Peaceful Stoner’s review published on Letterboxd:
How difficult is it for a murder mystery/thriller film to sustain interest and constantly keep viewers on their toes and at the edge of their seats, if it tells upfront that the mystery is not going to be solved? It is really difficult if you ask me. David Fincher’s Zodiac comes to my mind immediately. Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder is a great film akin to Fincher’s work.
This is based on a true story, but I do not know how much of the film was based on the actual events and how much was from Bong’s creative genius. If there were some parts which were tuned and added to the actual happening I honestly could not tell the difference as they were all so beautifully melded into the story. I searched for articles about the actual killings but could not find any. I also read Bong put in 6 months of heavy research before even sitting down to write the script. There was already a Korean TV series by the name “Come See Me” which dealt with these killings and Bong has openly stated that without that series it would have been impossible for him to structure this film.
Memories of Murder follows the search for a perverse serial killer by three detectives who have their own inimitable styles of detection. Their characters are so contrasting, the killer so elusive and methodical that they eventually form a rivalry between themselves. Although the killings are seldom shown the way the killer covers his tracks and follows the same Modus Operandi even after knowing that the cops are hot on his heels provides for such a thrilling experience. Bong Joon ho has a thing for filming in the rain. I noticed that previously in Mother and even here that trademark is put to chilling effect.
The performances from the two leads, Kang Song ho and Sang kyung kim were so convincing that we are effortlessly immersed into the happenings of the film before we even know it. I felt the film was rapidly shifting and also an incredible slow burn at the same time. It felt rapid because the detectives keep finding clues from unexpected sources in the most unexpected ways under unexpected circumstances. There is a revelation almost every ten to fifteen minutes in the film. But these revelations take them nowhere. All the clues seem to be leading them to the solution, make them find a suspect who eventually turns out to be innocent. And then they are back to square one and start from the scratch again. At the end we feel as dejected and exhausted as the two men do.
Accompanying the brilliant script is the beautiful looking cinematography which makes an ordinary country side look so wonderfully beautiful in the first shot. It totally sucked me in and planted me right in the middle of the mystery. The beauty is retained for the rest of the film and it just looked sublime all throughout. Bong ho is known for complementing stunning revelations in his films with some thundering background scores. The score plays a major part in the film to raise the heat and give it the necessary amp and lift at crucial junctures. There is a chase scene in the film which was so enthralling and arose out of nowhere to jump start the film before it again fell into the seriously interesting slow rumble mode.
The undulations in the pacing with the dramatic change of gears from the slow simmer to the fast paced heat when they feel they are nearing the catch is what makes this film such an absorbing experience. This film never tries to change that strategy and continues up until the last moment the same way.
I really loved the comedy in this. It is purely incidental and never once felt ham-handed into the storyline. Even the light hearted moments do not allow for the plot to deviate and had a lot of hints to reveal. Not to forget the heart touching sentiment between the characters themselves and the bond shared between the detectives themselves and with the victims.
The reason why this film was so gripping to watch was Bong ho constantly keeps me guessing. As the film progressed I even started to believe that the detectives would eventually find the person responsible for this madness. Or Bong ho would have tweaked the ending so as to give the audience the satisfaction at the end by revealing the killer (even though the real case is still unsolved). Such was the passion the characters show and such was their emotional, mental and physical investment in the case. It becomes a part of their lives. When they fail in the end I felt as crestfallen as they did. It has become an unavoidable memory in their lives. They have never experienced such an exasperating riddle. This is why they reflect upon it even after 13 odd years.
So how would you end a film which precluded by stating there would be no definitive ending and no solution to the mystery? The ending was the real stand out in the film in my opinion. It was so grimly poetic and clearly elucidated that how much an effect it has had on the lives of these men. It has brought them to the sorry position where they no longer believe they are good in what they do and how they do it. It had a great impact on me, increased the intense meaning of their dedication to their jobs, how seriously they took it and also showed the film in a whole new respectable light.
This film was such a thrill to watch and one of the best whodunits I have seen. I watched Mother before this and it still remains my favourite Bong Joon-ho feature. By saying that, I am certainly not taking anything away from this gem of a film. This is so different and so great when compared to the plethora of genre thrillers with the supposedly unpredictable and eventually stupid twists.
Waiting for Snowpiercer with bated breath now!