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    Memories of Murder

    Murder most fouled up

    "Memories of Murder" is a constantly deceptive detective story in which bad cops who think they're doing good work look for a serial killer in all the wrong places.


    Someone is killing the attractive young women of rural Korea. Luckily, the local police have put their worst men on the case.

    Directed by: Bong Joon-ho.
    Written by: Bong Joon-ho, Kim Kwang-rim, Shim Sung Bo.
    Cast: Song Kang-ho, Kim Sang-kyung, Kim Roe-ha, Song Jae-ho, Byeon Hie-bong, Ko Seo-hie, Park No-shik, Park Hae-il, Choi Jong-ryol, Jeon Mi-seon, Kim Ha-kyeong.
    Cinematography: Kim Hyeong-gyu.
    Edited by: Kim Seon Min.
    In Korean with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    ImaginAsian 239 East 59th St. Fri., Aug. 13, 2004, 9:10 p.m. Mon., Aug. 16, 2004, 9:30 p.m. Wed., Aug. 18, 2:45 p.m.

    New York Korean Film Festival 2004
  • H
  • Memories of Murder
  • Official site
  • "Memories of Murder" stands apart from any other detective movie. Detective Park and Inspector Jo are no gritty "Dirty Harry" cops, but neither are they kooky Keystone Kops. You know what they are? They're Columbo — if Columbo were really the schlemiel he always pretends to be. Their boss doesn't know how bad they are; they don't know how bad they are; and the movie doesn't even know how bad they are — there's rarely a moment when any of their missteps are played for laughs. They're just doing their job, and doing it with a colossal lack of ability.

    In a film that starts out feeling like a standard high-intensity thriller, we quickly sense that something is a little haywire. A body has been found in a farm drainage ditch. Arriving on the scene, the burly Detective Park (Song Kang-ho of the excellent "JSA" and "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance") quickly takes charge — but it's like taking charge of a lightning storm. First laughing kids run all over the crime scene playing with the evidence, and then while Park is trying to shoo them off one part of the field, a farmer drives his tractor over the killer's footprints on an adjacent dirt road. The investigation is off to a poor start.

    Memories of Murder  
    But that doesn't dishearten detectives of these gentlemen's caliber. Before long they're up to their eyeballs in suspects, which is the way Park likes it. Believing he can see guilt in a wrongdoer's eyes, he rounds up the usual suspects and takes their pictures for his scrapbook, which he'll be able to stare into until he's spotted the killer. "People say I have shaman's eyes," he boasts.

    While he pursues the intuitive track, Inspector Jo opts for a more traditional technique — namely, kicking the bejeezus out of people until they confess. He solves the crime several times over just by using his feet. Unfortunately, with the arrival of big-city detective (aka "real" detective) Suh from Seoul, their theories are demolished as quickly as they're concocted, and there's the danger that someone will do some actual police work on this case.

    Just as these characters imagine that they're serious police detectives while they bumble through this case, the movie maintains the feeling of a hardboiled crime drama, despite the screwball comedy in its soul. You could call it an outrageous black satire, if you want, but the film almost never winks at you. It might be better to say that dark and light are allowed to play in the characters' hearts just as they do in the pictures on the screen. The story is one where bad information, bad theories and bad work are so thoroughly mixed together with the good that nobody can tell them apart anymore. And in a strange way, it carries a sense of hyperreality. This must happen in plenty of real-life investigations — the bogus clues outnumber the real ones, connections turn out to be coincidences, the obviously guilty turn out to be innocent and maybe vice versa. Things just go wrong. "Memories of Murder" is a masterpiece of shifting certainties, unreliable characters and deadly dark humor.

    AUGUST 18, 2004

    Reader comments on Memories of Murder:

  • Murder memories   from The MurderER, Jan 17, 2005
  • Memories of Murder confusion?   from Chan, Mar 5, 2005

  • Post a comment on "Memories of Murder"