MEMORIES OF MURDER殺人回憶
KOREAN DIRECTOR Bong Joon-ho faced a conundrum when he made his second feature, Memories of Murder: since it was based on South Korea’s most famous crime case of the 1980s, pretty much everyone in the audience would already know the ending – that the killer was never caught.
So how do you make a detective movie that people would still want to watch, even when they know that the detectives are doomed to failure?
The way Bong handled this challenge was an early sign that he would become one of his country’s most acclaimed directors. The first half of the film plays out like a somewhat conventional (although extremely well-made) crime film. The police in a small village desperately pursue clues about an elusive serial killer as more young women are killed. A detective from the big city arrives and pushes for a fact-based, scientific investigation rather than the instinct- driven clue chasing of the village police force. As the mood of the film shifts between black comedy and suspense, the audience gets pulled in, and wants more and more to see the killer caught and punished.
But when events take an even darker turn halfway through the film, something shifts in Bong’s approach. The detectives begin to change. The inner strengths and weaknesses of each character are slowly revealed. What started as a plot-based narrative, which pulls the audience along each twist and turn of the investigation, becomes a character-based story. Although we never lose our fervent wish to see the killer caught, what we get instead is a nuanced portrait of a country in the midst of profound change – the film is set near the end of Chun Doo-hwan’s authoritarian regime – and a main character, memorably played by Song Kang-ho, who hides an unexpected depth of emotion.