Memories of Murder (2003)

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Directed by: Bong Joon-ho

With its influence undeniable on suspense filled murder mysteries like ‘Zodiac’ and ‘The Texas Killing Fields’, ‘Memories of Murder’ is a jewel of South Korean cinema containing some unbelievable acting performances. It’s a tale of police incompetence, as Detective Seo Tae-yoon arrives from Seoul to work with a bumbling local police department who are perplexed by a number of grisly murders.

Detective Seo comes up against Detective Park, a man whose methods aren’t exactly by the book. Park intimidates and tortures suspects alongside his high kicking, military boot stomping partner; he looks suspects in the eye because he believes he can tell whether or not they are telling the truth. Events take place in 1986, the body of a young woman is found in a ditch near a rice field, a few days later another body is found, again in a field. Park gets to the scene too late, and the crime scene has been spoiled by bumbling policeman and curious reporters. There’s a humorous background joke, when the camera follows Park irately wandering, he is bemused by panicked policeman who keep slipping down a grass verge.

Seo works out that the murders occurred on a rainy night, and that both victims were wearing red. He looks at a missing persons report and speculates that there may well be a third body lying somewhere, as another young woman disappeared on a rainy night. She was last seen wearing red and sure enough she is found dead. An ambitious female police officer, held back by her male superiors, works out that whenever a murder is committed there a request is made to play a rarely played love song called ‘Sad Letter’ on the local radio station.

There is a real sense of helplessness as the police struggle to get any leads. Any kind of forensic evidence is hard to come by, mainly thanks to the rain washing everything away, and when they do get a semen sample it has to be sent across to an American crime lab, further delaying their investigations. As time goes on it almost appears that the killer is sadistically taunting the officers, as they begin leaving behind objects within his victims. This also could be interpreted as a possibility that there was a copycat killer also on the loose. Certainly director Joon-ho presents the police as flawed, morally duplicitous characters; the unsettling brutal treatment of a mentally handicapped suspect is an especially cruel illustration of this. It seems that if this is the way that things were done back then, it is no wonder that innocent people died, and the guilty didn’t get caught. Inevitably the police get so deep into this case they become obsessed, this clouds their judgement and causes them to overlook key details. Even the rational Seo becomes consumed by frustration.

Given that all the murders occur on a rainy night, the mere fall of raindrops creates so much suspense. The murders don’t seem to make much of a dent with the local populace because there is so much focus on local uprisings, and besides there is an inherent distrust of the police. You really get a sense of rural, small town South Korea; and the political climate of the time. The battle is intimate, between the murderer(s) and the investigation team.

I was on the edge of my seat throughout, and really I haven’t been impressed with a serial killer film since the already mentioned ‘Zodiac’.

– RJW
8/10

Memories of Murder on IMDB

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Eating Raoul (1982)

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Directed by: Paul Bartel

Frigging Peter Biskind, I was reading his second book, the one about Sundance and the Weinsteins and early on he rattles off a few indie titles that surpassed all expectations and made a profit at the box office. I’ve scribbled down a list, a few films that I’m curious to watch based on title alone, and I plan to watch them all, beginning with ‘Eating Raoul’.

The meaning behind ‘Eating Raoul’ is given away in the opening sequence. Set in Hollywood, the relationship between sex and hunger is reflected in everyday life; from vice on the streets to provocative advertising, the barrier between sex and food has dissolved. People’s minds have become warped; they are sexual predators soliciting sex wherever they go. We are told this is the story of Hollywood today.

We meet the Bland’s, a couple called Paul (Paul Bartel) and Mary (Mary Woronov). Paul is a wine expert, who gets the boot from his off license job for daring to have taste. He dresses like a Harvard intellectual and appears very stuffy, living up to his surname. Mary, his beautiful wife is a nurse who toils away at the local hospital. The couple live a sex free life existence, and sleep in separate beds. They are frequently disturbed by the Swingers parties that take place in their apartment complex and long to escape their sordid surroundings by opening up their own restaurant.

Money trouble forces them to act in desperate ways and when a live action version of Quagmire from ‘Family Guy’ comes around and tries to force himself upon Mary, Paul smacks him over the head with a frying pan and kills him. After showing a miniscule amount of concern they sift through the man’s wallet and discover he’s got a lot of dosh. After disposing of the body the couple decide that the only way they can quickly earn money is to lure Swingers to their apartment and bump them off. They seek advice from a single Mother who by night goes under the alias Doris the Dominatrix, she educates them about the Swingers lifestyle.

Paul and Mary have great success murdering Swingers who have fantasies that veer from the Oedipal to something involving a Nazi officer and a milkmaid. The situation is complicated when a Chicano red blooded locksmith named Raoul who discovers what they are up to and wants a slice of the lucrative pie. The couple work alongside Raoul after he saves Mary from getting raped by a randy Hippie played by Ed Begley Jr.

‘Eating Raoul’ is a true indie success story, as Bartel scraped together all the cash to finance the movie, shooting it whenever he had enough money to do so. All in all the whole thing took a couple of years to film. Despite this, each scene flows quite nicely, there is a good sense of continuity. Bartel is able to present the awkward relationship between middle class old fashioned American values and the sexually free hedonistic Hollywood lifestyle. The Bland’s don’t fit in with their environment, and this causes tension, a tension which grows from their own repressions, and leads to them committing acts of murder without being overly concerned with the consequences.

The murder is cartoonish, beginning with a gang member who gets shot in the off licence by Paul’s boss to the Hippie who gets strangled by his own love beads by Raoul. The film tries to show how Hollywood has made light of murder on screen, with people getting bumped off without any feeling, but it does so in a way akin to ‘The Ladykillers’ or more recently Tim Burton’s ‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’. The uneasy, hard to swallow parts of the film tend to involve Mary, as men with uncontrollable sexual urges force themselves upon her in alarmingly regular ‘Carry On’ meets Benny Hill fashion. The word ‘rape’ is casually thrown around during these moments, and I think the director was deliberately highlighting this point – In Hollywood women are still treated like meat.

‘Eating Raoul’ is a dark comedy with a little bit of charm, it is similar to a John Waters flick, with quirky extreme personalities who jar with Mr and Mrs Normal. It is a subversive satire that lacks strong performances. The characters like everything else in the film are deliberately presented in a way that causes us not to be take them seriously, because they are too two dimensional. The sexually frustrated banker, the creepy Hippie, the uptight suburban couple; it is really only Mary who has any depth to her character, but even she conforms to the bored housewife stereotype who jumps on the first hunk who shows her a hint of interest.

– RJW
5/10

Eating Raoul at IMDB
Buy Eating Raoul [1982] [DVD]