South Korea is all about understatement. The three movies I’ve seen: Oldboy, The Chaser, and the one I’m reviewing Memories of Murder are all so blunt. There’s no stylized violence, it’s just raw, drak (in humor at times), and visceral. I guess circumstances surrounding a country’s history reflect in its culture. For America, it must’ve been the war, and for SK, it might be the division. What I’m trying to say is that SK’s style of filmmaking is so refreshing from all the visual effects extravaganzas and studio crap. It’s refreshing compared to art-house films, or any film that comes out of Hollywood. These movies are like the interval in a never-ending movie.
Memories of Murder is a police procedural set in 1986 about South Korea’s first brutal serial murder case. The victims were around 10 women who were raped and killed. It focuses on the efforts of two detectives who try to crack it: Inspector Park (Song Kang-ho) and Inspector Suh (Kim Sang-kyung), and their desperation. This involves planting evidence, beating out confessions, catching the right people for the wrong reasons and the wrong people for seemingly strong evidence. It’s also nothing out of the ordinary for these cops: you do what has to be done to get the job done. The movie is also a look at SKorea’s fledgling crime department, and how poorly equipped they are i.e. no DNA tests, no cordoning off crime scenes etc.
Memories of Murder is extremely engaging, even though the usual cop environment is the genre. There are no stereotypes i.e. the new police chief. He’s no hard-ass cigar chomping ass kicking guy like in the Hollywood movies; he’s just a guy who wants the case solved, because shit has hit the fan, and he’s only picking up what’s left of it and finding out who threw it. Leads keep popping up, and there’s loads of dark humor for me to laugh at a lot of scenes. Bong Joon-ho is a serious filmmaker to contend with.
There’s not much I can say without spoiling the story, and because the whole story is culture-specific and set in a particular period, I can’t describe much. But I can say this: Memories of Murder is a great dark thriller with an awesome ending.