But… is wanking a crime?
With the emergence of South Korean cinema in the last ten years or so stemming from its striking ‘revenge’ films, violent episodes where people commit deplorable crimes and are duly punished for them; Memories of Murder is decidedly not as barbaric as the Vengeance trilogy with director Joon-Ho Bong creating a murder mystery that’s full of oddities but is a consuming whodunit.
When a beautiful young woman is found dead, raped and gagged with underwear in the province of Gyunggi, Detective Park Doo-Man (Kang-ho Song) and Detective Cho Yong-koo (Roe-ha Kim) set about investigating the crime with little finesse and an alarming lack of sense, trying to solve the case in an unorthodox manner (Song’s Park Doo-Man believes he can tell if a suspect is lying by looking in his eyes). When Detective Seo Tae-Yoon (Sang-kyung Kim) arrives from Seoul he is convinced that there is a pattern and that a serial-killer is carrying out the murders.
Sometimes funny, other times harrowing, Memories of Murder isn’t a typical murder mystery. The characters are idiosyncratic, especially Song’s Park and Kim’s Yong-koo who intimidate suspects and in some cases brutally beat them up, forcing futile confessions. When Sang arrives there’s a little more reason and guile to how the cases are handled which creates a friction between the characters as the police department finds itself under pressure to capture the killer and reassure the public.
Complications ensue; breadcrumbs to the killer are revealed slowly (a postcard to a radio station asking for a certain song that plays before a woman is murdered) and red herrings are revealed that show that the town and its inhabitants are slightly depraved when it comes to sex, leavening ten tension created by the serial killer plot. The murders are disgusting (and based on real life) but what sticks in the mind is the film’s ending; a tense standoff that’s desperate, bleak and crushingly demoralising, a cracking finish that has you wishing the outcome would turn out different.