Horror Movie A Day: MEMORIES OF MURDER (2003) I'm thinking the killer can't have any hair down there... a total baldie
Published at: Oct. 9, 2008, 10:08 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[The regular A Movie A Day list has been frozen in order for me to do an all-horror line-up for October. I’ve pulled many horror titles from my regular “to see” stack and have ordered many more horror and thriller titles to make sure we have some good stuff. Like the regular AMAD column all the movies I’m covering are films I have never seen, but unlike the regular AMAD column I will not connect each film to the one before it. Instead I will pull a title at random every day and watch whatever the movie Gods determine for me.]
I somehow missed this one while it was doing the fest circuit and getting chatted up all over the place. I got the DVD forever ago, but it always stayed on the “to watch” stacks that ended up getting so big that I started this column.
I knew it was going to be great, I knew I’d be in for a surprise, but I always let my regular day to day workload keep it on the back burner.
If you have been like me, putting this flick off just because there’s so much else going on, I have to strongly, strongly, strongly advise to knock down the rest of your movies on your Netflix queue and put this one at the very top.
Seriously. I love Joon-ho Bong’s THE HOST, but this movie’s got that one beat. Now, I will say that MEMORIES OF MURDER doesn’t have one single scene that is as awesome as the introduction of the creature in THE HOST, but as a complete feature it’s a better movie.
The film is based on the true story of South Korea’s first serial killer and the incompetant police force trying to catch him.
Set in the ‘80s, the detectives can’t fall back on technology, even if they had it, to capture the killer, but that doesn’t really matter. You get the impression that even if they had the best forensic team with the top equipment, the main detectives would still find a way to fuck it up.
But that’s not to say that they’re unlikable. Not at all. Kang-ho Song is the main character and he’s quickly becoming one of my all time favorite actors. He was the father in THE HOST and The Weird of the amazing Noodle Western adventure flick THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE WEIRD.
He’s so great in this movie. He’s got a great face for one, but his real talent is how he sells humor without losing reality as a character. His Detective Park Doo-Man could have easily been a caricature. He’s a horrible policeman, he’s an arrogant incompetent man, but he’s still likable.
It blows my mind how I walk away from this movie without hating this man, but Kang-ho Song is the sole reason I don’t. The writing is strong, but I can tell that even on the page this character demanded an actor like Song to work.
And if you had any doubt that Joon-ho Bong is one of the world’s best working filmmakers then all you need to do is look at this movie. His shot selection, pacing, performances, color palate and the deep emotional punch he can deliver is top shelf.
He also has the talent of telling a story that defies classification. This is a story about the men hunting down a relentless murderer, strangler and raper of women, but it doesn’t get to SILENCE OF THE LAMBS levels. There is a stalking scene in this film that is genuinely creepy, as creepy as anything in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS… okay, I take that back. Whatever the fuck was in that bathtub at the end of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS gives that movie the edge, but my meaning is that this scene is as creepy and suspenseful as you could want, but the movie’s overall tone doesn’t fit into that category.
I’ve been told that this film can best be compared to David Fincher’s ZODIAC and that’s right on. Sure, you have the surface similarities (serial killer avoiding the detectives hunting him down in a period setting), but Bong’s talent is equal to Fincher’s… and coming from me, that’s a helluva big compliment.
Also to be commended is Sang-kyung Kim, as a Detective from Seoul who comes in to help with the investigation. His story is the most tragic and really the heart of the movie. When he first arrives, you can tell he’s appalled at the poor policework. He watches evidence being planted, confessions beaten out of suspects and does so silently, while doing the real policework seemingly on his own.
He has one single mantra and that is that reports don’t lie, the black and white facts on paper are to be trusted and hold the key to finding the identity of the murderer. The main arc of the movie is following this character as he falls, ultimately becoming just like the flawed detectives he came in to help and culminating in a fantastic scene where he breaks his mantra, betrays his core belief, and essentially loses the ability to actually capture this murderer.
MEMORIES OF MURDER is a fantastic film, beautifully shot by Hyeong-gyu Kim and held together musically by Taro Iwashiro’s beautifully haunting score. It’s not a film of answers, but of characters driven to do their best even if their best falls woefully short of actually bringing their target to justice.
The final scene in the movie is haunting, even if it’s in bright daylight, with no visual atmosphere to support that feeling. It’s all in the character work and the two hours that led up to that point. What’s brilliant about it is it gives the audience a degree of closure without betraying the rest of the film or the real events.
Final Thoughts: MEMORIES OF MURDER is a moody masterpiece of filmmaking that you can’t easily shake after viewing. There were those that questioned the inclusion of this film in the horror list… While I would agree after having seen it that I wouldn’t classify it as a horror film, I have to say that it felt perfectly at home in an October genre run. I can’t classify it as a horror film, but I also can’t classify it as not a horror film. That’s part of the reason I loved the movie so much. It’s a movie full of flawed characters, real characters that you can’t help but love. From the half-retarded original suspect to the brutal detective who always fucking kicks everybody… the entire cast is likable, engaging. Add on to that fantastic direction, a great script, an amazing score and breathtakingly, bleakly beautiful cinematography and you get one that is a must see for anybody who even thinks they like movies.