[Movie Review] MEMORIES OF MURDER (살인의 추억)
Courtesy of NEON
With Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite taking the world by storm, it’s easy to forget the journey the director has taken to arrive at this point in his career. Thankfully, his earlier, domestic works are now getting much-deserved attention, and NEON is paving the way for that recognition. Marking the second collaboration with the director, NEON released MEMORIES OF MURDER with Fathom Events last weekend and has now released the film today on Digital and VOD. As crime thrillers go, Bong Joon-ho’s MEMORIES OF MURDER is one that you definitely need to add to your list to view. But be warned, reader, it is not for the faint of heart.

Inspired by true events, we are taken to October 1986 in a rural South Korean province. Detectives Park (Song Kang-Ho)  and Cho (Kim Roi-ha) are assigned to a double murder investigation; however, due in part to their incompetence and rush to get things resolved, they almost catch the wrong person. Seo Tae-yoon (Kim Sang-kyung), a detection from Seoul, steps in as a volunteer and quickly ascertains that the current suspect couldn’t have committed the murders. This puts them back at square one. And it’s not long before the murderer strikes several more times, with each murder following a similar pattern. Without a proper forensics team and communal pressure bearing down on the detectives, Park, Cho, and Seo have to rely on their knowledge and skills to try to piece things together before any more women die at the hands of this serial killer.

MEMORIES OF MURDER is sheer perfection from start to finish. It takes the audience for a ride as we watch these detectives try to race against the clock to prevent more women from dying. As has been the case with Bong Joon-ho’s work, there is a mixture of comedy and darkness that marries well together in the script. And that levity is much needed considered the dark subject matter of this crime drama. The script coupled with the committed performances from the cast helps keep the audience on its toes as they try to think ahead of these detectives. However, there are so many twists and turns along the way in this narrative, that the audience will be caught up much in the same way as the detectives onscreen, further intensifying the tension that is felt as things progress.

Courtesy of NEON

The one thing that I always love about Bong Joon-ho’s work is how the lens he focuses on his characters doesn’t hide anything. He shows all of their flaws, revealing the many layers of humanity before our eyes. Our detectives in MEMORIES OF MURDER are incredibly flawed. Song Kang-ho’s Detective Park just wants things to be wrapped up and has a high opinion of his ability to tell who is a criminal by just looking into their eyes. Kim Roi-ha’s Detective Cho has no problem using violence to beat a confession out of a suspect. Our detectives laugh, watch crime shows, sing karaoke, living their lives in the midst of all of this gruesomeness. But, due in part to Bong’s and co-writer Shim Sung-Bo’s writing, these men start to feel the heavy burden of these crimes. They are not perfect by any means, but these serial killings take a toll on all and you can’t help but empathize with all of them.

Marking the first of many collaborations between Bong Joon-ho and actor Song Kang-ho, it’s amazing to be able to see how their magic started for the first time. Song is compelling as Detective Park, not afraid to go there with his morally compromised detective as he desperately tries to hunt down the suspects. Joined by the much younger Kim Sang-kyung, playing Detective Seo, we see how both influence each other and how both deteriorate in their own way by the film’s end. Kim Sang-kyung’s character arc, in particular, is most alarming but, as audiences get to experience the narrative, the growing frustration and desperation amongst all involved in trying to solve these cases are immense. And, through the power of storytelling, acting, and direction, we are there emotionally with these men.

With nearly twenty years having gone by since MEMORIES OF MURDER‘s release, it has aged immensely well especially for my own first-time view. There’s a timelessness to how it is shot that is – honestly – a testament to Bong Joon-ho as a director. With twists and turns that will leave you gasping for breath, this is a truly gruesome, thrilling mystery to watch play out. The film’s conclusion will leave you feeling haunted and wanting to know whether or not the cases in real life were ever truly solved.  A crime drama that I’d recommend to everyone, especially those who are generally on the fence about watching crime-based films, MEMORIES OF MURDER is a film you can’t miss out on.

MEMORIES OF MURDER is now available on Digital and VOD today!

Sarah Musnicky
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