Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder (2003) – A contaminated procedural

Screened at the Frida Cinema • Warning: Minor Spoilers Ahead • 2nd Viewing 

The only problem with trying to catch a serial rapist in 1980s Hong-Kong is that it’s like an infection, one that could result in incidentally killing the rest of your citizens for which you have put under outlaw-ish speculation, therefore incentivizing cowboy detectives who either feed on the uncertainty of each other or taint witnesses with fear and gossip; there’s a barbarism to this obsession and desire for instant closure, but a pitiful one that we can all relate to. Reaching that point though where everybody around seems to have failed one another in this elongated search for a mass murderer during a time of unethically limited resources, your last resort may just have to phase into a look of mercy towards whoever got away with committing these heinous crimes, hoping that he’ll recognize and ponder if this turmoil that both you and hundreds others faced was really all worth it for him. At least, that would mean something, right?

If Joon-ho proved anything in his second debut into feature-length cinema, it’s that he is committed to becoming a technical auteur. I love how a majority of the composition here is nearly made up of just group shots that linger in unusually extended yet naturally timed fragments, allowing all of its near flawless actors to collaborate as one in their performance. I’ve already kind of come to terms as well that Joon-ho is the king of tonal mingling; this movie is somehow so naturally funny (jump kicks, bald-y!) while also feeling very hopeless given its excruciatingly sorrowful story circumstances. 

It’s no coincidence that the film initially implores Detective Seo to start off as the foreign voice of reason, only for him to gradually become one with this city, developing affinitive ties with its people, and alas causing him to swap his serious persona for an emotionally explosive one, attaching himself almost personally to the case like the rest of the city has. The hardest thing really is accepting failure, especially when it led to the death of many innocent people, and subsequently even more in both a literal and social manner from the lack of self-control in a department’s treatment towards suspects and protestors.

I feel like the Zodiac (2007) comparisons are unavoidable of mentioning at this point, so I’ll address them quickly. I believe Zodiac more so accomplishes scrutinizing the obsession and self-destruction of one man because of another while Memories of Murder more so accomplishes scrutinizing the obsession and self-destruction of an entire city because of one man. Both are masterful though, it’s almost like comparing Call Me By Your Name (2017) with Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) — although one is for sure MARGINALLY better than the other at the end of the day.

Verdict: A

Bong Joon-ho Ranked, My All-Time Favorite Movies

“Memories of Murder” is now available to stream on Hulu.

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