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Sunday, 20 April 2008

Memories of Murder (2003)

A South Korean serial killer thriller, this one's apparently based on a true story. If it is, I'm a little scared about the state of law enforcement in South Korea. In 1986 a couple of country cops, Detectives Park and Cho, are investigating a couple of rape/murders and prove to be rather inept, in a way that is hardly comedic. They are unable to contain the scene of a crime, they plant evidence, they don't even know all the details of the crime. they even arrest a retarded burn victim with webbed fingers based on rumour heard third hand and force him into a confession. The icing on the cake is when Detective Park arrests a 'rapist' who turns out to be a visiting detective from Seoul, Inspector Suh, merely asking directions.

Thankfully this third detective has a little bit more of a clue about how to do the job, and once the inspector in charge is dismissed and replaced by a new one, he gets the chance to make his case. He's done his homework and not only does he see similarities that the others can't, that the victims were all beautiful girls murdered on rainy nights while wearing red. He also correctly works out from the missing persons file that there's been a third victim that they merely hadn't found yet and nails the area that she was dumped in too.

Detective Park is Song Kang-ho who was so good in JSA: Joint Security Area. He's awesome here too with plenty of opportunity to flesh out his character. While Inspector Suh is investigating instances of a particular song that was requested on a radio show only on the nights of the murders, Park is convinced that the murderer doesn't leave hair behind at the scene because he's shaved, so starts frequenting saunas to see if he can find him. He even visits a fortune teller at the suggestion of his girlfriend. There are plenty of opportunities for him to look like a complete idiot, but he manages to keep perspective on the role and avoid turning the character into a caricature. I'm looking forward to seeing him again in the Chan-wook Park film Lady Vengeance, once I can find a copy of Oldboy, the middle third of the trilogy.

I don't know the other cast members. Park's sidekick, Detective Cho, is played by Kim Roe-ha, who I don't recognise from his small part in H and because he appeared only in the one third of the Whispering Corridors trilogy that I haven't seen yet. He's waiting again on my DVR too though, in Save the Green Planet! Kim Sang-kyung, who plays Inspector Suh, has less of a filmography so this is the first time I've seen him. Probably the most memorable part goes to No-shik Park though, in his debut role, as the retarded Kwang-ho. He's made only three films since, though one is a reunion with Song Kang-ho and director Bong Joon-ho in the Korean monster movie The Host.

This is a powerfully honest film, full of nuance and subtle irony, though it doesn't flinch from showing what it needs to show. It also tells a lot of stories, more than just the central focus of the main plot, which at the end of the day isn't important. It tells about what drives a cop to be a cop, what is acceptable and unacceptable in the pursuit of justice, and how people are changed during the course of an investigation. Park becomes a better person for what happens, Suh a worse one.

The long running time (it's 130 minutes long) provides a good opportunity for Bong Joon-ho to make his point, which it seems from reading up on the film afterwards is a political one. The lead cops are parallels to a couple of presidents of Korea and the film's statement seems to be to do with how the political situation of the time affected the rest of the country. In a country in turmoil and with corrupt authorities, a serial killer could happily go about his business without being caught.

Not having much knowledge of Korean politics and culture at all, I don't know how clear this was or how well it was done. The final scene has a few potential readings and I'm not sure which (if only one) was intended. Maybe it's a 'we have met the enemy and the enemy is us' concept or maybe it was a look into the audience at the theatrical release to say that the kller could be the ordinary person sitting next to you. Yet another impressive Korean movie. I seem to be seeing a lot of these lately.

1 comment:

1minutefilmreview said...

Very nice reviews! Great!