Memories of Murder is the second feature film directed and written by Bong Joon-Ho. Released in 2003, the film failed miserably at the box office, but this did not prevent the film from gaining cult status over time because a truly national movie was hidden in the Hollywood detective wrapper, breaking genre stereotypes. Pong Joon-ho is known for his satire, and Memories of Murder was a real slap in the face of Korean society at the time because 2003 was not far from the horrors of those years.
The Plot of the Picture
The police officers of the provincial town of Hwaseong in 1986 found the bodies of two girls killed similarly and began an investigation. Soon, Detective Pak Tu-man learns that a mentally disabled teenager, Kwang-Ho, has been following one of the victims. He is taken to the police and severely beaten, demanding a confession to the murder. After further threats, Kwang-Ho describes in detail what happened. At this time, a young and educated detective from Seoul comes to the aid of the police. He points out to the investigation that Kwang-Ho is not the killer: the girls were strangled, and he cannot hold a fork properly. The case received public outcry, and a higher-ranking police officer was involved in the investigation.
The Hwaseong Serial Murders is a true story set in a remote South Korean province where a series of murders and rapes occur between 1986 and 1991. The victims turned out to be women of different ages and over five years, their number increased to fourteen people, and at that time, they could not catch the natural serial killer. Shockingly, the killer was caught only 28 years after the events (Kim 20). Memories of a Murder echo quite strongly with actual events, especially demonstrating the helplessness and incompetence of the local police in the face of a new threat, which is expressed from the first minutes of the picture.
Moving on to actual events of that time, in 1989, after torture and a false confession, an innocent man went to prison, and he was then released on parole only twenty years later, in 2009 (Hollingsworth and Seo). All these events were accurately recreated in the film, and there was even a hint that the police had caught the wrong one.
The Uniqueness of the Film
This film was chosen for its uniqueness, which lies in the ability to combine opposites. Memories of the murder told of the impotence and brutality of the police, of all-consuming poverty, of human vices. However, the picture has a place for subtle humor, which does not look artificial or forced. The police officers in the film act inexplicably cruelly towards ordinary people, but the viewer still empathizes with them. There is no moral here, which makes the picture look incredibly close. Defining the film as a psychological drama is worth looking for parallels with other films, but there are no worthy examples. Creativity Pong Joon-ho stands apart from the rest of the cinema and deliberately violates the boundaries of the format.
Korean Cultural Phenomena
Over two decades, Korean cinema has evolved into a phenomenon that is sometimes misunderstood but constantly discussed. Korean films are complex and unpredictable, and directors constantly look for new genre solutions. However, films are only one of the manifestations of the phenomenon of Korean culture. The South Korean authorities have formed a simple and understandable structure to support their culture. The Ministry of Culture supports the domestic industry, while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs promotes it to the world. Moreover, this can now be seen in everything, and the global information field is oversaturated with the fruits of the Korean entertainment industry, such as series, films, and songs.
The film tells the story, which at the time of the premiere, had not yet ended. Many years later, the viewer, along with Inspector Pak, returns to the site of the first murder, where he meets a girl walking by. She claims that she recently saw a man at this place, and he said he remembered what he had done a long time ago and returned to take another look. This final chord will make a solid impression along with the framing of the shot at this moment. The phenomenon of popular culture in Korean culture has earned such attention precisely because of the approach of Koreans to art, which is unique and completely different from what we are used to.
Kim, Se Young. “‘If I catch you, I’ll kill you’: The Chaser, South Korean serial killer cinema and the crisis of sovereignty.” Screen 62.1, 2021, pp. 20-36.
Hollingsworth, Julia and Seo, Yoonjung. “30 years ago, he was wrongfully convicted of murder. Now police have apologized for forcing him to make a false confession.” CNN. 2020.