December 23, 2020 – A big city cop, Seo Tae-yoon (played by Kim Sang-kyung of “The Vanished”) arrives in a small Korean town in 1986 to investigate unusual serial killings in this Bong Joon Ho film that predates his award-winning 2019 film ‘Parasite’.
Seo Tae-yoon, from Seoul, is resented by local cops, Park Doo-man (played by Song Kang-Ho of “Parasite”) and Cho Yong-koo (Roe-ha Kim of “The Host”) who are used to solving crimes by torturing suspects until they confess. Seo Tae-yoon uses more scientific methods for solving crimes, studying public records, closely examining crime scenes, using observation, deduction, logic, etc.
Park Doo-man and Cho Yong-koo torture a handicapped suspect in the case, Baek Kwang-ho (No-shik Park of “The Host”) who finally confesses, but Seo Tae-yoon proves that because of his handicaps, he could not have committed the crime. Yet during his confessions, he seems to know details of the murders that he should not have known about.
The local cops are completely stumped by the series of rape-murders that all happen on rainy nights. The victims are beautiful women who are attacked while walking alone. The local cops clash with Seo Tae-yoon at first, but later, they start working together.
The killer leaves no clues behind, and there are no witnesses to the crimes, but another clue pops up when a local cop, Kwon Kwi-ok (Go Seo-hee) notices that the murders always happen on nights when a local radio station plays a certain obscure song. Kwon Kwi-ok goes to the station and discovers the name and address of a man, Park Hyeon-gyu, who requests that particular song be played on rainy nights.
By this time, even the restrained Seo Tae-yoon becomes so exasperated with the case that he loses his cool and beats the suspect, Park Hyeon-gyu, and even tries to kill him. He is certain that Park Hyeon-gyu is the killer, but some key evidence appears that seems to rule him out.
The ending of this whodunit is somewhat ambiguous. There is an epilogue of sorts in which a bit more evidence about the serial killer seems to be revealed by a child.
As a non-Korean observer of this film, the thing that impressed me most was the bizarre, outrageous behavior of the local cops investigating the murders. It is not that American cops have not ever tortured suspects to get a confession, but these cops are more like Keystone Cops in their antics.
This movie was released in 2003, yet it seems to be up for awards consideration in the United States this year for some reason. I think maybe it is getting a long-delayed release in the U.S. because of the critical success of another Korean film by the same director, Bong Joon Ho.
As far as comparing “Memories of Murder” to “Parasite” (2019) or “Snowpiercer” (2013) I'd say that “Memories of Murder” is certainly a more believable and realistic movie than those other two, but the characters in it are not as interesting as the ones in “Parasite.” As I've said before, I think “Mother” (2009) is the best of the six movies movies I've seen directed by Bong Joon Ho (the others I've seen were “Okja” and “The Host”).
Since I am not one of those who is overly impressed by ambiguity, I found this movie to be a somewhat pointless character study that is more concerned with the intellectual and moral shortcomings of the investigators than it is about crimes, victims or solutions. This film rates a C+.
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