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Memories of Murder (2003)

November 2, 2010

9/10 Scarlet Ladies

One of three big reasons why Bong Joon-ho is one of the best working directors out there.

Based on actual events, Memories of Murder is about a dumbass, crooked cop in ’86 who is forced to team up with a seasoned, city boy detective after a string of women are found raped and murdered in a local South Korean village. With few leads to go off of, a serious lack of cooperation to be had and the body count rising with each new rainy day, our unlikely duo put aside their differences and put their heads together to bring South Korea’s first and most notorious serial killer to justice.

If you’ve heard of Bong Joon-ho, chances are you’ve heard of the South Korean national treasure/one of the best movies of the past decade, The Host, and/or his latest effort that’s actually a lot like this one, Mother. If not, no worries, this is as good a place as any to start. Then again, you could be the one person from Seoul who reads this blog and know exactly what I’m getting at, but for me – and I think for a lot of us English-speaking folk – this one went unnoticed. Big thanks to Dave Schleicher for finally bringing it to my attention, but it is flat-out crazy that such an outrageously good movie like this can be such a national mega hit in its homeland and totally slip under the radar in The States.

I blame all that “Americans + subtitles = boring-ass shit” noise. Serenity now, man.

Anyway, talk about one fine-tuned piece of work. The best way I can plug Memories of Murder is to say that it’s like South Korea’s answer to Zodiac (even though that makes zero sense from a chronological standpoint), and while that’s some pretty high praise, it’s really freakin’ hard to compare Bong and everything he does to anyone else or anything they have to offer.

‘Cause there are a lot of things I like about this guy. In terms of pacing, Bong keeps sucker is tight and tense from start to finish. Just one nailbiting scene after another without a moment to spare as his characters gradually pull their heads out of their asses and start piecing together a gruesome puzzle that’s always a corner short. The plot is one big slow boil that places the killer comfortably in charge with no signs of stopping and even when we’re witness to abductions that the detectives can’t see for themselves, we’re still no more in the loop than they are. It’s awesome, it keeps you guessing, it toys with the audience just as it toys with the victims, and it’s really something the way Bong manages to turn the simplest of scenarios into goddamn heart-stoppers.

But aside from the story, the characters are really the ones who keep this so interesting. One of Bong’s more enjoyable trademarks is that all of his protagonists are idiots. They don’t usually stay that way and they’ve all got their endearing qualities about them, but they’re hard-nosed idiots all the same. And so we have Song Kang-ho as lead detective Park Doo-man, a guy who’s far more content with dropkicking a confession out of the first perp in sight than actually doing his job by getting off his ass, a quality that doesn’t exactly gel with his by-the-books partner. He’s an old school cop who uses his guts instead of his brain, he thinks he’s hot shit because his badge puts him above the lawe, and he really likes dropkicking people. But then his wildly ineffective ways are finally put to the test, he realizes that he needs to up his game in order to have any chance of catching the real deal, and the change is out of sight to watch.

Song is an awesome actor to begin with, but he is given some character arc to work with here. Great performances all around, really, but Song is the man and Park is one of hell of lead.

And like all of Bong’s movies, while the story will put you right on edge and ultimately ends up being no freakin’, it is a total riot for a long time leading up to that point. Lots of great, dimwitted back-and-forths, lots of slapstick, and it once again makes for a really unique and fun complement to all the morbid goings-on around town.

This is one of those movies that more people need to know about, a movie that will change any and all of your preconceptions about foreign films and subtitles and make you wish more English-speaking studios could meet this level of quality. Plot-wise, it has a very similar feel to Mother, and that’s A-okay by me, but Memories of Murder is just some absolutely wild stuff that would hands-down be the best thing Bong’s ever done if The Host hadn’t been so effing amazing. Wasn’t too crazy about the way one of the suspects dies at the hands of a painfully avoidable oncoming train, then again, that’s my only complaint, and that was pretty forgettable.

So damn intense and so damn engrossing; like, Silence of the Lambs intense and engrossing, only this one’s all true. Like I said, just one more reason why Bong is the man.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Paragraph Film Reviews permalink
    November 2, 2010 5:12 am



    Doo-Man is one of the best working actors out there at the moment, absolutely love everything he’s in. The atmosphere set up in Memories is nuts; one of the things that still haunts me (despite not watching this in about 5 years) is the long grass, bodies and rain… going to have to dig out this bad boy again.

    I know you’re bored of me saying this, but buy/get/download A Bittersweet Life!!!!

    • November 2, 2010 8:05 am

      hahaha. haven’t forgotten about Bittersweet Life, man. will look into it on Amazon today. and right there with ya on song kang-ho, he is freakin’ awesome. def give this one another watch, 5 years is too long, brotha.

  2. Moose permalink
    November 2, 2010 9:08 am

    The Host was awesome, I was so glad you reviewed it. I’ll have to check this out sometime, because that Bong Joon-ho guy really knows what he’s doing.

    • November 2, 2010 9:10 am

      Definitely do, man. Story is way different from The Host, but this is just incredible. Let me know what you think, homey.

  3. November 2, 2010 12:01 pm

    I’ve wanted to see this for awhile, it looks so delightfully weird.

    • November 2, 2010 12:39 pm

      haha. yeah, i guess you can call it that. definitely delightful at least.

  4. November 2, 2010 7:15 pm

    Thank you for sharing this…I will definetly look for this one because I LOVE MOTHER, one of the best thriller I’ve seen in a years.

    As you say that you wish english spekaing movie can have the same feeling as this movie…I just hope they WILL NOT remake any movie by Bong. I’m sick of Hollywood keeps making remake and turns great movie into something worse. They are better in making their own movie than remaking.

    Beside remaking I also hate dubbing, I always enjoy movies in their original language, I am an anti-dubbing person. Give me German, Korean, Sweeden, or even Swahili…I don’t want any of them to be dubbed or remade.

    • November 3, 2010 9:54 am

      Also hate dubbing, also hope none of his movies ever get the Hollywood treatment, they’re all out of sight as is. And if you liked Mother that much, you’ll effing love this. Enjoy!

  5. November 3, 2010 1:34 pm

    I too really loved the movie, especially the way Bong Joon-Ho managed to combine nail-biting suspense with wry humour, bleak irony and a sense of melancholia into a thoroughly engaging whole, making this a police procedural with few equals. Doo-Man is indeed a treat to watch, with his emotionless face and his ability to extract humour out of thin air. And yes, Joon-Ho’s films are truly difficult to put into perspective with any of his contemporaries. Very well written as usual!!!

    • November 3, 2010 1:39 pm

      Thanks! Totally agree with all your points. Bong is just the man. Simple as that.

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