Memories of Murder

Memories of Murder ★★★★★

Atmosphere is this film's key ingredient, I think. There's a lot of other brilliant shit going on in this film, but it's the palpable dread contrasted with the beautiful Korean countryside that really hammers home the crippling fear that this film can and will instill in its characters, and by extension, its eager audience. Visually astounding cinematography and a lush, haunting score only complement this aspect. The case itself is a grim one, but it's not something we haven't seen before. Details are what matter here. Rain. A sad song on the radio. Women in red. It's these startling and unsettling characteristics of each crime that heighten the tension. Initially, finely tuned procedural elements propel the story along, but at some point it becomes the characters themselves. The three detectives embroiled in the hunt for this sadistic killer are all presented to us as very one-note, almost caricatures of actual people. It isn't before long however that the layers are peeled back and we're exposed to their own internal issues and flaws. As great as Sang Kyung-kim is in this as a dedicated and cerebral detective, it really is Song Kang-ho that steals the entire film. His rough, bufoonish behavior in the opening stages of the film almost make him unlikable, but his transformation is something gorgeous to behold. As the scales become tipped during the film's incredible climax, we really do see in a rare moment of true clarity just how far these men have come in their pursuit of justice. It's quiet denouement is even more disturbing, as we are treated to a final scene that is horrifying in its implications and also a grand statement of the film itself. MEMORIES OF MURDER is a masterpiece, one that channels atmosphere and character like no other and reigns supreme as the essential detective story of this century so far. Bong Joon-ho is a legend.

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