Memories of Murder

Memories of Murder ★★★★½

“The documents never lie.”

An utterly captivating and dark murder mystery from Bong Joon Ho. Chronicling the hunt for a serial killer in a small countryside town in 1980s South Korea. It’s filled with tension and atmosphere alongside a compelling mystery that surprises you with many twists and turns to the tale. It looks great, with a story and characters that keep you totally engrossed from the second it starts. 

Bong Joon-ho directs brilliantly with plenty of style, always keeping the audience hooked throughout its quite lengthy run time. The washed out colours of the countryside mixed with a claustrophobic feel when shooting interiors, it creates a perfect air of tension and atmosphere. What struck me was how the film shifted its tones so well. With a surprising amount of dark comedy thrown into bleaker scenes that never took away from the overall atmospheric tension that is rising in each scene. The moments where comedy hits, come as a surprise, and even increase the sense of unease, laughing between moments of darkness.  

The film also does a brilliant job at not only telling the mystery of the serial killer but also allowing focus on the characters at the centre. The detectives on the case all feel like fully fleshed out characters, something that is often missing in crime thrillers like this. Our lead, Park Doo-man is a detective from a small countryside town, far away from an inner city and completely unsure of how to handle a case like this. Him and his fellow detectives make numerous mistakes and even go as far as torturing innocent men during their interviews, but somehow still manage to come off as humane and rather emotional characters. It’s a testament to how they’re written and performed that by the end you genuinely feel sorry for them. 

Song Kang-ho gives a brilliant leading performance, a detective who is clearly out of his depth on a case like this, but willing to push himself and others around him to solve the murders. Song creates a likeable, if flawed character, that despite his misgivings does end up connecting emotionally to the audience. He gives off that sense of being a tortured soul, the more time the case goes unsolved, the more energy and passion he feels to catch the killer and end this. He plays off Kim Sang-kyung so well, a younger, more professional detective from Seoul. They’re at different ends of the policing spectrum but as the film goes on, it feels like they start to respect and understand each other more.

A haunting score and gorgeous cinematography just add to the brilliance of the piece. Bong Joon-ho manages to capture something that feels at times rather familiar but also totally original in the same space. It’s certainly one that I will return too in the future.

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