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Memories of Murder – Movie Review

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Memories of Murder – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Elevation Pictures

Bong Joon-ho is a filmmaker who seems intent on playing with genre, as also proven by his monster movie The Host and the dystopian science-fiction film Snowpiercer. With its take on film noir and the detective film, Memories of Murder is another example of Bong’s fascination with giving audiences a new perspective on a familiar genre. Inspired by a series of real-life murders that took place in South Korea, the movie is able to show the different strategies undertaken by the detectives. The film understands why unsolved mysteries remain a fascination with people and we see the toll of this obsession on those who attempt to find the culprit.

What Memories of Murder does well, like any good detective film, is have us learn the clues along with the detectives. Bong and his co-writer Shim Sung-bo include a good amount of twists and little by little, the film provides new clues that might provide an answer. Most importantly, the characters are easily identifiable. We have the familiar archetypes of the good cop, the bad cop, the chief and the young detective from out of town, but the filmmakers do flesh them out beyond their expected roles. Their methods aren’t merely different, because they fit into the right boxes. They have their own experiences and home lives and obsessions that consume them.

Sang Kang-ho portrays the more responsible detective, although even he has his low moments and less than admirable actions. Kim Roi-ha’s short tempered detective prone to violence is portrayed as more than just an angry brute and we see how his determination to solve the case worsens his already unhinged persona. These conflicting personalities allow for some dynamic scenes, both at the police station and when they venture out to the crime scenes. One of the most reviting scenes is when the detectives chase a suspect into a construction zone and they really have to put their skills to the test to find him in the crowd.

Bong doesn’t shy away from showing the brutalities of these murders and mounts a few tense scenes whenever we see another potential victim walk through the rain at night. He also makes sure to show how the detectives can make the wrong actions, suspecting the incorrect people. Their treatment towards a developmentally disabled suspect is one such example of how the police can think of themselves as noble, but have their own lapses in judgment. Many viewers will probably draw comparison to David Fincher’s Seven, which similarly shows how the police can view themselves as superior to others, ignoring their own flaws.

After watching Parasite, it’s fascinating going back to one of Bong Joon-ho’s earlier films. Viewing Memories of Murder proves he is a filmmaker who is continually reinventing himself, even as he frequently portrays the darker side of humanity in his movies. He has a clear understanding of the detective film and how to use the tropes to his advantage in mounting this story. It’s fascinating watching the pieces fall into place and how even when the mystery goes two steps forward, it can fall five steps back. For those eager to see more of Bong Joon-ho’s work, it’s good to see Memories of Murder make it to screens again.

Stefan Ellison

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