Memories of Murder

Memories of Murder ★★★★½

Bong Joon-ho's stunning detective film is based on the as yet unsolved Hwaseong serial murders in South Korea where ten women were brutally killed between 1986 and 1991. It's a tense and suspenseful drama that plays like a film noir, filled with flawed characters and drenched with atmosphere. It is also an appropriate and logical preface to Joon-ho's later works ("The Host," "Mother," "Snowpiercer,"), all of which rely on good character building and offbeat storytelling to give the films a layered and uniquely personal feel, full of stimulating turns that don't always spell things out.

For example, unlike many procedurals, "Memories of Murder" offers us three detectives that are often just as unpredictable as the killer himself, and our own uncertainty as to how they will react to any given circumstance really helps keep us on edge ... except during those skillfully-timed moments when humor is allowed to break the tension.

While nearly all characters in the film are beautifully rendered, it's Detective Park Doo-man (Song Kang-ho ) and Detective Seo Tae-yoon (Kim Sang-kyung) who are the most intriguing. Park is emotionally volatile and impulsive while the younger but more experienced Seo (a visiting detective from Seoul), is methodical and detached ... however, as the film progresses they gradually reverse roles, setting up several fascinating twists.

The best stories always seem to be more about the journey than the destination and this is particularly true in "Memories of Murder." It is a powerful story in which the actors, locations and cinematography keep us spellbound for the entire film ... on top of that, the story proceeds to an inevitable unresolved termination, mirroring a reality nearly 30 years hence in which the real criminal has yet to be caught. Surprisingly, not only does the film's ending remain faithful to that truth, it does so in a way which is both brilliant and completely satisfying.

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