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Memories of Murder

A Korean movie directed by Joon-Ho Bong

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A Fact-Based Story that is Harrowingly Real with its Black Humor and a Mature Screenplay

  • Apr 15, 2009

"Memories of Murder" (aka. Salinui Chueok, 2003) is a film based on real events that occurred in a small town in South Korea between 1986 to 1991. The film is about South Korea's first serial killer, when advancements in forensics and DNA evidence hasn't been perfected yet. Director Bong Joon-Ho brings us a dramatic police thriller that portrays the investigation of these brutal rape and murders when all cops could rely upon are their instincts, intuition, street savvy and intimidation. I have seen two very effective and riveting, fact-based South Korean thrillers; "The Chaser" and this film; I wonder how come it took me this long to review this film; "Memories of Murder"? I feel a little sorry.

In 1986, rural police detectives faced its first case of serial murders when two beautiful women were discovered brutally raped and killed; in very similar method and style. Detective Park Doo-man (Song Kang-Ho, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) is the man assigned to the case and with his very aggressive partner, Det. Cho-Yung Keo (Rohah Kim) they fail to produce results and doesn't even come close to nailing the killer. However, when a Seoul cop named Seo Tae Yung (Sang Kyung Kim) volunteers to solve the case, things begin to move for the better. Seo's meticulous approach to investigation begins to unearth vital evidence and credible clues as to the identity of the murderer. Unfortunately, poor forensic methodology and the unavailable advance technology threatens to disastrously hamper the case…

Director Bong Joon-Ho approaches the serial killer genre with a very different method. He doesn't rely on shocking images and violent sequences to engage the viewer into the film. Instead, he relies on the details of the actual story, the situation during that time, and the characters that make up most of the film. A wise approach since this case was well-known in Korea during that time, and it has been dubbed by some as their own version of "Jack the ripper" since the murderer was never caught up to this day. This film provoked a very strong reaction from the general public and authorities have been pressured to re-open the case, but unfortunately there just wasn't enough evidence and the case was closed more than a decade ago.

Which brings us to the question--since most people know that the killer was never caught, then why make this film because we would know how it would end? Well, not everyone knew the details of the case, the obstacles and issues that hampered the investigation, the cops did have a difficult time putting all the pieces together. During this time, cops went on instinct and very few had the necessary skills and resources to conduct a proper investigation, much less country cops who rely mostly on intimidation and intuition. These cops tend to pick up the wrong suspects and tortures a confession out of them. Some work out, but most doesn't, citizens were angered at this police procedure and the cops' ineptitude. These facts are represented by two country cops, Detectives Do-Man Park and Cho-Yung Keo. You will witness the frustration, the stress they go through, as fleshed out by our characters which generates genuine tension without the aid of eye candy special effects.

While most of the violence is toned down and most of it are hinted at when the bodies are studied, the film does have its share of graphic images. The sequences of the victims bodies, tied down and obviously brutalized looked very realistic. The viewer is witness to the film's autopsies and I thought they were enough to serve up the necessary visceral punch. I thought the director did a wise move in steering away from the actual violence, while the scenes of its aftermath and discussions leave much to the imagination. Those expecting a heavy dose of blood and gore may be a little disappointed but the movie is enthralling enough without grand displays of violence. Being based on a true story, its was clever to keep the violence to a minimum and avoid the over-the-top blood and gore to keep it realistic.

Amid all the investigations, the film does manage to serve up its share of black humor. Song Kang-Ho's character, Park Do-Man may seem lazy, arrogant but he maintains that warm charisma that makes him likable. Detective Park had his share of wise ideas as to the identities of the murderer and his over-the-top approach left me snickering. Sang Kyung Kim's character is also quite well-rounded. His Seoul cop character had that look of finesse and smarts, unfortunately he also experiences his share of frustrations. The screenplay was well-rounded as it maintained a sense of humanity with its serious tone but it never forgot to inject some scenes of black humor.

The film does have a very effective plot twist and asks the viewer exactly what he thought. Director Bong Joon-Ho cleverly practices a sense of restraint in the film and it maintained a touch of simplicity. The cinematography and editing is simple but very effective, the costumes and set designs exemplified this period in the 80's (with the use of typewriters and old cars) that resulted in a well-shot, artistically engaging film. The filmmakers did a commendable job in bringing this harrowing part of Korean history to the big screen with its excellent characterization and emotive script, the film is a can't miss!

Highly Recommended! [4 ½ Stars]

U.S. dvd cover Korean poster scene scene scene scene

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More Memories of Murder reviews
review by . August 06, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
*** out of ****     "Memories of Murder" is a beautifully directed, wonderfully acted murder-mystery thriller from Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho. His previous film was "Barking Dogs Never Bite", a witty satire; and the film that he followed up this one with was "The Host". Now, I have always loved "The Host"; which is the best monster movie of the 2000's, and perhaps my favorite of all-time; or at least one of them. I admire how Joon-Ho breathes new life in the form of satire …
Quick Tip by . July 27, 2010
A scary but potent crime thriller from the director of "The Host."
review by . December 31, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
A hotshot young detective from Seoul is enlisted to help out the old school small town detectives when it becomes clear they have a sophisticated serial killer on their hands. The local detectives' old school methods -- unscientific crime scene investigation, gathering of usual suspects and assisting them to remember with threats and torture, planting of evidence -- aren't going to cut it with a sophisticated killer on the loose who threatens repeat violence. On the other hand, the new methods -- …
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About this movie


A South Korean thriller based on a true story,Memories of Murdercomes across like a hybrid ofSilence of the LambsandOne False Move. A pair of rural detectives, Park (Song Kang-ho) and Jo (Kim Roe-ha), chafe when a Seoul detective named Seo (Kim Sang-kyung) gets involved in their big case: Korea's first known serial killer, who's killed two women on rainy nights. Seo is dismayed by the rural cops' interrogation methods, which consist of beating suspects until they confess--and they aren't above planting evidence or "helping" a suspect remember the details of his crime. While Park and Jo seek clues from fortune tellers and magic charms, Seo struggles to build a case from hard evidence and the forensic approaches only just starting to take hold (the movie is set in 1986). Shots of the victims and jolting moments of violence giveMemories of Murdera dose of gruesomeness, but the movie has more on its mind that exploitation. Visually stylish and psychologically astute,Memories of Murderis as much a portrait of cultural change as a serial killer mystery.--Bret Fetzer
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Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama
Release Date: May 2, 2003
MPAA Rating: Unrated
DVD Release Date: 8/9/2005
Runtime: 2hrs 9min
Studio: Palm Pictures / Umvd
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