Posted: 03/15/2003


Memories of Murder


by Alexander Rojas

This DVD is available for purchase at

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Perhaps it’s my unfamiliarity with most of Korean cinema’s past and current history, but several recent South Korean cinematic masterpieces have made me take notice of the films this Asian country is producing, therefore causing me to place South Korea on a short list of countries (Mexico, Brazil and Iran included) currently producing the most interesting and exciting films. Films like Shiri (Je-gyu Kang), Nowhere to Hide (Myung-Se Lee), My Wife Is a Gangster (Jin-gyu Cho) have all gained wide pop appeal for Korean cinema, while films such as Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (Chan-wook Park) and Memories of Murder (Joon-ho Bong) have garnered respectability and excitement for the cinematic depths these filmmakers have accomplished. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance impressed the hell out of me in its stylization of art direction, cinematography and editing. Memories of Murder continues this feat with an absolutely impressive script and mesmerizing performances.

Memories of Murder is set in South Korea during the military dictatorship of 1986. In a small and secluded rural area two detectives investigate a series of related murders and rapes. They torture their suspects into confessing to crimes they may or may not be involved in, but their methods are brought into question once an urban detective volunteers himself in the investigation of the murders. Although the new detective brings a professional and experienced approach to the investigations, the murders continue to escalate in an alarming rate, haunting the desperate detectives. The films narrative structure is straightforward and traditional, but it allows for a compelling story that builds with each scene. The sense of urgency is rooted throughout the film, which maintains our attention and focus on the stories development.

Although the film can be violent and serious at times, there is an element of dark humor throughout it. Interjecting humor into a true-life story of a series of unsolved murders can be a difficult task to balance and maintain in a film without losing or distracting the audience. Memories of Murder successfully accomplishes this feat and a tremendous amount of praise should go to the screenwriters of this film: Joon-ho Bong, Kwang-rim Kim and Seung Bo Shim.

However, what stands out the most in this film is the remarkable cast. Early in the film a brash detective, Du-man Park (Kang-ho Song), without much evidence other than speculation, arrests whomever he considers suspicious and forces false confessions out of the detainees. His tactics are unprofessional and unethical. Once Seoul detective Tae-yun Seo (Sang-kyung Kim) volunteers his services to the investigation, personalities clash and both actors brilliantly play off each other. Kang-ho Song especially stands out with his characters defiance and insecurities towards Tae-yun Seo. His performance starts from a child-like charisma and curiosity and progresses to an adult level of maturity and responsibility. His character arc is subtle, but dramatic.

My praising of this film finally ends with the director Joon-ho Bong. Coming off the critical success of his directorial debut Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000), Bong succeeds once again in making an astounding film that demonstrates his astonishing visual storytelling skills. Memories of Murder thrives in not being a crime film that places so much emphasis on figuring out who the killer is, but rather a crime film that explores the characters and the environment caught amongst the terror of the killer.

Alexander Rojas is a filmmaker in the southwest side of Chicago. That’s right, southwest side of Chicago…an’ wha?!

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