Friday, December 18, 2020

Memories of Murder

17 years after its initial release, Memories of Murder finally earns worldwide exposure. The film only received a token release in the United States a couple of years later. Given both the critical praise of writer/director Bong Joon Ho's Parasite and new revelations on the real-life events Memories of Murder draws from, 2020 becomes the perfect time to revisit the film (or, for so many, to get a first look at what some praise as the best Korean film of the century).

Bong Joon Ho's tale examines the search for an elaborate South Korean serial killer targeting young women in the rural city of Hwaseong in Gyeonggi Province. The film's two main characters are the local detective in charge of the case (Song Kang-Ho) and an investigator from Seoul (Kim Sang-kyung) who don't think much of each other's methods.

The film weaves the pair's antagonist odd couple dynamic into an old school detective story that ratchets up the tension with each new victim who is found. It also coyly uses misdirection and more than one red herring to keep the audience guessing about what will happen next.

The film fleshes out it's world with other characters such as Roe-ha Kim as another local detective known for trying to beat suspects into submission, Jae-ho Song as the detectives' superior often angered by their fighting, Seo-hie Ko as a female officer whose talents are often undervalued by her male co-workers, along with the number of actors who fill in for both suspects and victims for each crime. While the focus of the film stays with our two leads, several of the supporting characters, who fade in and out at times, each add something to the larger tapestry Bong Joon Ho weaves. Adding another layer is the cinematography of Hyung Koo Kim who is asked to frame a variety of shots here highlighting both the tragedy and absurdity of the circumstances while also providing some lasting and haunting images that stayed with me days after my viewing.

At the time of the film's initial release, the crimes remained unsolved. While it's the search that drives the movie, and we see the attacker in shadow at points in the film, in contrast to Hollywood cinema the killer never really becomes a character in the film. Instead he remains elusive as the director concentrates on the detectives, their struggles with the case and each other, while introducing various suspects that are mostly vessels for them to vent their growing frustration. The film speaks to the longing of the detectives who hold desperately onto the failure of a case unsolved as it so expertly examines the human condition through the lens of a police investigation. It's odd to call a film from 2003 one of the best films of 2020, but then again... it's been a kind of odd year.

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