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Director Bong Joon-ho made history earlier this year, as his film Parasite became the first movie to ever win Best Picture and Best International Feature Film at the Oscars. Building a career of certified hits, and steady acclaim, over his 20 year career as a helmer, Joon-ho’s resume is as eclectic as it is respected. Which makes the timing absolutely perfect for a re-release of his 2003 film Memories of Murder, as Bong Joon-ho’s second film is being revitalized with a new re-issue through theatrical and home video platforms.
In 1986, a series of murders and rapes plague a village in rural South Korea, with its continued investigation making up the majority of Memories of Murder’s story. Throughout this case’s progression, we see a veteran local detective (Song Kang-ho) and younger detective (Kim Sang-kyung) brought in from Seoul to help crack the case. They butt heads with each other, and their co-workers, as they face one dead end after another. As the clues start to fall into place, the work of these men threatens to consume and transform them into totally different people than when they started.
Memories Of Murder is still an absolutely stunning film almost 20 years later.
Memories of Murder is an absolute must-see, whether you’re a fan of Bong Joon-ho’s more recent filmography, or even if you’re just a fan of murder mystery tales. Joon-ho not only directed this film, but he also co-wrote it as well, helping to adapt Kim Kwang-rim’s stage play, which was based on a real series of murders. While this is a film with almost two decades removing it from the present day, Memories of Murder is still absolutely stunning.
All of the sensibilities that Bong Joon-ho showed off with much style and panache in Parasite are on display in Memories of Murder, which really helps with how this film has aged. Some movies are very much of their time, be it through storytelling techniques or even technical execution, and that doesn’t make them lesser films. But it’s still amazing how fresh this movie feels when compared to contemporary works, both visually and thematically.
Bong Joon-Ho’s offbeat sense of humor and expert timing are sharp in Memories Of Murder.
Another aspect that preserves Memories of Murder for a more modern audience is the fact that Bong Joon-ho’s offbeat sense of humor and expert timing never goes out of style. The crimes depicted here are based on true events, and they’re chillingly heinous. Seeing the investigation of the horrible events that unfold is no less a terrible sight than if it would be in a deadly serious police procedural. Not satisfied with merely painting a portrait of “good cop/bad cop,” the morally mixed protagonists presented help Bong Joon-ho infuse Memories of Murder with a very humane sense of style.
Song Kang-ho’s Detective Park Doo-man and his colleagues get drunk and do karaoke together, interrogate suspects through beatings in between meals and watching TV procedurals, and bust each other’s chops regularly. It’s that humor and personality quirks enhance the mystery elements of Memories of Murder; because by the time the gravitas starts to ramp up towards the end of the film, the transformation of our characters hits you with great impact. You really feel for the protagonists on screen, and the investment into their work really pays off in the face of the film’s total experience.
Whether you’ve seen it before, or are new to it, Memories Of Murder deserves the wider release it’s getting now.
Bong Joon-ho’s filmography seems to have a common thread of knowing how to tell uncomfortable and grave stories with a sense of humanity and wit that both cushions and sharpens the blows when they come. Watching Memories of Murder feels like being able to see the exact moment genesis of the maestro’s very own palette, right down to this being the first of several collaborations between the writer/director and actor Song Kang-ho. Even in this first pairing, you can see why these artists would continue to work together, as the chemistry is absolutely electric.
Seeing Memories of Murder for the first time is another one of those moments where you're introduced to a classic that you somehow missed, but are forever grateful for once you’ve found it. A constantly moving murder mystery, audiences might see some of the turns coming, but the mystery on the whole is an elusive beast. The resolution is both satisfying and frustrating, keeping its viewers on the edge of their seats. If you’re a fan of Bong Joon-ho’s more recent output, you owe it to yourself to either revisit or discover the charms of Memories of Murder; a film that couldn’t have picked a better time to find a new audience.