Bong Joon-ho won international acclaim when his latest masterpiece, the TIFF 2019 selection Parasite, earned him Cannes’ Palme d’Or and three Oscars — including Best Director and Best Picture. Over 15 years earlier, Bong established himself as one of South Korea’s top filmmakers with Memories of Murder, a stunning, darkly comedic procedural based on a series of rapes and murders in Gyeonggi Province that occurred between 1986 and 1991. Illuminating the rage and desperation of the officers investigating South Korea’s first serial killer, the film vividly recalls the political fissures and obstructionist bureaucracy that characterized the nation’s waning military dictatorship and its subsequent transition into the democratic era.
After the bodies of two women are found, the ill-equipped local police mishandle the crime scene and evidence is destroyed. More murders follow, and the cops try to solve the case by any means they deem necessary — which include violently coercing a confession from a young man with an intellectual disability and consulting a shaman to find the culprit. But even when a slick, experienced detective from Seoul arrives to assist with the case, the killer remains as elusive as ever — and the cool urban cop starts to lose his marbles as he becomes fixated on one particular suspect.
Now digitally remastered, Memories of Murder is easily accessible to North American audiences for the first time; the film’s 2003 theatrical release was limited to its home country, where it enjoyed wild critical and box-office success. Such was the film’s impact that public interest was reignited in the original case, which saw dramatic developments in 2019. “I once threw my entire body and soul to create this film,” says Bong, “and now my eyes are on how [it] will plow through the long tunnel of time as it greets a new chapter in the fall of 2020.”
“With the benefit of hindsight, we can see how the film challenges and subverts the serial killer procedural in its entirety.” –Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
Content advisories: violence, references to sexual violence, sexually suggestive scenes, scenes of surgery, accident trauma, coarse language