Memories of Murder

Bong Joon-ho's Memories of Murder is one of the most satisfying movies I have seen in ages. This movie precedes Joon-Ho's brilliant monster movie Gwoemul and has much of the same cast. Unlike Gwoemul it's set in small-town Korea in the late 80s.

A group of policemen with vastly varying degrees of competence try to track down a serial killer.
Joon-ho has a true gift for the comic but what amazed me is how much of the incongruous seemed completely plausible to me as an Indian. In one sequence, two cops who had been torturing a simpleton to force a confession are seen sitting in front of the television. All three sit side by side watching television, eating vast quantities of food and commenting gleefully about what's on screen.

The tension is beautifully maintained but with the tiniest of touches Joon-Ho shows that its possible to make a movie about sex crimes without being voyeuristic. He also creates the disquieting but compassionate notion that thinking violence is not the same as doing it. Suspect after suspect turns out not to be the killer but several of them do nurture elaborate rape fantasies. In counterpoint, a policeman (one of the few competent ones in the film) is in a high school talking to a pretty young schoolgirl. She is in the school clinic looking for a band-aid to stick on a scratch on her back. When the policeman offers to do it for her, she balks. The policeman tells her, "Feeling shy, why? You are just a child".

 To me this is the moment in which Joon-ho takes this American genre (in which the policeman must have a lecherous moment or two around a precocious piece of jailbait or a sexually active woman thus supposedly creating moral ambiguity about the violence) and returns it to the world with watercress (or possibly kimchi) around it. Take that, you idiots, he seems to be smirking.

It doesn't hurt that it's beautifully shot.


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