Sunday, July 11, 2010

'Memories of Murder' - quick review

I finally got around to seeing the much acclaimed South Korean film Memories of Murder from 2003. The story is based on real events revolving South Korea's first known serial killer. I was going in with high expectations and it definitely did not disappoint.

The film centers on two detectives, one local to the events, and one brought in from Seoul, who have distinctive styles and goals. The local detective Park operates from his gut, and when he thinks he's zeroed in on a suspect based on a single piece of evidence he attempts to coerce a confession out of them, even after it has become apparent that they are innocent. In contrast detective Seo is more concerned with the big picture and finding out how the disparate pieces of information fit together. He isn't as rash and as impulsive. But as the investigation lengthens, and as they gain respect for each other, their styles begin to congeal.

The film reminded me a lot of David Fincher's Zodiac, and since Zodiac came out 4 years after Memories of Murder it's possible that it was influenced by this film. Both films center on the investigation of a serial murderer, and both feature lots of dead ends, and misdirection with ultimately no resolution (though one suspect remains in the audience's mind as the most likely culprit in both). Contrary to the impression given by popular primetime network TV drama, detective work is often messy, imprecise and inconclusive. This has always been the case, but in both Zodiac and Memories of Murder the limitations of technology given the era, or region, that the crimes take place in make this even more apparent.

As for as more technical stuff, the cinematography, pacing, music, and performances in the film are just about perfect. The leads give fantastic performances especially Song Kang-hoo as Park, but even performances for some of the ancillary characters, such as that of the village idiot, leave indelible impressions.

I would place Memories of Murder in the upper echelon of detective serial-killer dramas along with Silence of the Lambs, Se7en and Zodiac. If you haven't seen it, do so.

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