Two impractical detectives of the Gyunggi province of South Korea investigate a pair of rape and murder cases involving two beautiful and unrelated women found with their hands bound behind their backs, gagged with a rock tied into their mouth, and with their panties covering their heads. Known around the province for their torturous interrogation tactics, the detectives bully a mentally handicap young man and the local pervert into confessing to the heinous crimes, but when a Seoul investigator arrives into the village, drawn in by the curiosity and coincidence of the murders, a larger scale serial rapist and murderer, calculating his every move, is unearthed, connected by series of events leading the small police force to reevaluate their handling of the murders that have become more gruesome than the next with every victim.
Before his inevitable recognition from the 2019 Academy Awards for his socially skewed hierarchy thriller, “Parasite,” that historically won Best Picture, Directing, International Film Feature, and Original Screenplay categories, even before his breakout success amongst fans of the horror genre with the creature feature, “The Host,” and an introduction into the American film market with another social class commentary, the dystopian standoff that was “Snowpiercer,” starring the Captain America portrayer himself, Chris Evans, filmmaker Bong Joon-ho had an eye for crafting his vision on camera and a knack for nerve-shredding storytelling as a writer in the early 2000’s with his 2003 sophomore feature, a crime drama entitled “Memories of Murder.” Originally known as “Salinui chueok” and written by director, the film is an encryption of a murder mystery encoded from the real life serial crimes in the Hwaeseong province in the 1980’s, Bong Joon-ho’s film takes place in 1986, and renders an engrossing story structured like a modern day Jack the Ripper emerging out of the unpleasant anecdotes of Korea lore stirred with themes of consequences as a result of careless failures and the inadequacy of effort no matter the analyzed angle. CJ Entertainment, Muhan Investment, and Sidus serve as production companies of this somber sleuth mystery.
Despite their different methods of interrogations and investigation pursuits, the story hammers down on the three detectives’ across the board search for a methodical killer rather than a killer’s betokening perception of events as the detectives, individually flawed with ill repute and personally challenged, separately come unglued, make mistakes, and suffer the consequences of their public inanity, but when they click in harmony and rally on the same page, the truth almost hops into their laps rather than at a snail’s pace stemmed from internal competition for apprehension success. Song Kang-ho has played the constant, the unparalleled keystone, in Bong’s two decades of film credits, beginning his collaboration with the acclaimed director in “Memories of Murder” as the province’s ineffectual blowhard detective, Park Doo-man. With a deadpan stare, Song Kang-ho debones the Park Doo-man to his rudimentary base, a waggish con artist in an officer’s casual attire, and the actor defines Park’s arc so clearly, distinctly, and with ease that you can actually see Park Doo-man’s soul just become utterly crushed by not only the tough case but also when it’s clear that he must separate himself from his partner Cho Yong-koo (Kim Roe-ha) after a foolish bar fight of steadfast conviction and begin to accept his counterpart rival Seo Tae-yoon (Kim Sang-kyung) to no longer be the buffoon when bodies continues to pile up. “Memories of Murder” round out with Song Jae-ho, Byun Hee-Bong, Ko Seo-hie, Park No-shik, and Ryu Tae-ho.
In the battle to be top cop that nabs the worst criminal the province has ever seen, a disastrous paradox thwarts their oath to protect and serve the community as the two detectives, in their haste for swift justice, don’t see eye-to-eye on issues of evidence and actual detective work with a levelheaded outside investigator putting his foot forward delivering a working, if not more rational, model of a killer’s mind. The innate detective, Park Doo-man, relies heavily on the circumstantial from gossip, relayed by the province investigator’s soothing nurse who he’s also seeing romantically, to superstition, visiting expensive shamans and claiming to have supernatural sleuth abilities himself, in order to cheat corners in hoping the information will present itself like an elegantly wrapped gift with a bow on top. At the other end is the outsider, detective Seo Tae-yoon, from the metropolis area of Seoul and the big city detective, who sees more of these types of crime in his urban backyard, conducts a factual investigation based off research and relying on experience that gives him intuition into how the killer thinks. Clarity in the contrast concedes more so when the third detective, another province resident, Cho Yong-koo, refuses to change his ways of brutal violence and torture as he continues his flying kicks right into the chests of suspects whereas his partner, Park Doo-man, relaxes his greed for admiration when the number of deceased women becomes unnerving and public trust in law enforcement rapidly diminishes; the reality sets when his counterpart, Seo Tae-yoon, produces results closer to an arrest based on fact. Bong Joon-ho’s approach at the beginning would not be a conventional one that mingles rape and murder with the bumbling antics of a small town police force that’s outrageously zany at times. The zaniness comedy subsides and is replaced with an air-letting dismal outlook of vulnerability and powerlessness in making little-to-no headway into a case that keeps getting grislier and grislier with the killer not inserting objects into his female victim’s vagina. Trusting the system is even more disquieted so when the most latest and reliable crime solving techniques in the mid-1980s, from America none-the-less, proves to be astonishingly inconclusive, making the case seem like a no-win situation that then reverts back to the idea that sometimes even the most careful and meticulously handled cases, without the use of force, are not solvable.
The powerful knuckle-biter “Memories of Murder” rattles with anxious tension and is chartered gracefully through the unrivaled eye of Bong Joon-ho. Now making it’s grand return exclusively to theaters nationwide October 19th and 20th, “Memories of Murder” will be exhibited digitally remastered for U.S. audience for the first time since it’s initial release since 2003 courtesy of a partnership between Neon and Fathom Events. The limited theatrical running with include exclusive content and a post-screening conversation between Bong Joon-Ho and “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” director, Edgar Wright. Since I’m unable to compare the digitally remastered with the initial release, all I can say is that the film presentation appears steady, tight, and clean with Bong’s sepia tone to incept a memory fragment of the past and shot to entice an unfathomable crime drama captured as beautiful gaslit dissonance between background societal unrest, the case at hand, and the audiences’ unsuspecting role as the potential suspect. The screener provided is a digital screening link and might appear different in a theater sitting. The English subtitles were clearly visible with some minor errors in spelling. Again, this might vary in theaters. There were no bonus material on this screener, but, remember, that the limited run event on October 19th and 20th will have the exclusive bonus content and the Wright and Bong conversation. Unforgettably wrung with wraith-like anecdotal properties, “Memories of Murder” can be labeled as Bong Joon-Ho’s exemplary film, even better than his current work that won him an Oscar.