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Killer On The Loose
by Scott Tunstall

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Never forget.

Never forget.
In my review of A BITTERSWEET LIFE, I mentioned how Korean cinema has really come on strong in the last decade. Well, count MEMORIES OF MURDER as one of the best examples of Korea's insurgence into the international film market. Set in 1986, the movie depicts the events surrounding Korea's first known serial killer and the dedicated police detectives assigned to the case. Very similar to 2007's ZODIAC, the story contrasts brutal killings against the detailed investigative procedures utilized to solve the crimes.

MEMORIES OF MURDER - 2003

Someone is raping and murdering women in the rural province of Gyunggi. Detective Park Doo-Man is tapped as the lead investigator. Together with partner Cho Yong-koo the two men set about to find the killer. Their methods are sloppy and their interrogation techniques needlessly violent. Help soon arrives in the form of Seoul's top cop
A gruesome discovery.

A gruesome discovery.
Seo Tae-Yoon, a smart, driven detective who brings much-needed experience to the case. While Park Doo-man pegs a local retarded youth as the prime suspect, Seo Tae-Yoon searches for solid evidence. Meanwhile, the murders continue, leaving the detectives baffled. Suspects are hauled in only to be released due to insufficient evidence. Frustration builds inside the police department. A sudden break leads to the arrest of man whom Seo Tae-Yoon believes to be the murderer. Will DNA prove him guilty? Or is he innocent like the others? As the time for another killing nears, the detectives wait, hoping they have the right man.

MEMORIES OF MURDER focuses on two central story threads. The first concentrates on the ineptitude and brutality displayed by the small-town cops. Park Doo-Man wastes much of the film chasing dead ends, while his partner Cho Yong-koo plays the role of enforcer, viciously 
On the hunt.

On the hunt.
beating suspects into false confessions. The accurate depiction of extreme interrogation methods caused quite an uproar among the Korean citizenry when the movie was released. Corruption and shoddy investigating have plagued South Korea's police departments for years. Park Doo-Man's ridiculous pursuit of hairless men and a visit to a shaman for clues are samples of the types of irresponsible conduct displayed.

A second recurrent theme deals with the transformations of detectives Park Doo-Man and Seo Tae-Yoon. At the beginning, Seo Tae-Yoon is under control and professional, while Park Doo-Man behaves like a petulant child. As the film progresses the two men undergo a role reversal. Seo Tae-Yoon's growing discouragement turns to anger as the body count rises; his inability to solve the crimes wounds his ego and pride. Park Doo-Man sheds his flippant personality and becomes a steady, calming 
Running out of time.

Running out of time.
force  who  ultimately proves his worth as a cop. But the mounting pressure that comes with the job and its damaging effects prey on the sanity of both men. It's easy to see how good men can be ruined by life's pitfalls and failures.

Writer/Director Joon-ho Bong does not pull any punches. His refusal to turn his camera away from the inhumanity adds to the authenticity of a film based on true events. His decision to compare the actions of a killer to those of a police officer is bold but appropriate. Also worth noting is the inclusion of humor which serves as a needed respite in an otherwise intense story. Kang-ho Song stands out in his portrayal of the careless detective Park Doo-Man. His character's evolution is the most interesting to follow. MEMORIES OF MURDER is a powerful exploration into the minds of men who live in a world consumed by cruelty. It's difficult to watch but more than worth your time.

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Eye On The Overlooked
Every other Sunday

A lot of great movies slip through the cracks. I'm here to catch them.


Other Columns
Other columns by Scott Tunstall:

High School Can Be Murder

A Wolf In Girl's Clothing

Southern Hospitality

Ten Great Films From the 2000s

Down With The System

All Columns


Scott Tunstall
Scott is a freelance writer currently living in the Southeast. He is a film school grad with a love of theory and screenwriting. His tastes vary from obscure niche films to giant Hollywood blockbusters. In other words, he'll watch pretty much anything.


Contact
If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Scott Tunstall by clicking here.


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