Memories of Murder is a 2003 Korean crime drama directed by Bong Joon-Ho, written by Bong Joon-Ho and Shim Sung-Bo and stars Song Kang-ho, Kim Sang-Kyung, Kim Roi-ha, Park Hae-il and Byun Hee-bong. The film follows an investigation conducted by the police force of a small town which is ravaged by a killer of women.
I don’t know how movie racist I am to say this but I started watching this film with the preconceived notion that it would be a super violent Korean crime film with gritty action and gore like many others I’d watched before. But what was presented on screen was something I did not see coming. I did not expect a superbly well-written character drama which did not need blood to ratchet up the tension or violence to keep me engaged.
I once read that the creator of Dragon Ball Z cared about character and humor more than the loud screaming action because he realized that without the former, no viewer would care about the latter. I could not help but feel that a similar template of storytelling was used here as well. The film eases into itself with assured direction and cinematography while introducing its characters. The ease with which the film moves its characters around from hard-nosed cops to comic relief and vice versa is a joy to watch. Some of the secondary characters might be a bit one-note but the chemistry the primary duo share makes for enthralling drama. A buddy cop movie where the buddying up does not come until the third act, refreshing.
The film has a lot to say about the human state. Especially that one feeling we are all told is very essential to success, Confidence. Confidence in yourself, your skills, your team, your morals, your values etc. We are always told to stick to our guns and believe in ourselves because no obstacle is bigger than the obstacles we create for ourselves. This story puts that theory to the test. What is a person’s breaking point? How long does the rubber band stretch before snapping? Is our state of confidence a product of who we are or the surroundings we put ourselves in or the number of right choices we make or have we not been fully tested by a person or situations larger than our capabilities? I was left asking myself these questions 5 minutes from the end of the film as a specific scene acted as a culmination of all the themes the film was going for. I found myself looking at the secondary theme of fate/choice. I may not forget that one shot for a very long time. We know that we make our choices and lead our lives but we might be led to our options by the choices unrelenting/unknown people make whose actions we do not control, no matter how badly we want to. We are bound by a web of decisions and outcomes that are in our control only at the lowest rung of the ladder.
The film sneaks up on you the way the killer in it sneaks up on his victims. It’s uncharacteristically quiet and precisely methodical. The film slows down at times and has a few noticeable errors in logic but rest assured that when it has a moment of tension, it strikes quickly and with a ferocity which may leave one clutching their seat (as lame as that may sound when you read it). I’d advise taking a stab at this movie if you are a fan of Seven, it goes through some of the same lines and beats with a story that is uniquely Korean but universally relatable.
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