Memories of Murder is based on actual events that took place in Korea between the year 1986 and 1991. Be warned…this is not your typical serial killer movie. Memories of Murders has the setup of any number of average police procedurals: a gruesome rape/murder serial crime in a quiet backwater town, and a two cops at odds with each other’s methods. What sets Memories of Murder apart from the crowd are the rich performances from its leads. The film wallows pleasurably in its own atmosphere: effortlessly shifting tones within a scene from laughing with the brutal local cops to being horrified at their tortuous methods. 10 women raped and brutally killed in Korea in the mid-eighties certainly doesn’t sound humorous, but Joon-ho’s film manages to blends genres without batting an eye.
Byeon Hie-bong, who played the father in The Host, is a small-town cop trying to solve Korea’s first serial murder case. As the case becomes more baffling and gruesome, so does Park’s desperation in solving the case by any means necessary, even if it means locking up an innocent man. The biggest investigation scandal in South Korea’s history starts to take place. Memories of Murder takes its time to tell its story, nevertheless never becomes boring or lengthy. The director respects the tragedy of the events by showing the toll they took on the living, and a scene set years after the murders finishes the film with an intensely chilling coda.
In this space, I’ve written about extraordinary exports from Hong Kong, mainland China, Taiwan, and Thailand. Of late, however, it’s another Asian nation that’s drawn a considerable amount of attention from movie buffs and critics. I’m really diggin’ Korean films as of late and this is one of the better ones of recent memory for me. The story is one where bad information, bad theories and bad work are so thoroughly mixed together with the good that nobody can tell them apart anymore. And in a strange way, it carries a sense of hyperreality. It is exactly the kind of raw and powerful cop drama that Hollywood only wishes it could still produce.
Despite having only a few surface similarities, Memories of Murder has often been compared favorably to David Fincher’s Se7en, and I can understand why. This must happen in plenty of real-life investigations — the bogus clues outnumber the real ones, connections turn out to be coincidences, etc., etc. General American audiences might be looking for a little more resolution to the plot. Some of the scenes where the cops beat up the suspects seem a bit over the top, too. But those small gripes aside, this film is near perfect for me. Memories of Murder is a masterpiece of shifting certainties, unreliable characters and deadly dark humor.