilled over the extraordinary rape and murder case. “This is total chaos!” Between the children running through the farm, tractors tearing up the crime scene, the forensics team showing up late, and reporters scrambling for information, it’s not surprising that no substantial evidence turns up. This provokes lead inspector Park Doo-man (Kang-ho Song), along with right-hand brute Detective Jo Yong-gu (Roe-ha Kim), to rough up the the Baek family’s well-known, horribly-scarred, mentally-challenged boy, Kwang-ho (No-shik Park), who can be beaten and scared into a false – but quick – confession.

Experienced Inspector Suh Tae-yoon (Sang-kyung Kim), journeying from Seoul as a volunteer to aid in the investigation, recognizes immediately that the web-fingered patsy couldn’t have been involved – primarily because the victim was bound with intricate knots. The police chief is also in on it, wanting the case wrapped up swiftly, even if Kwang-ho is obviously not the culprit – and evidence was planted and a confession coerced under torture. When the conviction expectedly falls apart, the department is reshuffled to brush past the embarrassment. Shortly thereafter, under the more serious, sensible, honest Sergeant Shin Dong-chul (Jae-ho Song), Tae-yoon is able to uncover a pattern: the perpetrator is a serial killer who targets beautiful young women wearing red clothing on rainy days, strangling and binding them with their own personal items – from brassieres to stockings to panties to purse straps.

The local policemen are immediately disagreeable, behaving and conducting their investigations with a contemptible disregard for accuracy, decency, genuine clues, and a sense of duty. And they also abuse their powers and engage in sexist routines. This makes for an interesting clash of methods when the big city detective arrives, intent on following procedures, offering up intelligent strategies, and pursuing reasonable leads. It’s essentially the bumbling, country bumpkin sleuths versus a cutting-edge, modern crime-solver. “We need science here!”

There’s intermittent humor to be found in the various interactions, though it’s often paired with aggravation from ineptness or ludicrously wild ideas for catching the crook – as well as anger over the police corruption. Even the more upright Seoul inspector is complicit in torturing suspects, since he watches and waits for any tidbit of useful information, even though he knows that innocent people are being physically harmed. And, perhaps like in real life, it doesn’t prove fruitful. But, for the most part, the film is bleak and severe, doing justice to the subject matter.

Ultimately, the film is a typical (and typically twisty) police procedural, chronicling the difficulties of investigating a serial killer for the first time in a small town, particularly with limited resources, a lack of evidence, and conflicting methodologies. In this way, it recalls American murder/mysteries from the ’90s (including “The Silence of the Lambs” for its morbidity and uniqueness, and “Kiss the Girls” and “Just Cause” for their topics), the rogue detective feel of “Dirty Harry,” and the technological limitations of contemporary yet period-piece thrillers like “Zodiac,” “The Black Dahlia,” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (with its unusual setting of relative isolation). But despite the engrossing nature of the crimes and the possible perpetrators, the actions of the authorities are continually disappointing; it may be based on real, historical events, but the standards of investigative work are primitive, sometimes ugly, and mostly ineffective. Plus, the actual resolution of the case isn’t based on their skills or any epiphanies or revelations about their documentations; all of their instincts, prejudices, and assumptions (morally bankrupt or otherwise) prove inconsequential. Nevertheless, the characters are well designed, the acting is exceptional, and the conclusion is haunting.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10