Memories of Murder

Memories of Murder ★★★★★

The film begins with the discovery of the first victim. The first of the three detectives that are on the case arrive at the scene where a group of children is playing nearby. They interfere with the investigation and destroy much needed technical evidence.

This prologue has two striking qualities that will continue to appear throughout the film. First of all, there is detective Park Doo-Man (played by the excellent Song Kang-ho) who is almost completely alone. There's no uniformed officers, no photographers, no forensic experts, and even more unique, this appears to be quite ordinary. He don't comment on why so few police officers is helping with the case (this is an important comment that the film is making, ridiculous investigation procedures), Doo-man only accepts it. It is simply ridiculous, surreal and unusual. The second quality of this unique scene is the sharp contrasts. The body of a young woman is lying dead in the grass. She's tied up with her own underwear, and she's been raped, killed and then being left to rot. A child has discovered the body. All this is an alarming setting for most of us, but what does director Bong Joon-ho do with this particluar scene? Does he add a haunting and threatening score? Does he shows the typical scene where the kids are too young to understand the seriousness of what has happened? No, instead he lighten the scene up with comedy as a young boy is mimicking everything Doo-Man says. An unusually innovative trick that totally breaks with the genres form. In my opinion this is a brilliant prologue that sets an unusual and unique mood for the rest of the film.

One of the things I enjoyed the most with Memories of Murder is how the two main detectives have their various interrogation techniques and ethic principles. Doo-man and his assistant Yong-koo is used to beating a confession out of their suspects. They just figure they have the right guy and torture is then preferable. Tae-yoon however are the only one concerned with logic, and states that "documents never lie." Their old, stupid and unethical methods are put in great contrast to Tae-yoon who strongly believe in gathering proper evidence. He's no old school detective and not everyone likes his modern approach to solving the case. But it is when the investigation continues things start to gets interesting. Doo-man and Tae-yoon slowly but surely go through a change of principles. Doo-man want to use evidence rather than force confessions, while Tae-yoon is becoming increasingly frustrated by their lack of progress and decides to take the law into his own hands. The two main characters slowly, gently and subtly swap ethics during the movie and this is the unique plot of the brilliant Memories of Murder.

If I were to compare Memories of Murder with another film the obvious choice would be David Fincher's serial killer film "Zodiac". The reasons for this comparison is very obvious to anyone who has seen both films. Firstly, they are both based on a true story, and they have deep focus on the details of the investigation, rather than the characters private lives. Last but not least is both film's lack of speculation. It is up to us to speculate on who the killer is. Just as the detectives in both films the audience is presented with a possible suspect, to let the audience wonder if they think the evidence is good enough. You begin to doubt one's own instincts, begin to ask questions about the often conflicting evidence.

But it is through humor that Memories of Murder exceeds Zodiac. It hardly seems possible that such a gloomy topic could create so much effective humor. Not sharp one-liners, or cynical sarcasm that is heavily present in the detective genre in general, but through the slap stick, farcical and ironic humor. A good example is Doo-man and his assistant Yong-koo's method to beat up their suspects, namely to jump kick their victims in the chest. Repetition of this technique is hilarious simply because it looks totally ridiculous. Otherwise, Doo-Man often so uncool that it can't be considered anything but comical. He sings karaoke (poorly), his penis fall out when having sex and he is completely unable to keep track of their crime scenes. There is no glamour here, no detectives in suits with sunglasses, no shoot outs and crazy chase scenes. Just criminally under qualified detectives doing a lousy job.

Memories of Murder is simply a groundbreaking film in its genre, and a shining example of the Korean new wave.

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