DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: MEMORIES OF MURDER

Sunday 10 June 2007


Memories of Murder (2003) dir. Joon-ho Bong
Starring: Kang-ho Song, Sang-kyung Kim


“Memories of Murder” is Joon-ho Bong’s second film, after “Barking Dogs Never Bite”, and before 2006’s “The Host”. Joon-ho Bong, who so far, loves to play around in genre tackles a serial killer film with success. It’s a procedural film, influenced by “Seven” and “Silence of the Lambs”, with an added peculiar Korean twist to it. More on that later.

The film, based on real events, takes place in 1986 in the province of Gyunggi in South Korea. The film opens in a wheat field. Detective Park Doo-Man is investigating a double homicide. Two young girls found a kilometre apart have been brutally murdered, both bound and gagged with their own undergarments, and then strangled. This isn’t Seoul and so the techniques of the police are shoddy at best. Park and his partner Cho Young-koo find a footprint in the mud, but before he can take a photo a tractor drives through the crime scene destroying the evidence.

Cho and Park are fuck ups too. They are allowed to run free without ethical guidance and frequently use planted evidence and torture to catch their killers. A mentally challenged man is the first subject, who innocently followed one of the victims the night of her murder. Instead of a traditional interrogation Park takes one of his shoes and creates a new imprint in the mud near the scene, and Cho actually beats a confession out of the man. During this time, the Seoul police send over one of their crack investigators, Seo Tae-Yoon, to help out. He is aghast at the poor state of policing. Seo dismisses the mentally-challenged man’s confession and lets him go. Seo takes over the investigation and discovers the covering of tracks and evidence suggests a more sinister and cunning killer.

The procedural elements take over and the three men become obsessed with the case. Cho becomes a target by the media for police brutality and so everyone must work under 100% scrutiny of the public and the media. Several trails of evidence lead to more suspects, but all evidence is still completely circumstantial. They are still missing their smoking gun.


Seo, Cho and Park are led to the most promising subject, ironically with the help of the mentally-challenged man. The trio deduces that a specifically-requested pop song which the killer listens to on the radio is the spark which causes the killings. When the detectives hear the song on the radio, they cleverly trace the request letter to the home of their key suspect. I won’t say what happens at the end, but it’s a tense and suspenseful finale.

“Memories of Murder” has much in common with David Fincher’s “Zodiac”. The case comes to dominate the lives of the investigators, so much so that it drives Park to eventually quit his job over it. The timeline of the film moves beyond 1986 and finishes in 2003. But the film doesn’t wrap itself up neatly either. Like “Zodiac,” doubt over who the killer is remains.

Though “Memories” follows the path of the serial killer genre, Joon-ho also makes the film his own by incorporating moment of humour, which unfortunately, for me, took away from the intensity of the film. I don’t know if it’s just a Korean thing, but the investigators seem to have a penchant for drop kicking their suspects. On three occasions Cho and Park stun their foes by drop kicking them. I don’t get it. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but the film would have worked better without the comic 'keystone cops-type' slapstick.

If anyone tells you “Memories of Murder” is better than “Zodiac”, don’t believe the hyperbole. “Zodiac” still outshines “Memories” in terms of tense and suspense and showing the integration of the murders into their personal lives. “Memories” largely stays away from the domestic ramifications of the manhunt, and unnecessarily suffers from the amateurish slapstick antics. But maybe it’s just the cultural differences that prevent me from loving the film 100%. In any case, it’s a worthy entry into the genre and better than any of the James Patterson novels or movies. Enjoy.

Buy it here: Memories of Murder

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