Review by Camden Ferrell
Memories of Murder is the sophomore feature film from writer/director Bong Joon-Ho, recent 3-time Oscar winner for 2019’s Parasite. Upon its release in 2003, this film became a staple of South Korean cinema and the crime genre. Even though it may not transcend in the ways you would hope, this is an incredibly well-made film where Bong Joon-Ho begins to refine his craft.
Loosely based on the South Korean serial murders from 1986 to 1991, this film follows two detectives who struggle to find the killer. It’s a fascinating story that is shrouded in much mystery, and it makes for a riveting basis for the film. It uses to horror of the real-life cases and expands upon the arduous process of dealing with this case.
Bong’s script is very controlled but motivated. It’s a confidently written script with some great dialogue and character interactions. His dialogue is often witty and necessary, and this is a trait that can be traced back to this film. While it can sometimes fall into standard crime drama territory, it’s a well-written script regardless.
The acting is probably the film’s strongest aspect. Frequent collaborator with Bong, Song Kang-Ho leads this film as the fervent Detective Park. He plays the role with such conviction, and he even energizes the film’s more meandering moments. He has a fantastic screen presence that it is rivaled by few. The rest of the supporting cast is fairly decent as well, but Song overshadows all of these performances.
The film’s main flaws come from how often it can find itself imbibing in the tropes of the genre. It’s not predictable at all, but some of the beats feel similar, and others feel very boilerplate. Not to say it’s bad, but it’s not nearly as original and revolutionary as Bong’s other films. This along with the film’s 132-minute runtime can lead to this film feeling a bit bloated.
Luckily, the film overcomes this with some harrowing cinematography. The composition of the film is very strong and visually pleasing. It is equal parts bleak and beautiful in the way it captures these horrific events. This is also supplemented with a great score that is also eerie but very fitting for the film.
This film is quite disturbing at times, and it helps the movie feel motivated, and it allows us to be more invested in the events and characters. The film also highlights many flaws in the justice system and forensics at the time. It’s an interesting film that could have done more with its material, but it still shows the blossoming of an emerging director with a bright future.
Memories of Murder may not be the mind-blowing crime drama that it has been made out to be over time, but it’s still an interesting character study and exploration of horrific murders. It is a fantastic showcase for Song as a leading actor, and it is a great directorial effort from Bong. For those trying to finish his filmography or those interested in true crime, this film might be the way to go.
Memories of Murder will be digitally remastered and play in theaters nationwide on October 19 and October 20. This Fathom Events engagement will feature exclusive content and a post-screening conversation with Bong and Edgar Wright (Baby Driver).