Memories of Murder is a serial killer detective story from Korea based on an actual case. This is a well directed drama with elements of horror and black comedy, absorbing and unpredictable this is refreshing stuff for a tired genre.
The film is set in Korea in 1986 as a series of rapes and murders plagues a small town in the country. Two rural cops are assigned to the case but their tactics leave something to be desired as they struggle to catch someone by any means necessary, they don´t seem to care if it is actually the right someone. Detective Park Doo-Man and his psychopathic sidekick soon work a confession out of a local simpleton but their flimsy case falls apart rather quickly in the glare of the public eye.
Seo Tae-Yoon arrives from Seoul to help the investigation and is a horrified witness to Park´s bizarre idea of detective work. He convinces the Chief that they should be looking elsewhere for the murderer and soon proves himself to be a talented investigator by uncovering yet another victim. As the men work through the case they begin to get emotionally attached and relations get extremely tense when they are unable to prove the identity of the killer.
The film was directed by Bong Joon-Ho with tremendous style. The pacing is good, the imagery is haunting and the mix of horror and black comedy works very well. The Korean countryside is captured in all its splendour. The plot is twisty and somewhat confusing but it is well scripted and thoughtful. This works its way into your imagination gradually and there is a real exploration of the emotional impact this kind of case has on the people involved. This sympathetic view of the police is tempered by the obvious brutally they employ and the lack of proper resources or procedures available to them.
The barbarity of the attacks and the brutality of the police tactics are shocking but Bong cleverly injects elements of humour to lighten the mood and despite the ineptitude of Detective Park he is a charismatic and likeable character. This prevents the film from sinking too deeply into grief at the loss of these innocent women and yet the finale remains heartbreaking.
The acting performances are excellent and the characters have some real depth to them. The two main investigators Seo and Park are very different men, they each have their own unique style of investigation and their rivalry is intense. Seo was played by Sang-kyung Kim and Park by Kang-ho Song. Park´s dim-witted violent partner was played by Kim Nae-Ha.
This is bleak stuff and ultimately fatalistic as events are limited to what actually happened with the killings in Korea from 1986 into the nineties. Memories of Murder is intelligent and handles the subject matter well without leaning too heavily in any particular direction. This is an excellent, skillfully made film which leaves a real impression.