Monday 7 September 2020

From the archive: "Memories of Murder"

A satirical, tragicomic restaging of the hunt for Korea's most notorious serial killer, Bong Joon Ho's second film Memories of Murder focuses on a police department not so much corrupt as fundamentally inept, the worst crime of all as the country around it goes into anxious lockdown. The investigation is led by Detective Park (Song Kang-ho), whom we meet having bungled sex; he will introduce himself to his new partner by delivering a flying kick to the man's chest and then handcuffing him to his car. The film's signature moments are its telltale crime scenes, where a forensics team arrives late and promptly falls down a hill, and a reconstruction of one victim's last moments - staged as much for the benefit of the cameras as for any evidentiary purpose - unravels into chaos when one suspect's father shows up and exposes the whole process as a sham. Bong holds one of these desolate fields in long shot, and as the myriad uniformed searchers suddenly descend on the same spot, they start to resemble the parasites we've previously seen dining on one corpse. The two detectives - pursuing separate lines of inquiry - start hiding from one another. The fact that, all the while, the evidence is being compromised doesn't help, but these detectives are forever chasing the loosest of loose ends. Noticing the absence of pubic hair at the scenes of suspected rapes, Park is next seen in the locker rooms of his nearest sauna, looking in inappropriate areas; later, he'll turn to a shaman for guidance. A scarecrow is erected on the edge of one crime scene, bearing the legend "Turn yourself in, or else your limbs will rot and you will die". Imagine CSI reworked as a vehicle for The Three Stooges; the type of film where a heated discussion of the differences between American and Korean forensic techniques is interrupted when the Chief of Police vomits into a winecooler. Films about bad cops tend to rupture under the strain of having to insist their protagonists are finally as heroic as they have been irredeemable, but Memories of Murder proves altogether more supple and dynamic, playing its police brutality scenes for (very grim) laughs while finding melancholy ways to remind you of the bodies piling up in the morgue, and that there's still a killer on the loose.

(August 2004)

Memories of Murder returns to selected cinemas from Friday.

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