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Spotlight on South Korean Cinema: Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder

Part two of my Spotlight on South Korean Cinema series is a look at Bong Joon-ho’s 2003 masterpiece Memories of Murder.

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Bong Joon-ho is best known in the west as the director of the internationally successful monster movie The Host. Yet, as good as that film undoubtedly is, his even earlier Memories of Murder (the local blockbuster that made the monster Bong hit possible) still probably stands as the ideal introduction to this unique auteur‘s filmography as well as the S. Korean New Wave as a whole. It is certainly my personal favorite Korean movie of recent decades. Memories of Murder, like most of the exciting films to come out of S. Korea in the early 21st century, is a young man’s movie: it was only Bong’s second film, following the black comedy Barking Dogs Never Bite in 2000, and he completed it when he was just 33-years-old. Also marking it as a quintessential work of the new S. Korean cinema is the way Bong offers a refreshingly original spin on well-worn genre elements. In much the same way that Nowhere to Hide uses the action-movie framework as an excuse to stage highly experimental set pieces, or Failan begins as a gangster film before daringly transitioning into an unabashed melodrama, or J.S.A. adopts the form of a political thriller in order to express a plea for tolerance and a desire for reunification between the two Koreas, so too does Memories of Murder resemble a murder mystery but only as a means for conveying a far-reaching social critique of S. Korea in the past as well as the present.

Like many Hollywood films that came out in the wake of the success of The Silence of the Lambs, Memories of Murder is ostensibly a murder mystery about the exploits of a serial killer. As such, some of the most familiar aspects of the movie are the scenes depicting the tensions and hostilities between various members of a police department — most of which result from their differing crime-solving methodologies — in the small town in which the movie is set. Specifically, the plot details the investigation into a series of serial murders by two dumb local-yokel cops, Detective Park (the brilliant Song Kang-ho) and Detective Cho (Kim Roe-ha). Completely out of their element because they have no experience in such matters, the brutal, quasi-fascist tactics of these characters soon come into conflict with the patience and reasoning of Detective Seo (Kim Sang-kyun), a cop from Seoul who voluntarily moves to rural Gyunggi province in order to help with the investigation. Memories of Murder is, however, perhaps most interesting for how it deviates from the murder mystery and police-procedural genres — Bong’s point is not to put his characters through the paces of a routine plot but rather to paint a trenchant portrait of life under a military dictatorship in the mid-1980s.

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In one of the film’s most telling scenes, the local cops can be seen violently cracking down on a pro-Democracy protest in the rain. Detective Cho, in particular, can be seen stomping with relish on a hapless victim with his combat boots. (Elsewhere we see how kicking suspects with a shower cap stretched over his boot, so as not to leave incriminating marks, is Cho’s preferred method of “enhanced interrogation.”) Shortly afterwards, Detective Seo uses more logical methods to discover that the killer’s modus operandi is only to attack women wearing red and only on rainy nights. Part of the local law enforcement’s failure to apprehend the killer, however, stems from the fact that they have been spread too thin as a result of having to quell political protests. At the end of the movie, Detective Cho’s leg is infected with gangrene and has to be amputated below the knee — a clever way for Bong to show, symbolically, that a politically repressive era has finally come to an end (though the film’s haunting coda shows what scars remain). Another aspect of the film’s sly social commentary is the way Officer Kwon (Ko Seo-hie), the only female member of the police department, is routinely discriminated against and treated like a glorified secretary when Bong takes care to show that she has genuinely good instincts as a detective; it is Kwon who discovers that the murders have all occurred whenever a certain obscure song is played on the radio, and it is only she who is able to extract crucial information in an interview with a would-be victim. Her male colleagues, however, disregard her suggestions and treat her as only good for fetching coffee. In these and other scenes, Bong implies that the tragic murders are merely one symptom of a broader trend of S. Korea’s systematic abuse of its female citizens.

Yet Memories of Murder moves in unpredictable directions in terms of both its ideology as well as its story. Detective Park may be a clueless idiot (in a long line of such characters essayed by Song) but viewer empathy with this character strangely increases as the film progresses, just as it likely decreases for the city-slicker Seo. This is in part because of the way Song Kang-ho is always the most charismatic presence in any movie in which he appears, but also because of the way these two characters seem to gradually exchange philosophies: by the end of the movie Park has become closer to being the voice of reason while it is Seo who is more prone to use brute force to exact justice, the civil liberties of suspects be damned. Then, in an immensely satisfying coda, Bong boldly flashes forward fifteen years into the future where Park, now a salesman for a company that makes juicers, quizzes his teenage son at breakfast about whether he had stayed up all night playing video games; the portrait of S. Korea’s transition from dictatorship to western-style democracy is now complete. But Bong doesn’t stop there: he then has Park revisit, by chance, the location of one of the first murders, a powerful scene that single-handedly explains the movie’s title. Frustrated as some viewers may be by his “open” ending, Hollywood-style narrative resolution would actually be antithetical to Bong’s true purpose — to emphasize the lingering effects of his characters’ darkest memories of the past upon their present.

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Memories of Murder is available in a decent-quality DVD edition from Palm Pictures and as a superb-quality region-free Blu-ray from CJ Entertainment.

Bong Joon-ho’s next film, the international co-production Snowpiercer, stars Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho and Tilda Swinton, and will be released before the end of the year. Check out this early trailer, which I think looks exceptionally promising:

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About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

35 responses to “Spotlight on South Korean Cinema: Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder

  • Now Playing: Snowpiercer | White City Cinema

    […] Korea), is no stranger to subtly incorporating political messages into traditional genre fare. Memories of Murder (2003) was a slam-bang police procedural that also painted a trenchant portrait of life under a […]

  • Mandukhai Damdinjav

    This was a great movie. I have seen this movie a long time ago, when I was a teenager. It is a very suspenseful and action thrilled movie. Now that I have seen it a second time. I understand the movie better. After the movie was finished I kept thinking about the movie itself, who could be the true suspect. Suddenly, it rang into my mind, that the two deceives missed on crucial element. It was obvious that the murder did oral sex, and did not have actual intercourse with the victims. Am I wrong ? It just confuses me, why and how the suspect’s semen did not match the victim. Again did the Deceives consider that those girls had sex already with someone else prior. As Mr. Micheal said that the female police officer was treated like a secretary, who just fetches tea for them. She was not taken seriously, when she came up with the information about the murder. She was a smart and had a good hunch about this, but yet again they didn’t take her seriously, and this scene shows how woman were treated in that era. Detective wasnt the brighest detective in town and he was violent one, who abused power.Detective Seo turns out in the end the violent one to justify the suspects justice. Over all it is a great movie. I love Korean movies because of the great film maker Bong-Joo Hon.

  • aspic

    I am so happy you explained some of the social/political symbology. I was really emotionally invested in the storyline of Memories of Murder. It was like my logic and analytic nature disappeared to be replaced by pure frustration. I think Detective Seo only reverted to a violent, oppressive justice system because his viewpoints stemmed from a universal goal of human decency and protection. That could be seen as an extreme viewpoint but they knew they had evidence to confirm the serial killer. When Detective Park was violent towards his suspects his evidence was rare or fake. I wish Seo had successfully shot the killer. He probably got away to make a point about the lost lessons or lack of accountability when it comes to past mistakes.
    It was such a beautiful movie and Bong Joon-ho did an amazing job criticizing sexism and governmental oppression. Officer Kwan was a really amazing character. It didn’t seem like she resented the way her fellow male officers treated her. She understood the culture she was in and found her niche to do what she wanted to. I love that Detective Park ended up selling juicers.

  • Christopher Sanchez

    I really like how you point out the social commentary in it. Some of it flew over my head when watching it like the pro democracy rally and how the leg being amputated symbolizes the end of the politically repressive era. I also like the comparison to silence of the lambs because when watching the movie it did remind me of it. I also enjoyed the open ending letting the viewers see the darker side of the characters and the bleak feeling of the movie as well.

  • Julie Vera

    Memories of Murder has been the best movie I’ve seen so far. Each character grew on me, even though the main characters were cruel. As you mentioned Officer Kwon was a victim of discrimination, and she clearly figured a clue that leads to the murderer. If I was Officer Kwon I would had left the police department. Not to be mean but I was glad that Detective Cho had to get below his knee amputated. Detective Cho passed the line when he was stomping his first victim and suspect body. The end of the movie was great, and it’s something new for me, and I can’t wait to show this movie to my father.

  • Lakita Flowers

    This movie was really good to me. Even though it was a movie about murders, it was a little comical. This made me like it more than the traditional all serious murder type of movies. Detective Park was the funniest in the movie but he was also pretty clueless about doing actual detective work. Like how he was actually going around looking for “bald” men was so funny yet a waste of time. His character at the beginning of the movie kind of irritated me because he kept trying to put the murders on someone that was innocent. Towards the end of the movie I begin to like him though and yes this movie does go in unpredictable directions seeing how detective Park wasn’t the one beating up the suspect at the end.
    Seo is my favorite character in the movie. He comes across as a very passionate person who takes his job seriously. It seems as if he just stumbles upon evidence that helps with the case. He seems to be deep in his thought too. Unlike Park, Seo isn’t judgmental and dismissive towards the female detective. He also seems to have more authority as a detective compared to Park. Which I think made Park mad because every time Park thought he had the murder Seo would come and provide evidence against what Park thought. This caused them to fight a lot. Except towards the end when the DNA test came back denying that the suspect Seo was sure was the murder was innocent. That’s when Seo started acting like Park and Cho.
    I didn’t even think about how the ending scene of the movie linked to the movies tittle. Which makes a lot of sense since they never found out who the murder was. When Park asks the little girl how the guy that came back to the murder site looked she said he looked “Just ordinary” and Park had a really shocked looked on his face. Since the beginning of the movie Park had been looking and accusing people who weren’t exactly ordinary. He even thought he could just look someone in the face and know who the murder was but he couldn’t.
    Even though I wanted to know who the murder was, the ending of this movie was great. It left me thinking. Also in real life we don’t always get the ending we want. Sometimes we don’t get one at all; we’re just left with memories to look back on.

  • Mercedes Abreu

    Memories of Murder (Bong, 2003) is conventional of its kind. I agree with Smith’s view on how Bong creates a “refreshingly original spin on well-worn genre”. Memories of Murder movie title makes sense as you get to the end. I think Detective Park (Song Kang-ho) is a talented actor, he was outstanding as Sargent Oh in J.S.A. and to see his character be this bumpkin detective with his combat boot kicking partner policing like renegade Colombo’s shows what a great actor he really is. I enjoyed this suspense filled thriller. I was captivated from beginning to end. In the slow motion scene, where Detective Park is chasing the seemingly mentally challenged suspect through the field, has a great impact of how chaotic the investigation becomes. Also, I agree that viewer empathy does shift as it does increase towards Detective Park and Detective Seo begins to unravel mentally. Detective Seo loses all composure towards the end as the investigation comes to a wall, and Detective Park does become the “voice of reason”. The scene close to the end where the rain is pouring and the body of the school girl is found, everyone has an umbrella except both Detective Park and Seo. As the rain pours on both of their heads and drenched, I feel this shows the emotional strain the murders had on both detectives. I was hoping to find out who was the murderer and leaving the movie open at the end is frustrating. At the end where Detective Park revisits the first murder scene, the long take on his face and the tears in his eyes only makes you wonder, will Bong make a sequel? Or this is his brilliant way of captivating the viewer. All in all, I enjoy the Korean filmmakers we’ve seen thus far.

  • Yeongjae Nam

    I strongly agreed with Bong paint a trenchant portrait of life under a military dictatorship in the mid-1980s. At that time, Korea had social change which military dictatorship to democracy. During that time, police and government violently abused their power and people were afraid of their merciless governmental authority. There are two significant scenes that show the political conflict between governmental authority and protester against the government for democracy. First, When Detective Park and Detective Seo fight each other and the song which is murderer’s favorite play on the radio, the chief asked support from riot police but all of riot police go to another city in order to repress the protest and it disturbs to protect the new victim from the murderer. Second, after the endless murder occurred, police changed the chief. The new chief is more justice and flexible to communicate with his subordinates. The previous chief was the same person as detective Park. Both of them quickly wanted to terminate the accident and they manipulate the evidence to catch the murderer. They are not trying to catch the suspect but making suspect who is even innocent. During the military dictatorship, this happen was common and a lot of innocent people involved in crime and police violently hit them to receive confession without obvious evidence. The change of chief means the society are changing. More democratic chief allow detective Seo and female detective find the evidence of murder. In addition, the most important scene is Detective Cho fight with the young college student in the restaurant. Most of the protesters against the government were the young college student at that time. Young people criticized the government violent control over the country. In the restaurant, young people saw the news in the television and criticized detective Cho who represents violent police authority. He fights with young college students and one of the most innocent and pure Kang-ho hit him to punish his past unjust violence. Finally, Detective Cho’s leg is infected with gangrene and has to be amputated below the knee. His leg is a symbol of unjust authority on police and infection is how dangerous infection spread people’s whole body and finally it kill people. I think Bong point out that unjust power should remove from the body even though it is part of our sad history on the 1980s. This movie is based on true story. The murderer is still not caught. Long times ago, I saw the article which include director Bong’s interview about this movie. He said that during making this film, he tried hard to analysis the suspect’s patterns of crime and he said the suspect tend to show his existence on crime. So, director Bong implied the last scene which staring at camera giving a message to uncaught suspect that I see you in there. Director Bong assured that the suspect must come to the theater to watch this film.

  • Seoyeon Jang

    Bong Joon-ho is one of the best famous directors in South Korea. In 2006, Bong Joon-ho’s monster movie, The Host, made a great hit because this movie well represented a monster realistically by using computer graphics in South Korea. However, it also was a film having a powerful message that criticizes the government and the society at that time through a monster emerged in the Han-river and family stories.

    And, before The Host created, at the beginning of the 21st century, Memories of Murder is came out by Bong Joon-ho in 2003, and this movie also made a great hit. At that time, this film was highly acclaimed for both its cinematic quality and its popularity. The motif of this film was horrible murders called “Hwaseong serial killings” happened in the 1986 to 1991 in South Korea. During that time, 10 women had been cruelly murdered by a killer (or killers). However, unfortunately, the killer still not get caught, and it remains unsolved to this day. Also, due to the statute of limitations of this accident expired on April 2nd 2006, now police can’t make him stand in court.

    But, this movie not just show the cruel murders. Memories of Murder shows the darkness of that time through the various depicted scenes, such as the non-scientific investigation, violence investigation, and ignorance about many things. And these things, ignorance, cowardice, and wickedness, seem to still exist somewhere in the world.

  • Shield K.

    After finishing this movie, I was frustrated at how horribly everything was handled in theses series of murders and how many people were murdered. There were so many issues going on simultaneously that it really hindered the police department in catching the serial killer. Military dictatorship, underestimating/discrimination of officer Kwons ability as an officer, conflicting egos, inexperience, police brutality/unprofessionalism, lack of basic technology, information given to the public, inappropriately handling interaction those with special needs and so many more made this case impossible to solve. With this list going on in my head, I couldn’t enjoy the movie at all. What really was unfortunate was that this movie was based on a real-life serial killer who was never caught and probably never will be.

    What also made me not like this movie was the fact I have watched several Korean movies in which the police/detectives are portrayed as incompetent, inexperienced and/or hot-headed people in their fields who are more in the way than actually solving the crime. It’s a common theme in Korean and I have a hard time understanding why they are consistently portrayed this way (maybe this is how society views their police force). In America, we have tv show/movies where there may be a bad cop but there was always one who actually knew what they were doing and actually try to really solve the case.

  • Andrew Klapp

    Initially, I was also frustrated by the lack of a conclusive ending. It actually seemed to me like Detective Park was going to resume investigating the murders. After reading your explanation, however, it makes much more sense. The conclusion of the case is not the important part of the story, it is the way that the investigation changed the investigators.

    I had noticed as well that not only is misogyny frequently displayed in the film, but the case is also caused by and exacerbated by it. The murderer obviously thinks of women as less valuable than others, but so does everyone else, as their treatment of Miss (Detective?) Kwon actively hinders their efforts.

    Furthermore, I became somewhat convinced about halfway through the film that the murderer was actually Detective Cho. He is consistently the most adamant about beating confessions out of suspects, he is in an excellent position to divert suspicion from himself and tamper with evidence, and he knows the bumbling detectives will never figure it out.

  • Doug Jones

    Out of all the South Korean films we have seen currently, I really really enjoyed this one. This stuck with me from the beginning to the very end. It has a certain feel to it that keeps us the audience engaged with every character and every detail that occurs within the film. With every murder that takes place in the film, it gives of a strong sense of suspense and mystery that almost every film watcher likes to see in a film like this.

    What I enjoyed most about this film, it conveys the element of surprise. Meaning that it didn’t give out too much of who killed who. You thought it was this person but then it really wasn’t. I think that’s a significant element that most people like seeing in films like this. I would compare this film to other American made films such as, Zodiac and one of my personal favorites, Prisoners. It’s a type of film that keeps you on the edge of your seat and has plenty of tension that builds up that gives is the cinematic suspense. I really enjoyed this film and would highly recommend it.

  • Derian Avalos

    I thought that Memories of Murder was great because it works on so many levels. First, there’s the social satire, as you point, and then of course, there’s drama and comedy, which works a lot better than you’d think it would in a murder mystery/crime drama. I enjoyed Memories of Murder so much that I actually ended up watching two of Bong Joon-ho’s other films, The Host and Snowpiercer, and I noticed, especially in The Host, that Bong’s a master of mixing genres to create something truly unique. I can imagine that trying to mix comedy and serious crime drama would result in some jarring scenes, but the film just flows so well, like when an interrogation is heating up, and out of nowhere comes Detective Cho flying across the screen with one of his dropkicks.

    And just like The Host, a lot of the satire in Memories of Murder works really well because it’s not at the forefront and it doesn’t feel like it’s being pushed down your throat, but it’s just sort of there, bubbling in the background and interacting with the characters in the form of obstacles that stop them from catching the killer. And while we do see the military dictatorship as a hindrance to Detective Park and his screw, we also see that a lack of technology hurts the detectives as they try to solve the crime, like in the end, where they have to wait what seems like an eternity for that one DNA test (from America even), really painting a vivid picture throughout the film of the tribulations that a team of detectives like Park would face in a case as difficult as the one they were faced with.

    I’d like to watch Barking Dogs Never Bite next given how much I enjoyed Bong Joon-ho’s other films

  • Jessica Diaz

    I really enjoyed this film of ” Memories of Murder” by Bong Joon-ho. It was suspenseful and frustrating because you didnt know when or where the killer would pop out or didnt know if the guy in custody was responsible for the crime. I totally agree with you that Detective Park and and Detective Cho act with brutality and violence towards the suspects trying to get the confession out by making them fear them. In the other hand Detective Seo looks for evidence and deeper clues that might lead him to the suspect. I thought it was really interesting how Detective Park could define if someone was lying by looking at them straight in the eyes. While Detective Park and Detective Cho try to get the information out of their suspects with kicks, Detective Seo finds out that the killer attacks women only wearing red and in rainy nights. I think women in the movie are not given enough credit of their intelligence and just seen as an object thats just gets used and thrown away. Offficer Kwon who was the only female in the police department was just seen as the one who gets coffee for the team until Bong shows her instincts when she discovers that the murders occur when a certain song plays on the radio.
    I thought it was interesting how by the end of the film Detective Park and Detective Seo sort of end up switching roles in a way because Detective Seo became the violent one at seeing that the results didnt match and Detective Park was frustrated at the results but calm. It was frustrating to see that after all the suspects being brought in and all the work the Detectives did throughout the movie the criminal wasnt caught, especially since they seemed to have been soo close to ending the case.

  • Cristina Rosas

    Reading your post has clarified some great points in the film. I love that term you used describing Bong’s film, “a young man’s film.” The scene where Detective Seo is introduced he is welcomed unbeknownst by Detective Park with a beating that I found comical in how animated it looked. This probably introduced him as well to the way things are done around there and how suspects are treated. I love that second still you have up where it shows the reenactment gone wrong and how the father of the accused is trying to get ahold of his son and they’re running through puddles. I enjoyed this film technique. They literally are making use of their set. I find the coincidence how Cho is infected below his knee and will need to get amputated to survive interesting. I agree with your observation. I also noticed how Cho did not want to see a doctor earlier even though the immense swelling. I feel this symbolized he had no desire to change his violent ways more than his coworkers and was most for the military dictatorship . He was depicted as the most aggressive one who’d always be stomping on people and took pride in it. My favorite character is Officer Kwon. Mr. Bong makes his characters show indifference towards her although she really brought a very intricate piece of the puzzle to the table. The other women in the film are depicted as ninnys in my opinion. They actually go out against all warning during the crucial moments where they are at high risk. It’s like the police department don’t really try in stopping the women from provoking the killer but focus more on the killer himself. The film actually reminded me of the previous horror film you screened in how you thought you knew what was going on but then events would take another turn. This feeling would be felt by the detectives as time would go on and they haven’t caught the actual killer and they are left to their final suspect that they are dead set is the real killer. Even I was sure that the last man was the killer all because he looked familiar to that quick blurry brief scene where Bong actually presented to the viewers the killer almost animal-like on the prowl lunging toward the female victim. I really don’t think the killer is human. All the evidence proves to it. The camera angles standing as the vision from the the killers eyes would be from the trees darting back and forth choosing victims almost ravenously. Also the killer would-be shown popping up in the background while a woman was walking the lonely road. He would insert whatever they had in their possession at the time inside of them, be it peaches, or a pen. It’s disturbing. The area is so small and seems dull. The people must grow bored easily shown as the aaccused man who would go out and wear womens underwear because he found it exciting and got caught. In the film they mentioned a folklore I believe. I remember your speaking of how in asian cinema they would use folklore. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case in “Memories of Murder.” I enjoyed the end how to me it proved how all their leads were correct in how the killer would attak in the rain and all that because the killer encountered a girl at the old crime scene and didn’t attack her since it was a sunny day shown. If this was any old rapist he would have attacked that girl right there and then. Detective Park revisiting the scene shows to me he still has that spark to work in that field again even though it would take a toll on him as his wife noticed. As the girl was describing the mystery man to Park she said he was plain as the camera does a close up on his face. This shows that it could be anyone and he nor anyone would ever know. I enjoyed the film technique used.

  • Rocio Gonzalez

    This movie has been one of my favorite ones mainly because it has a combining style of a thriller, mixed with laughter, and violence. It caught my attention from beginning to end because the plot develops several themes along the story. I was also shocked to find out that it was based on a true story which sadly was a mystery without results. At the beginning the untrained detectives take pictures of the suspects and use violent methods to interrogate them. Detectives Parker and Cho try to get a confession from a developmentally delayed suspect who seems to know how a murder took place. The plot gets interesting when a skilled detective joins the efforts to investigate along with these detectives but using other techniques such as looking into details in the murders color of clothing. Officer Kwon discovers that the murders are taking place usually in rainy nights after a certain song is ordered on the radio . The suspense of the investigation take not only the detectives but also the audience on a intense search for the truth. Unfortunately, the DNA results were inconclusive therefore no one was charged and the truth might never come to light.

  • Dylan

    I really enjoyed this film and it was my first experience of a Korean film that wasn’t largely action-based (although I love movies like Snowpiercer and The Raid). I have been thinking a lot about reality becoming more dramatic than fiction so it really struck me when the suspect in the red underwear basically said as much during his interrogation “real events in town are stronger than the magazines” is the line. This line illustrates one of the reasons this movie is so popular, people’s fascination with the true crime story and the unsolved mysteries that are recent enough to still be relevant to the imagination. It brings to mind other true crime stories that have been popular in recent years in many different media such as the “Serial” podcast or the Netflix Documentary “Making of a Murderer” which actually was eerily similar in how the police department in that documentary aslo had no qualms about taking advantage of a young and mentally retarded man in order to get a conviction.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Good job tying that “Real events in town” line back to the debate about reality being more dramatic than fiction. Interestingly, Bong Joon-Ho, the director of MEMORIES OF MURDER, also directed SNOWPIERCER. Both films use genre as a framework inside of which he is able to offer political commentary, no? 9/10

  • Brianna Clark

    I really enjoyed the use of camera direction and angles in this movie. While I was watching it, I felt like I was in the scene with them because of the intimacy of some of the shots. The scenes of the women tied up on the ground were so close up it made me almost feel like I was laying next to her. While the detectives were inspecting the crime scenes, the camera was significantly unsteadier than other scenes like when they’re in the police station, this added authenticity to the film.
    I also liked how Inspector Park and Inspector Suh switched philosophical places in the end. Park starts off indifferent to the rules and procedures, while Suh is chained to them. Park plants evidence to try to convict a suspect as well as forces them into a confession. Inspector Suh bases his whole investigation on rules and paperwork. I thought the movie’s ending with them almost becoming one another was good closure especially since the murderer was never found.

  • Seni Membreno

    I personally thought this film was an amazing example of a very reflective and symbolic movie that did not need an ending to make it a extremely memorable and unique movie. I strongly believe this film was developed in such a way, as to show the frightening limits a human being can go. This shows the limits from both sides the spectrum from inspector Seo almost losing his mind at the end, along with my favorite scene from the movie. What I refer to is the scene where the murder was up on the tree seeing two potential victims to attack and to the audience surprise, he picks the little school girl to attack and murder. I believe there was a major symbolic meaning behind this to show how monstrous a human being can potentially be all while leaving a scar to remember the movie by in each viewers mind. I believe overall this movie was created to show harsh limitations the average person may look past as not possible as it continued to shock the audience throughout each scene as the story progressed and got darker. For this reason I find this film extremely unique and strongly sentimental but over all carries a genius concept and message behind it all.

  • Nishat C

    This is so far my very first foreign (sk) film that I have watched and I have to say has definitely opened up my interest in them. Most definitely one of my favorites now. The way this movie was made felt as if you were there in the presence of everything happening. It was very overwhelming with so much going on which kept your attention to keep wondering who was the murderer. Even though these were foreign actors their expressions and acting skills made it so much more interesting to watch and actually able to understand what was going on. You felt the tension, the parts that were also made to be funny. E.t.c the director did an amazing job having a little taste of everything in the film. On another side note I feel that this movie showed a political side to it kind of showing how in countries like these there is so much like these rapes and murders happening to young women and children and nothing can be done about it because either the government is corrupt or the police is. Lots of people are able to “get away” with such acts because the government isn’t stable or advanced enough to perform such ways to actually find a person as America would have the technology to find. I feel that many law enforcement officers e.t.c find a person to blame or torture as showed in the film just to get the case over with and put innocent people in jail. And of course without much evidence to even go on park and suh had nothing to go on with catching the real killer even though he was right in their hands. Which was such an intense part of the movie because you have some hope while watching it that either they could just catch the killer or just kill him towards the end. Such a great scene. The director did an amazing job pointing out many things in the film but putting it in a way that isn’t as direct. Definitely a great movie that kept my attention 110%.

  • Maria Reji

    Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder and the message of police brutality!!!

    Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder is the first Korean film I ever had seen. Personally, I think this film is great in respect to plot, character developments, camera movements, building suspense and climax. One of the problem addressed in the film is the police brutality in South Korea to innocent people during 1980s. This movie particularly gives two examples of innocent people who were arrested as suspects of the crime and were later released as thy were not guilty. Park No-Shik, the handicapped character, who was arrested by detective Park was subjected to a lot of cruel brutality from Detective Cho with his army boots. Detective Park even created a fake evidence with Park No-Shik’s shoes to prove the case. Park No-Shik was made to dig his own grave to confess the truth. Another example of police brutality in this film includes the interrogation of Jo Byeong-Sun. He was also brutally abused by Detective Cho and as hung upside down from the ceiling during the interrogation. He was forced to take the responsibility of the entire crime. These two examples show how brutal police were to the innocent people during that era. It is ironical in a way because even though, these detectives used all these brutal techniques to suspects, they were not able to find the actual person who did all of these murders.
    The scene that I really liked was the amputation of Detective Cho’s-the legs he used to kick innocent people had to be removed. This scene is a great irony! I also liked the climax because the story was kept the same as the reality. This film will be not powerful as it is now if the climax was changed. This film is also a masterpiece for cinematography and having a great cast.

  • michael speck

    Bong the director of Memories of Murder has a keen eye for shooting a film. Bong has the ability to make a scene go from 0-100 in a matter of seconds. My favorite scene in Memories or Murder is the chase with all three detectives (Park, Seo, Cho) and the suspect. That scene starts off very quite with Seo revisiting the crime scene. He then hears something, takes cover to find that Park and Cho are also revisiting the crime scene. Before Seo can confront the two detectives another person comes to the crime scene. At this point all three detectives have taken cover to see this who is revisiting the scene, its a man who begins to jack off where to corpse was found. Cho then steps on a branch making there presents known and like that the chase starts; it happens so quickly that i actually jump. That whole five minute scene is shot so well that if makes the viewers feel that Bong has shoot films for a lifetime. Bong also does a excellent job in showing how the case affects the personalities of Park and Seo. Park character starts of being kinda of a superstitious know it all that use a physically confrontational methods of interrogation. Seo’s character is a peaceful detective who uses reason to solve crimes. At the end of the movie Seo is trying to kill an innocent man over frustration with the case and who the voice of reason in this scene, yup its Park trying to stop Seo. If
    we made these two characters a venn diagram, it would of start of with the middle (similarities) being very small but as each scene passes by that middle would grow and grow. Until you get to the end of the movie where Seo and Park have almost trades places with each other. Last this i’d like to talk about Park and when uses his eye’s to see if someone this a criminal or not. I think its a metaphor for stereotype which is a common problem that all police departments deal with. The way Park “uses his eye’s” fits hand in hand with the definition of stereotyping.

  • Flavio Torres

    I thoroughly enjoyed Memories of Murder just as much as I had with Snowpiercer. Director Bong Joon-Ho is a brilliant man on how he really bring his works of art to life. The subtlety he brings about current issues blends in very well in both film. For example, Snowpiercer is about the divide amongst the classes of the wealthy, the people in the front cars, and the the poor, the people in the back of the train. Where as Memories of Murder portrayed the oppression of South Korea’s people post WWII as they are at war with the North. This gives me a very good insight of South Korea’s history as I am unversed in their history and culture.
    Furthermore, I found Song Kang-Ho’s performance in Memories of Murder just as captivating as his character, Namgoong Minsoo, in Snowpiercer. The sheer difference in his acting styles for both characters is astounding as he plays a mediocre and rash detective in one film and a smart crazy guy who designed the security of the train and is desperate for Kronor, a substance of unknown use till further on in the movie, for himself and his daughter.
    Now I am left wanting to see another film of Director Bong just because he is so damn good at his job.

  • Tazrin Choudhury

    “Memories of Murder” is a true mystery movie. The film did a phenomenal job at taking me along with them on the serial killer case. I love how we also got to experience korean culture from eating together, drinking, and singing karaoke which is a big part of the culture. The film also displayed a lot of patriarchy/ misogyny. Miss. Kwon was very intelligent and figured out the serial killer does killings when a certain song is played on the radio. She also got one of the victims to speak because she made her feel comfortable enough to talk about her experience. Miss. Kwon was a big help although she was just treated as a secretary. It was obvious she did not receive the same amount of respect as the men did. There were also no powerful woman in any of the scenes. The movie is about woman getting raped by a serial killer with strange killing methods and the males in the movie were the ones showing dominance to solve these crime. It was also very ironic that detective Cho had to get the bottom portion of his leg amputated because he was the one that stomped on many of the people who were accused of the crime.Towards the end of the film i understood the title “Memories of Murder” They showed what happened 15 years later and Park still had some of the characteristics he had during the case. When his son was accused of playing video games all night Park wanting him to look him in the eyes. Park use to do this to figure out if someone was guilty or not. He also passed past by one of the locations where the first murder was and stopped to check if anything was there. This clearly shows that a part of him is still not over being a detective and that will always be a part of him.

  • Alisa

    The film ‘Memories of Murder’ is an impeccably crafted political and social commentary on Korea in the turn of the twenty first century. When watching this film there is the plot of the serial killer and the mysterious hints that they leave behind, reminiscent of the moths ‘Silence of the Lambs.’ However unlike the latter film, ‘Memories of Murder’ does not resolve thus leaving the audience as questioning as Detective Park. Is the movie truly about catching a serial killer?

    Perhaps, the most common recurring theme in this film is how the police repeatedly plant evidence on the suspects. Towards the end, Detective Cho is removed from the interrogation room and humiliated by his leg injury. The suspects are so fearful of the police that they are ready to record a confession, knowing well that denying the murder is no use – they will be found guilty and will be executed regardless. The real murder is at the hands of the policemen who are representative of the fascist government. An outsider, Detective Seo, who has experience with the Western world/America is brought to help the detectives only to reverse roles and become the torturer of the last suspect.

    This can be interpreted as a powerful subliminal political message; the representative of American influence (Detective Seo) in the film turned out to be as brutal the Korean. In truth, regardless of government this can be found to be true: the documentation of American police brutality is not as common as that of fascist countries, however similar methods of planting evidence and brutality is strongly prevalent.

    This is dramatically portrayed by the concluding scenes in ‘Memories of A Murder’ as the suspect of the murder, after being violently threatened by Detective Seo chooses to limp into the dark train tunnel in handcuffs, rather than be freed by the detectives. The transformation between the two characters is powerfully portrayed in Detective Seo’s decision to destroy the lawful evidence indicating the suspect’s innocence and Detective Park preventing his colleague from detaining and beating up the suspect.

  • Liz

    Memories of Murder directed by Bong Joon-Ho, 2003, takes place in the 1980s in South Korea. The South Korean New Wave which started roughly in 1999 and is still present to this day is a post example of what is going on historically in South Korea now. However, because Memories of Murder is based in the 1980s, I found that since there was a lack of social media that it added to the detectives struggles to solve the murder mysteries at stake. The plot of the film centers around three detectives. The most well-known and one of South Korea’s most famous Hollywood actors is Song, Kang-Ho. He is known to play a guy with a bit of a dislikeable character personality but it grows on audiences because he has a dry wit about him. Song, Kang-Ho is the lead character of all three detectives and his name in the film is Inspector Park. However, there are two other main character detectives; Inspector Joe and Inspector Suh. Inspector Suh and Inspector Park immediately butt heads and it is a continuing trend throughout the film which was a really attractive dynamic to watch. For example, Inspector Suh is from South Korea and has a four-year college degree unlike, Park. Park is different, towards the start of the film when he questions a witness he has no problem being physical with him while Suh plays by the book. Suh is technical, in my opinion and Park is abstract. The third detective, Joe, is also in my opinion a blend of both Park and Suh’s personalities and approach to solving the murders of women who are killed. The theme is this film isn’t solving a murder crime as much as it is how the problem of unraveling and mystery of a murder can cause havoc on one’s soul. The detectives, all three, are equally disturbed by the end of the film and it shows in different ways. Inspector Joe, who was the most physically abusive to the suspects, loses his leg the one which he so easily kicked people with. The end result was that it was amputated due to someone stabbing a nail into it. Park is disturbed through a transformation. In the very last scene of the film he looks into the camera. It’s the only scene in the film where any character looks the camera directly in the eye. I loved it because filmmakers rarely use that approach. It had a profound effect on me because I felt as if his eyes were trying to say to the audience, “help me understand why this still will forever haunt me.”. Suh is affected too because he starts out playing by the book but towards the end of all the climatic scenes that this film takes you through he turns out the way Park was in the beginning. During the scene when he, the main suspect and Inspector Park are standing under the railway tunnel on the tracks in the rain, I literally thought Suh was going to blow his brains out with the gun. Suh sees that the documents of the DNA do not match his prime suspect and Park has to stop him from shooting the suspect. This is another example of how Bong Joon-Ho is very skilled at making the audience feel like isn’t a move, like it is reality. This film was based on true events and he did a fine job representing that. Finally, Miss Kwon, added a key element of sexism to this film because she is a female detective on the job who is very successful at bringing many insights to light but the men in this film belittle her and like you said in class, tell her to go fetch them coffee. She was able to find the song pattern on the radio, interviewed a woman who had been attacked brutally by the mystery murder and she found the address to the man who request the song all along. All of the detectives, including their higher up don’t credit or even seem to have the capacity to acknowledge her technic. I would watch this film again because I enjoyed it and because there is so much too process I feel as I want to being a movie fan.

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