Memories of Murder

Memories of Murder ★★★★

Memories of Murder is a film that's been on my radar for a long time thanks to my fondness for South Korean cinema and the praise it has received here on Letterboxd. I finally got around to watching it today after it's arrival via Netflix DVD and I'm happy to report it did not disappoint.

Based on the actual case of the first recorded serial killer in South Korea's history, Memories of Murder is a police procedural featuring botched police work by local detectives Park Doo-man (Kang-ho Song) and his partner Cho Yong-koo (Roe-ha Kim). Their methods involve torture and coercion and it's not until a young detective from Seoul Seo Tae Yoon arrives that they realize they got the wrong man twice. The murders/rape started in 1986 and continued for several years during a time of political upheaval in South Korea. The killer always seems to stay one step ahead of the police causing the detectives involved to become more and more desperate with each passing day. The case takes a devastating toll on their lives as they try to catch a rapist and murderer of women.

Surprisingly enough I wasn't sure at first if I was going to like this film. I mean I expected to going in, but I had issues with the first act or so. The bumbling idiot detectives were annoying me. I just kept thinking how can men this bad at actual detective work be detectives. It doesn't take a genius to know that a serial killer is not going to be the town idiot or retard. A killer maybe but not a serial killer. Not only do these two go after a mentally handicapped man, but they try to coerce a confession out of him with torture and leading questions. It brought back memories of the shotty police work in the case of the West Memphis 3 only this is way worse and once is not good enough. They do the same thing with another suspect later on. It wasn't until detective Seo Tae Yoon arrived and some real police work began that I started to really enjoy the film. I know the type of things the local detectives were doing actually happens, but it doesn't mean it won't piss me off every time I see it.

It's obvious the contrast between detective Park Doo-Man and Seo Tae Yoon was done for comedic effect. I guess that's what I didn't like about it. That part of the story was more annoying to me than funny. It actually reminded me of the HBO show True Detective only in that show I found the relationship between the two detectives funny. In this film I did not. It by no means ruins the film because that's really my only issue. Once things calm down and detective Doo-Man realizes he was wrong it's a really good police procedural. The case is interesting, as is the mysterious killer who at times had me thinking of the Zodiac killer. The two cases are actually quite similar in some key areas.

As much as detectives Park Do-Man and Cho Yong-koo annoyed me the actors portraying them Kang-ho Song and Roe-ha Kim are very good as is their counterpart Seo Tae-Yoon played by Sang-kyung Kim. Their performances along with the moody, rainy atmosphere make for a very compelling murder mystery. It's made me want to read up on the actual case which is a good thing.

I was just having a conversation earlier with today with Letterboxd members JC and CinemaClown about good non-revenge themed South Korean films. I think Memories of Murder fits nicely in that category, and along with many, many other films from that country it's a must see.

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