Asif Khan’s review published on Letterboxd:
Those who have seen Memories of Murder and those who were as engaged in its mystery as they were frustrated by the lack of any real direction, would know how the very last shot of this film just freezes your blood and sends shivers down your spine. I realized that very moment how this film has worked so distinctively in a way that it slowly captured my attention, held my concentration, engaged me in its puzzle and left me devastated. My eyes got all watery and in those few seconds, it seemed like I could now feel the very emotions of a character on screen. Just that look, it packs so much strength. So Memories of Murder is a 2003 South Korean crime drama directed by Bong Joon-ho. 2003 was a great year for South Korean films I must say. This film is based on the true story of one of the country's first known serial murders. They took place in the 80's and the film itself features most of the very same details. It stars Song Kang-ho as Detective Park Doo-man who is investigating alongside Detective Seo Tae-yoon played by Kim Sang-kyung. The later is a detective sent from Seoul to assist later on. A young woman is found raped and murdered in a ditch that is near a field. Soon, more such murders happen in same ways. The detectives there are clumsy and they lack experience with such serious cases. Obviously overwhelmed by the scope and urgency of this case, the way they deal with its various aspects are almost funny. The methods they use to collect evidence or the way they deal with the suspects, immature and ridiculous. The detective duo of Park Doo-man and Cho Yong-koo continue the charade until another detective is sent and obviously, the differences results in clashes and hostility. He is somebody who actually finds some common threads and starts piecing things together as the mystery seems, with every other step, just about to get solved. But it doesn't, frustration and anger grows. Even the people there get a grasp on their methods that suspects are tortured anyway, innocent or otherwise.
There are many things I loved about this film and I consider it to be among the very best South Korean films ever. Having recently seen another feature from the country, "Peppermint Candy", I honestly think that the filmmakers of this country has the ability to paint a really good picture of their country's past. The various changes, economical or political, upheavals or dictatorships. How these things have affected common man or how they have impacted so many different aspects of life in the country. That theme isn't very obvious here. The very point of Lee Chang-dong's film I mentioned was to show how the key events of Korea impacted the life of its protagonist. Here, we see how in such turmoil and paranoia, government fails to perhaps concentrate on things other than its very own missteps. Very small and subtle moments that give an idea to us. How a piece of evidence right in front of them is something that is unimaginable. How with so much at play and so little in the way of stopping it can turn even the most sanest and cool-minded detectives into furious mad cops. This film has a very subjective eye. We are made to feel the frustration of the cops, we are not manipulated but just pushed to experience the disappointments and the anguish. Memories of Murder feels so complete as a film and as a detective drama. We see how they live, where they live and how are things around them. We are given glimpses of the murders, mostly the afterward moments or when the killer is cleaning up after him but we see it happening right in front of us. There is that mystery, how this film keeps you on the toes and makes you guessing throughout. It is so cleverly put together that it doesn't look like just some hasty and uneven gimmick and neither a very clean and typically put together fare. If you have seen "The Host" as well then you will know how Bong Joon-ho can so easily switch between humor and tragedy between thrill and horror. The opening scene is great for the setup and the ending is hauntingly powerful in its way of looking back. Highly engaging and taut thriller with good performances, good cinematography and score and a filmmaker who with his second film, made something of a rarity. A genre film that turns its genre upsides down and shows how stories can be told in so many ways. You just need the craft, a vision and a team that you can trust. This tense dramatic thriller will haunt me for days I am quite sure. Memories of the past... memories of what could have been... memories of murder...