Memories of Murder Movie Review
Written by Shane D. Keene
Released by NEON
Directed by Bong Joon Ho
Written by Bong Joon Ho, Kwang-rim Kim
2003, 132 minutes, Rated NR
Released on October 19th, 2020
Sang-kyung Kim as Detective Seo Tae-yoon
Kang-ho Song as Detective Park Doo-man
Roe-ha Kim as Detective Cho Yong-koo
Jae-ho Song as Detective Shin Dong-chul
There are multiple reasons for why I’m almost always more impressed by foreign films, and especially Korean horror, than I am that of their American counterparts. They tend to take traditional ideas in completely new directions, and you still experience unexpected surprises; there is a heavy emphasis on character and setting, just like a good novel does; and most importantly, they trust their own abilities and story ideas. The stories also tend to be infused with threads of humor, often to good effect. In Memories of Murder, writer/director Bong Joon Ho might have taken the humor aspect a little too far.
In this director’s history, he’s been hot and cold, with films like Snowpiercer being colder than their settings, while Parasite and The Host are both raging hot. This one? It falls somewhere smack dab in the middle, leaning toward hot. I’m more inclined to a higher rating because of all the good it has going for it. Memories of Murder is, as the title suggests, a crime drama about a serial killer who leaves his victims’ bodies in remote locations through the countryside. The criminal elements of the film are on fire. Part of what makes me say that is the setting, lighting, and atmosphere. It’s all dark, somber, and creep-inducing, even in the quieter parts. Bong Joon Ho is never less than superb when it comes to both making the set an integral piece of the puzzle and making his characters seem to belong there. He’s a master storyteller and it shows. Everything that happens, for the most part, happens for a good reason, one that drives the tale and keeps you engaged. Add to that an incredibly engaging, perfectly portrayed performance of Sang-kyung Kim as Detective Seo Tae-yun, and it makes the whole shebang more than worth the price of admission.
Those are the things that elevate it from a three to a four-star screening for me. Why not five? In a word: comedy. In two words: bad comedy. Like a lot of South Korean crime and horror cinema, it’s infused with comedy throughout. The other three detectives in the story, played by Kang-ho Song, Roe-ha Kim, and Jae-ho Song, are corrupt cops who also just happen to be total imbeciles, unable to solve their way out of a paper bag. The three are important pieces of the crime element, and the key focuses of the comedic. But the humor fails to entertain or really touch the funny bone. Really, what it does is pokes its head up in front of the screen and blocks the view periodically.
So, let me recommend two things wholeheartedly to you. First, do watch this movie if you’re a fan of foreign film. Originally airing in 2003, It reveals a spark of the genius Bong Joon Ho brings to his later works, and it’s a deeply satisfying mystery. Second, don’t let the comedy put you off early on. When Sang-kyung Kim comes into play, this thing proves itself to be solid gold and worth every second of your time.
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