In the years between 1986 and 1991, 10 murders were committed in the Gyeonggi Province of South Korea, marking the first serial killings in the country’s history. Memories of Murder tells the story of the detectives who were charged with finding the killer and potentially saving more lives. This movie had potential to be a derivative detective film, but the history and consequences is what really brings Memories of Murder from being average, surpassing good, and becoming great.
When a young woman is found raped and murdered in October 1986, it seems a little out of the ordinary in such a small and peaceful village as Hwaseong. Detective Park Doo-man (Song Kang-ho) is put on the case, but is soon joined by Detective Seo Tae-yoon (Kim Sang-kyung) from Seoul after it is determined that they might have a serial killer on their hands. With such a danger lurking about the streets, it is imperative that Doo-man and Tae-yoon find the culprit as quickly as possible, but this is made almost impossible with such crude forensic technology. The two detectives are then forced to you their own intuition and, often times, brutality to find the killer and save any potential victims.
Memories of Murder is a near perfect detective/crime film. It’s pretty standard now to have a detective or police procedural movie that implements all the different kinds of technology and resources available to find their suspect. This is exactly what this movie is not about. It was so refreshing and startling to see an environment where there are so many hoops to jump through and people to hurt in order to secure what’s best for the common good, especially in a modern era. At times, the policing is brutal and often wrong, but the stress of the detectives comes through very well and makes Memories of Murder all the more effective.
In my honest opinion, South Koreans have the best eye for cinematography than any other country. Memories of Murder is visually stunning. It really covers all the bases, with beautiful slow motion shots to excellent uses of color. Sometimes it’s not important if a movie looks great, but other times the better it looks, the more impactful the material is. That’s the case with this film. Some of the most beautiful scenes involve highly desaturated rural landscapes with either a red ribbon or a red coat that draws your eye. This may sound like a cliche, but when done right it look fantastic.
Much like with the lack of forensic technology making Memories of Murder unique it its brilliant use of comedy. With a story that tells of South Korea’s first serial killer, you would think that it would be somber and serious at all times. I was expecting that. I was pleased to see that there was some scenes of comedy throughout, both lighthearted and dark. That right there is a sign of an exceptional screenwriter, and I have to give this credit to the writer/director Bong Joon-ho. Joon-ho uses the same kind of comedy mixed with seriousness in his next feature, the phenomenal monster movie The Host.
Memories of Murder is an exceptional film that will horrify you, move you, and make you laugh. It tells an interesting tale of detectives doing everything they possibly can to catch a serial killer, even though it seems apparent that their attempts are futile. It’s easy to make an average detective film, but it’s not so easy to make one as memorable as Memories of Murder.