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’.