Memories Of Murder headline image


"But... is wanking a crime?" (quote from a serial killer suspect in Memories of Murder)

Between 1986 and 1991 a serial killer murdered ten women, between the ages of 13 and 71, in a small town in Gyeong-gi province, south of Seoul, South Korea. The methods by which they were killed ranged from stabbing to strangulation (one corpse was even found with nine pieces of peach inside her vagina) and all the victims were found within a two-mile radius. This being the first serial killer case that the country had seen it caused a media frenzy.

Memories of Murder uses this true-life serial killer story as the basis for its plot with Detective Park Doo-Man (Song Kang-ho) and his violent partner Jo (Kim Roi-ha) assigned to the case. Detective Park clearly isn't the sharpest of detectives, but is thoroughly convinced that he is surrounded by idiots (which is actually pretty true), and is sure that his keen sense for "spotting villains" will allow him to find the killer.
As he begins to blunder his way through the case, with detective Jo beating up suspects in an attempt to extricate confessions, the film takes a seemingly very black humour approach to the story (when no DNA evidence is found on the victims, for example, Park concludes that the killer must have shaved all the hair from his body and decides on a novel way to search out this hairless fiend), and this not only makes the atrocities committed by the unknown serial killer even more shocking when they start to emerge, but also deftly facilitates the audience being caught completely off guard, at the same time as serving to repeatedly twist viewer emotions.
The town's half-wit, Baek Kwang-ho (Park Noh-shik), seems to know more about the details of the killings than he should and Park becomes convinced that he is the killer, even resorting to planting evidence to link him to the case, but when Seo (Kim Sang-gyeong), a more experienced cop from Seoul, proves that Baek couldn't possibly have committed the murders (and leads the way to another, as yet undiscovered corpse), resentment between the yokel cops and the big-city detective begins to boil over. Continuing the search for the killer leads them to interview Park Hyeon-gyu (Park Hae-il), a genuinely unsettling, creepy character whose cold, emotionless gaze adds fuel to the detectives beliefs that they really have finally found their man...
To delve more deeply into the plot would risk taking the edge off a finely tuned, expertly written screenplay. While the film moves slowly, it's always with purpose and is gripping throughout, and though there may not be the nasty, blood-soaked horror and flash of American serial killer movies, that is, in fact, one of its strengths.

In short, Memories of Murder is a masterpiece through and through, which tells its gripping story with wisdom, humour, sincerity and intensity.

Cast & Crew:

The film was written and directed by Bong Joon-ho who understands the importance of subtlety, making even procedural scenes entertaining and amusing. Though there are scenes that involve dead bodies there is little gore and the feeling that comes across is that Bong gives the dead bodies in the film the same respect as he would if they were still alive. This gives even the darkest of autopsy scenes a poignancy that is just not present in Western versions of this type of thriller.
The gorgeous cinematography by Kim Hyung-Gu is moody, haunting and atmospheric with rice paddy fields, rain, shadows and train tracks all being photographed with an expert eye for long sumptuous views. The cinematography is complimented with an equally enchanting score by Iwashiro Taro who created music that perfectly sets the mood for every scene.
The acting from all the main cast members is excellent and, with the character of Park, Song Kang-Ho (also seen as the title character in "The Foul King", a North Korean sergeant in "JSA" and more recently a seemingly bumbling thief in 2008's "The Good, The Bad, The Weird") establishes himself as one of the industry's premier screen presences, playing well against Kim Sang-gyeong (the lead in "Turning Gate") as the quieter but more focused Seo.
Smaller parts are exceptionally well cast and played, from Song Jae-ho's canny police chief, through to Park Hae-il's creepy main suspect. Special note must however be made of the performance of Park Noh-shik as the half-wit Baek. A theatrical actor by trade, he portrays the simple young man with such warmth that by the end of his story arc, when the harsh treatment the character has had to suffer in his life comes to light (thrown into a fire as a child, his face is disfigured and people, especially women, constantly grimace, ridicule and move away to avoid him), you truly feel for him. The depth which he brings to the character, from his inappropriate excitement regarding the murders to his utter fear of the police, is quite simply astounding and stays with you long after the film has finished.


The DVD edition reviewed here is the US (Region 1) Palm Pictures Release which consists of a gorgeous anamorphic transfer. Colours are deep and there are no image artifacts present, even in the darker scenes where blacks seem almost engulfing (perfect for tense night scenes). The only oddity is the fact that the original Korean language soundtrack is only provided in Dolby 2.0, whereas the much less wanted English dubbed language soundtrack is provided in both Dolby 5.1 and Dolby 2.0. However this is, in fact, a minor niggle as the Korean Dolby 2.0 is actually quite expansive.

*Note for UK consumers*:
Memories of Murder is available in the UK as an Optimum Asia (Region 2) release. However some of the first releases of the Optimum Asia DVD had burn errors in them which resulted in pixelation for several minutes in the middle of the film (although no problem is evident from looking at the disc surface). There are also two scenes missing towards the end of the film consisting of semen being found on a victim's clothing and some very bad news for Detective Jo. Without these scenes the plot seems to jump (obviously) and it is clear that something has been missed out. Optimum Releasing fixed the problem on subsequent printings but there are several high street shops selling the film at a reduced price, some of which have been found to be from the batch with errors. If you purchase the film and find noticeable pixelation take the DVD back to the retailer and exchange it (probably worth checking it before leaving the shop with the replacement). It should also be noted that not all the cut-price copies have problems. If you have not yet bought the DVD I suggest you purchase the US Palm Pictures Region 1 release from a reputable online retailer - it's such a sumptuous print you'll be glad you did.

Actors: Song Kang-ho, Kim Sang-kyung, Kim Roe-ha, Song Jae-ho, Park Noh-shik
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Format: NTSC Widescreen
Subtitles: English
Region: Region 1
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio
Number of discs: 1
Classification: Unrated
Studio: Palm Pictures
Run Time: 132 minutes
DVD Features: Cast & Crew Interviews, Deleted Scenes, Previews, Weblinks
o Languages: Korean (original soundtrack) Dolby 2.0, English (dubbed soundtrack) Dolby 5.1, Dolby 2.0
o Subtitles: English


All images © Palm Pictures
Review © P. Quinn