Memories of Murder is a 2003 Korean film directed by Bong Joon Ho and starring Song Kang-ho (whose other films include, The Host by Bong Joon Ho again, Musa, Joint Security Area, The Good the Bad and the weird etc. Essentially it is very likely that he will be featured a few times in the Top Ten Korean movies of all time lists). The movie itself is Bong Joon Ho’s second movie and is based on a series of true life murders that went unsolved in the late 1980’s in the Gyeonggi province of Korea)
Inspector Park, played by Song Kang-ho appears to be a slightly clueless officer who acts on instinct and spontaneity alone. Passionately involved with his job but unable to theorize it beyond a certain level. His jovial nonchalance is given some contrast by the new officer to join the investigation, Inspector Seo. Seo smolders, calculates, predicts moves and their combined sleuthing, of calculativeness and spontaneity get them close to the killer many times, or so they think (and so do we)
The movie is based on an unresolved case which is a scary premise, but the writers manage to give us some kind of resolution in the form of a close miss towards the end and through the last scene, which shows Detective Park having just missed the killer, again and left with partial descriptions of the killer. This last scene is the short version of his entire experience with the case, and therefore the entire movie, and this tangibly flashes through his eyes in those few seconds. The story is neither one to keep you on the edge of the seat, nor is it a kind of scary movie that profiles the serial killer and makes him a villain. The serial killer is a virtual unknown, as all serial killers are to most of us.
This is a story, told simply, with very few tricks be it of camera, script or acting (that alone is such a joy to watch, a film without tricks) that manages to resonate a time in history, with large and moving visual motifs that fit so well, that one can easily be forgiven for thinking this visual plan was some kind of happy accident and not, as probably is the case, a result of many story boarding exercises. The movie tends to be sweeping, restful, also un-self consciously humorous at times.
There are some stereotypes of characters, the police mainly (keeping in mind the Korea is a gold mine of gangster movies and reluctant heroes), but everybody manages to make it look so natural that it is only in the end that you think of stereotypes. And there are sharp contrasts to these in the movie itself thus reducing some of the impact.
The frames in the movie are so tight yet so sweeping, the visuals so enchanting and the writing is something else. How else can one get a sense of a rural Korea of the 1980’s, a sense of gender equations, a sense of timelessness as if the story was suspended in the air somewhere, both easily accessible and completely inaccessible at the same time. The last scene is quite epic, and the entire movie generally has a feel of a master hand behind the wheels. A car ride in which you’ve learnt to trust the driver, because he has driven as if the road was built out of silk sheets (with wheels that require no traction etc)