Memories of Murder (2003)
Reader Rating (Rate Here): [Total: 3 Average: 3.7/5]
Directed By: Bong Joon-Ho
Cast: Song Kang-Ho, Kim Sang-kyeong, Kim Roi-ha,
Memories of Murder is based on Hwaseong serial murders that took place in South Korea between 1986 to 1991. These murders remain unsolved to this day and are one of the most infamous murders in the history of modern Korea. Memories of Murder being true to the original story also remains unsolved. So how to make an unsolved murder mystery into a masterpiece? Memories of Murder answers that by making the story much more than just a murder mystery.
When we say serial murders and unsolved in same breath, the first name that crops up is Zodiac. But Memories of Murder is very different from Zodiac in what it is trying to achieve. In fact, after watching this the movie which came to my mind was another masterpiece called Mississippi Burning. Two detectives with different ideologies come together due to their mutual obsession to solve the murder. One believes in violence and doing whatever it takes to solve a crime which involves beating a guy to get a confession out of him. While the other, more inclined to investigating and basing conclusion based on the evidence at hand. Memories of Murder also showcases Korea during the 1980’s under a military dictatorship which didn’t much care about its people.
Park Doo-Man (Song Kang-Ho) is a detective in local police who is in-charge of solving the murders. He represents the 1980’s Korea which was harsh. Swift judgments without proper fact checking were the norms of the leadership. You could be a criminal or a north Korean spy if they wanted as swiftly as they wanted. And most often a victim is subjected to brutal torture for a confession. After the discovery of first body, detective Park rounds up a mentally retarded guy. He blurts out the confession under extreme torture. The idea is to calm the town and more importantly to close the case as soon as possible. The ineptness and the brutality contributes to the humor which is dark. It is achieved through unfair means and (probably) at the cost of the innocent.
On the other extreme is Detective Seo Tae-Yoon (Kim Sang-kyeong), a young detective who symbolizes the future South Korea. A Korea which believes in its people’s freedom and rights. Seoul dispatches Seo to assist Park in the case. Seo believes in examining the evidence rather than closing the case with a forced confession. He recognizes patterns in the murders and with a hands on approach comes really close to the murderer. Initially both of them share a mutual dislike for each other which dissolves as the case progresses.
Seo’s character then follows the arc William Dafoe’s character in Mississippi Burning. Seo, similarly frustrated with the case, accepts the methods of Park. Seo almost kills Park Hyeon-gyu (Park Hae-il), when the DNA evidence remains inconclusive to pin the murders on him. But, Doo-Man intervenes at the apt moment and lets off Hyeon-gyu. On the night of murders, the local radio channels gets a postcard requesting a song. The postcard carries Hyeon-Gyu’s address which makes him the prime suspect.
Memories of Murder gives us the Korean countryside of 80’s with its paddy fields and narrows alleys. The cinematography is breathtaking and the cinematographer Kim Hyung-koo showcases the laziness of the countryside very well. Bong Joon-ho’s direction is outstanding who lazily builds the tension and keeps you hooked. The murders keep happening and each one more twisted than the previous. Even the audience which is against Park for using violence now becomes inclined to unearthing the killer by whatever means. Enough of questioning and evidence tracking, something needs to be done!
The casting is spot on- Song Kang-ho showcases why Korean cinema rates him so highly. He balances the humor and the seriousness of the theme with ease. His easy going nature lends the soul to the movie. Kim Sang-Kyung adds to the volatility, he represents the audience which swings from one extreme to other over the course of the movie. But Kim Roi-ha is the stand out in the movie as a volatile partner of detective Park. Even though he comes of as a repulsive little fellow, you feel bad for him when karma takes her revenge.
Memories of Murder is a must watch masterpiece which will swing your opinion across the extreme. It throws out a must needed debate: what can be compromised- the outcome or the process? Watch it and share your ratings above.