Memories of Murder is a great satire of official laxity and arrogance, and its final scene is very chilling.

Tracing a long, frustrating, and at times darkly funny investigation into the crimes of a rural South Korean serial killer, Memories of Murder is a thrilling and stomach-churning ride. Most telling of all is that tone, the slow, deep nuancing of what once felt cartoonish, the antic slapstick that suddenly turns sombre. With Bong, you never see what’s coming. And then you’re face to face. Memories of Murder is an unsettling production with an atmosphere that lingers long after the credits roll. The director Bong Joon Ho weaves a compelling narrative that is part police procedural, part political critique, and part examination of toxic misogyny in Korean culture. A haunting chronicle of impotence, frustration, systemic dysfunction, and unfathomable injustice wrapped up in a rain-slick neo-noir coat. “Memories of Murder” is certainly a more believable and realistic movie than other Bong Joon Ho films like “Parasite” or “Snowpiercer,” but the characters in it are not as interesting as the ones in “Parasite.”

Precisely what you’d expect from the director Bong Joon Ho.

Song Kang-ho as Park Doo-man, the detective in charge of solving the murders
Kim Sang-kyung as Seo Tae-yoon, a younger, but much more professional, detective from Seoul, who volunteers to help Park
Kim Roi-ha as Cho Yong-koo, Park’s partner, who beats suspects
Song Jae-ho as Sergeant Shin Dong-chul, the detectives’ superior, who takes over partway through the investigation
Byun Hee-bong as Sergeant Koo Hee-bong, the detectives’ superior for the first part of the investigation
Go Seo-hee as Officer Kwon Kwi-ok, a female police officer who works with the other detectives to solve the case
Ryu Tae-Ho as Jo Byeong-Sun, the second prime suspect, who was discovered masturbating at a crime scene
Park No-shik as Baek Kwang-ho, the initial prime suspect, an intellectually disabled man who used to follow one of the victims
Park Hae-il as Park Hyeon-gyu, the third prime suspect, a factory office worker with soft hands
Jeon Mi-seon as Kwok Seol-yung, Park Doo-man’s girlfriend
Yeom Hye-ran as So-hyeon’s mother

The director Bong Joon Ho elevates every scene with his unbelievably assured filmmaking.

In October 1986, two women are found raped and murdered on the outskirts of a small town. Local detective Park Doo-man, not having dealt with such a serious case before, is overwhelmed—evidence is improperly collected, the police’s investigative methods are suspect, and their forensic technology is near non-existent. Park claims he has a way of determining suspects by eye contact. He decides to first question a scarred mentally handicapped boy, Baek Kwang-ho, because he used to follow one of the victims around town. Park uses his eye contact method, thinking Baek is responsible, and has his partner Cho beat confessions out of Baek.

Seo Tae-yoon, a detective from Seoul, volunteers to assist them. However he and Park’s methods clash. Seo deems Baek’s hands too weak and scarred to be able to commit such an elaborate crime, clearing his name. After more murders are committed, they realize that the killer waits until a rainy night and only kills women wearing red. Officer Kwon Kwi-ok realizes that a local radio station is always requested to play a particular song during the nights the murders are committed.

At the latest crime scene, Park, Cho and Seo all arrive to investigate in different ways, but a local man there masturbates in a woman’s red lingerie. Park and Cho apprehend the man, brutally beating him. Seo finds a survivor of the killer with Kwon’s help. Upon learning that the killer’s hands were noticeably soft, Seo clears the man, as his hands are rough. Infuriated that they lost their suspect, Park scuffles with Seo until Kwon alerts them that the song on the radio is playing. They realize it’s raining but arrive too late, finding another woman murdered. Park, Seo and Cho finally decide to work together.

Upon doing an autopsy of the latest victim, they discover pieces of a peach in the body. Clues lead them to a factory worker, Park Hyeon-gyu. Seo notes that his hands are soft like the survivor had described. Hyeon-gyu begins to show discomfort when Seo presents the peaches and they think they’ve found the killer. Cho loses control and beats Hyeon-gyu, prompting their superior to ban him from the interrogation room. Park and Seo listen to Baek’s earlier confession. Seo points out that he talks as if someone else did it and they realize he knew details of the murder because he witnessed it. They go to Baek’s father’s restaurant, only to discover a drunken Cho there. As people watch news and ridicule police officers, he beats everyone and Baek joins the fray, swinging a wooden board at Cho’s leg and accidentally piercing it with a rusty nail. Park and Seo chase Baek and question him, but he gets frightened and runs into the path of an oncoming train, where he is struck and killed.

Park learns that Cho’s leg will have to be amputated because the nail caused tetanus, leaving him feeling guilty. They discover semen on one of the bodies, but because of Korea’s lack of DNA analysis technology, the sample is sent to the United States to confirm if suspect Hyeon-gyu is the killer. That night, a young girl is killed. At the crime scene, Seo recognizes the girl as the same schoolgirl he had befriended while investigating. Enraged, he attacks Hyeon-gyu until he is interrupted by Park bringing the results from America. The sample does not match Hyeon-gyu’s DNA and Park lets Hyeon-gyu go.

In 2003, the crimes remain unsolved and Park is now a father and businessman. He happens to pass by the first crime scene and decides to visit it, learning from a little girl that the scene had recently been visited by an unknown man who had said that he was reminiscing about something he had done there a long time ago. Park asks the girl what he had looked like, and she tells him that he had a “normal” face, and was someone who looked very ordinary. The film ends as Park looks straight at the camera, seemingly trying to spot the killer amongst the audience by using his eye contact method.

Movie Information

Release date: April 25, 2003 (South Korea)
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Based on: Come to See Me (play); by Kim Kwang-rim
Budget: US$2.8 million
Cinematography: Kim Hyung-koo
Language: Korean

Peter Ahn

Peter Ahn

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