Bong Joon Ho's Parasite was the big winner at this year's Oscars, reigniting interest in the director's previous work. A digitally remastered version of Memories of Murder, the 2003 crime drama considered by many to be an equal or even bigger masterpiece, returns to theaters for a special two-night event on October 19th and 20th. If you've never seen the film, this marks an excellent opportunity to finally catch up with it. Like Parasite, it's one of those stories that sucks you right in, then proceeds to surprise you on a regular basis.
The movie takes place in 1986, as two detectives attempt to solve a series of brutal rapes/murders. Park (Song Kang-ho) is laid-back and methodical, whereas his partner Cho (Kim Roi-ha) takes a more aggressive approach, especially when dealing with suspects. They know the culprit always attacks women wearing red, and only does so when it's raining. The question becomes how they can use those clues to figure out who his next target will be so that they can nab him. Help arrives in the form of Inspector Seo (Kim Sang-Kyung), a younger cop who has just been transferred in from Seoul. He has the by-the-book professionalism the other two lack.
Memories of Murder isn't a typical “search for a killer” tale. In many respects, the lawmen are their own worst enemies in cracking the case. The police department accidentally compromises crime scenes, and when backup is needed, the administration refuses to send it. Park and colleagues are left running an investigation that's often inadequate to do what needs done, knowing innocent lives are at risk. Such knowledge impacts the men in different ways, with Park seeming to be most affected.
Much of the drama stems from watching the cops try to capture the killer under very imperfect conditions. Every time they think they're getting in front of the psycho, something causes them to fall behind. All of it builds to a nerve-rattling third act in which the effort to arrest a suspect depends on getting the results of a DNA test coming all the way from America. If it doesn't arrive in time, another woman could wind up dead.
Bong Joon Ho sets Memories of Murder apart from other serial killer movies by giving it a sense of cynicism – one shared by Park. It's more Seven than The Silence of the Lambs, in that the finale isn't about whether the killer is caught so much as the psychological toll the case takes on one of the cops. The memories aren't just Park's; they'll be yours too, as the movie intentionally leaves you with questions and doubts. Good intentions, the director seems to be saying, aren't always enough to save the day. We know Park is going to be haunted by the crimes for a long time to come.
Atmospherically photographed and powerfully acted, Memories of Murder pointed to the kind of innovative, uncompromising films Bong Joon Ho would go on to make. It was only his second movie, but the fact that he had all the right stuff to become an important director was already evident.
Note: For theater listings and ticket information, visit the Fathom Events website.
out of four
Memories of Murder is unrated, but contains adult language and thematic content, and strong graphic violence. The running time is 2 hours and 12 minutes.