Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Memories of Murder

Based on the play by Kim Kwang-rim, Memories of Murder is the story of two detectives who are trying to uncover the mystery of a series of real-life murders that occurred from 1986 to 1991 in South Korea. Directed by Bong Joon-ho and screenplay by Joon-ho and Shim Sung-bo, the film is a mystery that revolves around the real-life killings that gripped a nation as two men try to understand why these people are killed and who did. Starring Song Kang-ho, Kim Sang-kyung, Kim Roi-ha, Park Hae-il, and Byun Hee-bong. Memories of Murder is a gripping yet evocative film from Bong Joon-ho.

Based on the real-life murders that occurred in South Korea from 1986 to 1991 that gripped a nation into panic. The film revolves two very different detectives who work with each other to solve the case of these grisly murders that often occur on a rainy night where a young woman is wearing red as she is then seen dead and tied up. During the course of the investigation where false leads and incompetence lead to uncertainty, questions begin to arise about the motives as well as odd clues which then leads to a few breaks but also questionable tactics from these two very different detectives. It’s a film that isn’t just about an investigation but also two very different men who come from different backgrounds as they have to work together to do something right.

The film’s screenplay begins with this discovery in the middle of a very rural small town in South Korea as its local detective Park (Song Kang-ho) is trying to lead the investigation as his inability to really get anything going forces his leaders to bring in the more experienced Inspector Seo (Kim Sang-kyung) from Seoul to aid him and Park’s partner Cho (Kim Roi-ha). Though there’s tension between the more reasonable Seo and the more aggressive Park, the two do bond once it becomes clear that the crime is far more complex. It’s a script that is more about two men who come together in this investigation as both of them would use unconventional methods to try and get answers. Seo is a man who relies on documents, facts, and actual clues while Park is more about instinct as he and Cho are notorious for beating up suspects to get answers. Even as they target oddballs such as a mentally-challenged man (Park No-shik) which proves to be troubling as the media gets wind of these tactics.

Once the killings become more gruesome as it leads to various questions involving a major suspect (Park Hae-il) based on descriptions by a few witnesses. It plays into not just the film’s third act but also some major changes into the two detectives as they’re forced to deal with the impact of not just these killings but also in how some of their own methods can turn against them. Something that Seo would struggle with while Park would have a struggle of his own that becomes more existential as well as questions into what could’ve been.

Bong Joon-ho’s direction is truly mesmerizing for the way he opens the film in a very unconventional way. It starts off very innocently as it is shot in these plain fields in rural South Korea that looks like a very different and calm world until a group of kids run towards a police car where Park looks inside this drain where a body is inside. It sets the tone for what is to come as it also showcases Park as this very odd individual who is more driven by instinct rather than skills. Some of the direction involve some very dark yet comical moments involving Park and Cho who would often do things to get answers from suspects. Much of it plays into Park and Cho trying to be the badass cops that the media will love but their antics doesn’t produce results. Some of the compositions are straightforward yet have an ethereal quality in terms of the close-ups of the plain fields as well as some amazing wide shots with the use of crane cameras.

By setting it in this rural small town, Joon-ho creates something that is intimate not just in its police station but also in the small town while using some wide shots to create something that is also big. The moments of the killings are quite suspenseful where Joon-ho knows how to play with its rhythms and the impact of these scenes. Even as the film gets darker to the point that it becomes more about Park and Seo dealing with the consequences of these murders and their attempts to find answers. The film would then have this epilogue involving one of the men as it plays into many aspects about the real killings as well as the fact that some things don’t go away. Overall, Joon-ho creates a very captivating yet harrowing film about detectives trying to find a serial killer.

Cinematographer Kim Hyung-hu does brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography from the naturalistic yet beautiful look of the plain fields as well as some of the lighting for the scenes at night including the interrogation room and the pathway where some of the killings occur. Editor Kim Sun-min does amazing work with the editing as it plays to elements of styles from slow-motion cuts to offbeat rhythms for its element of suspense and its dark humor. Production designer Ryu Seong-hie does excellent work with the look of the police station as well as some of the homes of the characters.

Sound editor Lee Seung-yeop and sound mixer Lee Byung-Ha do fantastic work with the sound to play into the sense of terror as well as the drama which includes some chilling moments in the murder scenes. The film’s music by Taro Iwashiro is superb for its mixture of soaring yet brooding orchestral music and some eerie electronic pieces that plays into the drama and suspense as well as a Korean pop song that becomes a key aspect into the mystery.

The film’s cast features some notable small performances from Go Seo-Hee as female officer who finds a clue that proves crucial to the cast as she would also talk to a witness while Jeon Mi-seon is terrific as Park’s wife who would also give him suggestions to find something. Park No-shik is excellent as a mentally-challenged suspect who seems to know more than the detectives realize while Park Hae-il is fantastic as another suspect who fits some descriptions as he is a very ambiguous character. Song Jae-ho is superb as a chief sergeant who leads the case early one while Byun Hee-bong is amazing as the new chief who runs the investigation as he wonders why they couldn’t get any more results.

Kim Roi-ha is brilliant as the crazed cop Cho Yong-koo as a guy who is very aggressive as he is so eager to get answers as he is this wildcard that proves to be a little much for his partner at times. Kim Sang-kyung is incredible as Inspector Seo Tae-yoon as this educated-based detective from Seoul who aids in the investigation as his methods prove to be helpful early on despite tension with Park while coming to terms over the gruesomeness of the murders. Finally, there’s Song Kang-ho in a phenomenal performance as Detective Park Doo-man as this detective who leads by instinct as he tries to figure out what to do as he starts off as this incompetent and aggressive detective while proving to have methods that work as he later copes with the events around him as he deals with his own future as a cop.

Memories of Murder is a tremendously dark yet exhilarating film from Bong Joon-ho. Armed with a great cast as well as some spellbinding technical achievements, the film isn’t just one of Joon-ho’s finest films but also a key film in the Korean New Wave of the 2000s. Even as it manages to take the mystery-suspense genre and add ideas that feels new and exciting. In the end, Memories of Murder is an outstanding film from Bong Joon-ho.

Bong Joon-ho Films: Barking Dogs Never Bite - The Host - Tokyo!-Shaking Tokyo - Mother - Snowpiercer - Okja - Parasite - The Auteurs #44: Bong Joon-ho

© thevoid99 2014


Luke said...

I adore this film from Bong Joon-ho. It is up there with Zodiac as far as crime procedurals go. I was delighted to see that Bong Joon-ho listed Zodiac as one of his ten favorite films. He also listed Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Cure, which is Japanese crime thriller I really want to check out.

The ending of this film is so haunting.

thevoid99 said...

@Luke-This is definitely one of the most eerie suspense films that I had ever seen. In fact, I think it's actually better than Zodiac.