Memories of Murder, directed by Bong Joon Ho and cowritten by Bong Joon Ho and Sung-bo Shim is adapted from a play written by Kwang-rim Kim and is loosely based on the true story of South Korean first recorded serial killer. Our lead, Detective Park Doo-man (Kang-ho Song), with the help of other detectives, and his “special skill” to identify the criminal. Though it came out in 2003, it is still one of the best films thanks to stellar acting, wonderfully crafted music, directing and visuals. It’s clear that even back then, Bong Joon Ho was in his element and, if he was at his peak then, he has yet to come down from the summit.
Crafty Mix Of Discomfort And Horror
It’s fascinating how Bong Joon Ho can take a serious situation and have many unexpected moments of humor sprinkled throughout. It brings to mind the movie Fargo early on, in the sense that their is a lot of humorous moments. You can’t help but laugh at moments while feeling horrified at others—including the fact that you ever laughed. Memories of Murder has the element of laughter and discomfort early on, when the detective discovers a dead body, but also has to yell at a group of kids unknowingly playing with evidence, while another kid parrots his words and movements.
Many films do this, but I’ve never seen it done this masterfully before. The transition between laughter and discomfort, even guilt, is a seesaw of emotions. The editing helps as well as the background music, that transitions from beautiful, sad and suspenseful. One of my favorite parts of a film are the soundtracks and I would love to own this one—especially the opening music!
Detective Park Doo-man is funny and, though the situation is grave, we can’t help but laugh due in large part to him. The acting by Kang-ho Song is amazing in this film as he goes from initially appearing competent, to more of a hindrance in the investigation because of his “ability” to look in a person’s eyes and tell if they’re a criminal, that is nothing beyond self-aggrandizing. This, and their determination to catch the killer, results in them abusing and harassing suspects into making false confessions. Detective Park Doo-man parallels those kids hindering the investigation. But while it’s their inability to grasp the seriousness of the situation, it’s Detective Park Doo-man’s decisions, without that child innocence, that lead to both humorous moments and the audience cursing at the screen.
Visually Sweeping And Beautiful
Visually, despite being from 2003, this film has Bong Joon Ho’s eye for a palette that emphasizes the subject matter. The contrast between the beauty of the fields in the day, and the innocence of children frolicking in it contrasts starkly with those same fields on a rainy night. One person’s place of joy and peace can frighteningly be another’s hunting grounds. The shots have purpose, from the angle of the fields, to the lone image of the detective atop a trash heap.
The funny moments don’t detract from our hope that the killer is caught by the end of the film. Unfortunately, if you’ve done any research on this film and the true story, you know the answer to this.
Bong Joon Ho clearly had, and still has many stories to share. He is able to adeptly craft moments that initially induce a chuckle, into full-fledged sorrow and sadness within his film. Memories of Murder weaves humor, frailty, ego and true evil into a sharp paced film that still holds up 13 years later. It churns with human emotion and hums with beauty. All I can say is I look forward to Bong Joon Ho’s—and Kang-ho Song’s—next theatrical outing!
Feature Photo courtesy of NEON