Let’s find a suspect.
Bong Joon Ho’s Memories of Murder was finally made widely available for American audiences in 2020. We follow three detectives as they try to determine who is murdering and raping young women in a small Korean city. Taking place in 1986, the transition to democracy and great social change serves as the backdrop to this crime thriller.
You might be thinking that this is just going to be another detective story. However, remember this is from the same director who did Parasite, so we know there’s going to be some biting commentary along the way.
Detective Park Doo-man (Song Kang-Ho) is not the right man for the job. He trusts his “shaman eyes” to determine who is guilty and innocent. He and his partner Cho Yong-koo (Roe-ha Him) are good at getting confessions, but not necessarily accurate ones. The first chunk of the movie follows a mentally handicapped man who is tortured by the detectives until he confesses, even though he is obviously innocent.
A hot-shot detective from Seoul arrives and seems to have a decent head on his shoulders. Detective Seo Tae-yoon (Kim Sang-kyung) almost immediately determines there has been (at least) a third victim, and that they are looking for someone much different than they have seen before.
The relationship between the detectives ranges from infuriating to ridiculous as Park is willing to chase any lead (aside from those Seo finds) and Cho seems to believe police force equals jump kicking everyone. It might sound slapstick, and in a way it is. The movie is oddly hilarious until the harsh reality of this being who is meant to be the protector slips in. While these buffoons are blundering at their jobs more women are killed.
Jet black comedy is something Bong Joon Ho is certainly well known for. The film never lets the comedic moments overtake the deathly serious situation at hand. The absurdity has a purpose. Class commentary and limits (and corruption) of power are center stage in every scene. The film never falters from its genre needs though, and instead builds upon them to create something that is both refreshing, familiar, and new.
The desperation among the detectives reflects in the increasingly dark scenes where lighting is more and more muted. The atmosphere of the scenes is used well and allows for the shots to do a lot of emotional heavy lifting.
The pacing of the story is one of few weak points. While the slow burn is effective, once we have a general idea of where the story is going to go it could get there a little quicker. The final acts of many of Bong’s films seem to be where the creator struggles the most. The final sequences are generally satisfying, but the final leg to get there isn’t always as enjoyable as the rest of the ride.
Comparing this film to Parasite shows how much Bong has perfected his craft in 17 years. Here, we have an early example of a masterful director. While this is perhaps not his best film, it is better than most true crime stories. What makes this one stand out is the plethora of other discussions and ideas present within these scenes.
For example, there is a lot of gender criticism present in this film that is never given the spotlight but exists at the edge of the story. This is only one example, and there are many others. The film demands a keen and patient viewer who will enjoy picking up the pieces as they are slowly given out.
A fantastic film that should be on the top of your must-see list.