Against the grassy farmland under South Korean typical heat, this dramatization of the first serial murder case in South Korea begins—without any sense of optimistic. A young woman is found dead—raped and gagged with her underwear. Local detective Park (Song Kang-ho) and his comrade, Detective Cho (Kim Roe-ha), investigate this case with their own credo that results in nothing. When a typical Seoul detective Seo (Kimg Sang-kyung) appears on the screen with his different method, this investigation becomes as intriguing as the film itself—as it satirizes the military dictatorship and the procedure of investigation in South Korea during the 80s.
Bong Joon-ho carefully develops the script of this movie and directs it with style that keeps the audiences on pitch. Memories of Murder rigorously observes how our detectives delve into their own many-faced credos in investigating this case—including the use of physical and mental torture, document analysis, mix-and-matching clues, and even shamanship—that remain fruitless the whole time. The plot keeps you frustrated with misleading clues that occur time and time again. As we deal with a ‘true case’ which remains a mystery forever, how Bong leads us into a resentful maze is effectively thrilling, yet, emotionally stirring.
How to portray these detectives along with their methods is kinda ironic, but, also laughable—adding black comedy taste to the already messed up hunting. Detective Park always relies on his ability to read one’s mind via eye contact; his rivalrous buddy, Detective Seo always believes that document never lies; while Detective Cho always accentuates his somersault kick—in the end, it numbs my sense finding out how they end up with their beliefs. Song Kang-ho with his moon face delivers his best effort in portraying stupid, ill-prepared detective Park—he successfully makes the audiences in a ‘love-hate’ situation with his character. Yet, it’s not the detectives, nor the murderer, the suspects, or the victims that make this film ambitious—it’s the plot that keeps everything smooth but great.
In overall, the film presents a strong reflection on how futility of all investigations within a problematic environment and subjective logic gaps structurally stands before the audiences. It keeps making us frustrated and trapped with brutal stirs of emotion and patience within political and criminal frame. Bong Joon-ho successfully makes us expecting something that we know won’t happen.
In the end, the film ends without clear resolution that once again frustrates us. However, how the former detective Park breaks the fourth wall in the very end seems like asking the real murderer, “d’you regret all of this?” as he regrets it himself. It’s a kind of sight that tells us how this movie desperately invokes more than just frustation, but sympathy instead.
Memories of Murder (2003) —
Drama, Mystery, Crime, Thriller Running Time: 130 mins Directed by: Bong Joon-ho Written by: Bong Joon-ho, Kim Kwang-rim, Shim Sung Bo Cinematography: Kim Hyung-ku Music: Taro Iwashiro Casts: Song Kang-ho, Kim Sang-kyung, Song Jae-ho, Kim Roe-ha