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Memories of Murder review – thrilling rerelease of Bong Joon-ho’s breakthrough | Film

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Bong Joon-ho broke through to global acclaim with an Oscar for his film Parasite, and now the rerelease of his black comic thriller Memories of Murder from 2003 reminds you that, along with all his other glittering prizes and achievements, this director also helped catch the most notorious serial killer in South Korean history. His film is based on the Hwaseong serial murders of the late 1980s; they remained unsolved until this film came out, sparking a renewed upsurge of interest in the case, which led finally to the identification of the culprit last year – who was already serving a life sentence for the murder of his sister-in-law in 1994.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can see how the film challenges and subverts the serial killer procedural in its entirety; Anglo-Hollywood cops on the trail of psychopathic monsters tend to be tough professionals, or forensic savants – or they can be fascinatingly “flawed” with weaknesses or vulnerabilities that only underline how sympathetic they actually are. The officers in Memories of Murder are quite different. Veteran actor Song Kang-ho (the dad from Parasite) is the beefy, cynical Inspector Park; his dopey and aggressive sidekick is Inspector Cho (Kim Roe-ha) who beats suspects and uses a special woollen oven mitt-style overshoe to put on his boot when he wants to kick someone to avoid leaving a mark. A young cop transferred from Seoul, Inspector Seo (Kim Sang-kyung) has more professionalism but he, like the other two, is hopelessly out of his depth.

The crime scene itself – that holy of holies in serial killer movies – is chaotically compromised, with press and public barging all over the place, ruining the evidence, and the incompetent cops unable to stop them, and more than content to try beating confessions out of fantasists and inadequates. They are humiliatingly reliant on superior DNA labs in the US, and when Seo has some good ideas, his superiors can’t give him the manpower he needs because all of the police are needed to suppress demonstrations. Memories of Murder is a great satire of official laxity and arrogance, and its final scene is very chilling.

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