Joon-ho Bong’s ‘Salinui chueok (Memories of Murder)’ (2003)

Memories of Murder is based on actual events of the 1980s when one of Korea’s first serial killers, who raped and murdered women, was never caught. The audience is aware from the beginning that the murder mystery part of the story will not have a satisfying resolution; however, Joon-ho Bong manages to deliver a tense two hours of storytelling.

The film’s assets:

  1. Direction and cinematography. This film was beautifully filmed and the beauty of the shots does not jeopardize or overshadow the content. Despite the pacing problems of the first 30-or-so minutes of the film, the direction is really excellent. The film employs an interesting mix of comedy, suspense and drama. With such serious subject matter, the comedy could have been a detraction but Bong makes it work.
  2. The characters. While the acting is good, it is not phenomenal, but the characters are very compelling. The character arcs are strong, but predictable; the greatest appeal is the mix of characters and their interaction.

The film’s offenses:

  1. Contrivance. So the Seoul detective guy went to his office and left a note on his desk that said, “Hey, I’m going to go beat up this suspect on the railroad tracks. If anything comes for me, you can find me there” so that the not-as-stupid detective could bring him the DNA results there? And come on! When the mentally handicapped boy was describing the crime I knew that he had witnessed the crime rather than orchestrated it because of the language that he used.
  2. Anvils. Yes, we get it: the main character is an incompetent idiot. Did we really need the sex scene in which he tells his partner, “I think it fell out”? (So not only is he incompetent, but he’s….never mind.) The script also telegraphs the Seoul detective’s turn to violence.

Despite its weaknesses Memories of Murder manages to deliver an entertaining two hours. The characters are strong and the story is compelling. Despite the slow start to the film, Bong keeps the viewer interested and watching.