Memories of Murder

Director: Bong Joon-ho

South Korea| 2003. Subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 129 mins.

One of last year’s biggest critical and commercial successes in Korea, Bong Joon-ho’s follow-up to Barking Dogs Never Bite is inspired by the crimes of South Korea’s first recorded serial killer. In 1986, in a rural area of Gyeonggi Province, not too far outside Seoul, someone began raping and killing women. The film is set in the first year of the crimes and centres on the efforts of the local police and an officer from Seoul to sift evidence, identify patterns, follow up leads and interrogate suspects. Some of the plentiful gallows humour springs from the obvious clash in method and temperament between the intuitive and poorly educated local cops and the more sophisticated urban detective, but nothing works out in quite the way you expect. Bong’s point is that all the characters, cops, suspects and victims, are in some sense prisoners of the ‘backward’ Korea of the mid-80s: still under dictatorial military government and martial law, inured by a Cold War mentality to acts of violence and cruelty. Fundamentally serious—and achingly moving, especially in its closing scenes—the film is also grimly funny and quite deeply shocking.

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