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Memories Of Murder (Criterion Collection)

The Criterion Collection // Unrated // April 20, 2021
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted April 29, 2021 | E-mail the Author

The Movie:


Before Bong Joon-ho would take home an Oscar for Parasite, his second film, 2003's Memories Of Murder would put him on the map and quickly declare him one of the most interesting filmmakers on the international scene. While on the surface the film may sound like one of countless other pictures about cops tracking down a serial killer, the director's unique touch is all over the picture which helps to set it apart from the pack.


The story is set in the 1980s and revolves around Detective Park Doo-man (Parasite star Song Kang-ho). He works for the police department in South Korean town of Hwaseong in the Gyeonggi Province where he also lives. He's hardly the top detective on the department's roster, but he does okay. He's perfectly average, though he isn't the most experienced man on the force. When the department is tasked with investigating a series of brutal rape and murder reports occurring in the precinct's jurisdiction, Park immediately gets a bad feeling about this, assuming that there's likely more to it than his fellow officers realize.


As the cops set out to investigate, a series of bumbling mistakes alter evidence and crime scenes, making their job much more difficult for themselves than they understand. The crew really is just taken aback by the scope and scale of what they have to sort out, and initially things do not go well for them. Soon enough, Seo Tae-Yoon (Kim Sang-kyung), a more experienced homicide detective from Seoul, arrives to help out where he learns that Park and his crew are trying to coerce possible culprits into confessing. When Seo finds out that they've done this to a young and obviously mentally handicapped man from town named Baek Kwang-ho (Park No-shik), he figures out that it would have been impossible for him to have done it and he tries to set things right. Eventually they start coming up with some patterns that fit the crimes but even armed with these new clues, it soon becomes clear that the killer is smart and faster than Park and the police and that it's entirely possible they simply won't be able to catch him.


Memories Of Murder is remarkably well-directed. Based on the Hwaseong serial murders, the true case of what is believed to be South Korea's first serial killer, a murderer who at the time of the film's release had not been apprehended (though the killer, Lee Choon-jae would be caught in 2019 and confess to murdering fourteen people and raping over thirty), it presents a police department in way over its head. Park and his company have no idea what to do, not because they're specifically incompetent or malicious but because they just do not have the experience or even the scientific equipment needed to catch the killer (for example, when they find DNA evidence it has to be sent away for analysis, which obviously takes time which in turns winds up hurting their efforts to expedite capture). You really feel for Seo in particular, as he tries to ensure that things are done properly, clearly seeing the more than obvious problem in how the officers from Hwaseong are attempting to coerce false confessions. The man has his work cut out for him!


The acting is very strong here. Star Song Kang-ho delivers great work as the principal figure in the Hwaseong-based effort to bring the killer in. Although it hardly excuses his behavior, we can feel his character's frustration as he goes through all of this. Kim Sang-kyung is every bit as good as his co-star, bringing a weariness to the part that goes a long way towards making it as believable as it is. Kim Roi-ha is also very good as Cho Yong-koo, Park's abusive partner while Song Jae-ho does great work as Park's boss, Sergeant Shin Dong-chul. Park No-shik is excellent in his small role, which is quite hard to watch because of how convincing he is during the scene where he's harshly interrogated.


Bong Joon-ho's direction is excellent even this early in his career (Memories Of Murder was only his second feature film). He shows expert control over the pace and the tone of the movie, adding occasional elements of dark humor to the story that never seem out of place but which instead humanize the events just that much more. The film is also quite stylish without ever feeling like that style takes away from the film's substance. The movie still feels fresh and unique, never succumbing to genre stereotypes and positing its story against an increasingly tumultuous political landscape to good effect.


The Video:


Memories Of Murder arrives on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection taken from a "new 4K digital restoration, supervised by cinematographer Kim Hyung Ku and approved by director Bong Joon Ho" in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.85.1 widescreen with the feature taking up 42.3GBs of space on the 50GB disc. Those who have seen the movie before may be a bit surprised by how dark the transfer is, with much of the movie having a dark green hue to it. We can assume, given that this was approved by the director and the cinematographer, that it is how the film is intended to look and it does suit the tone of the story well enough, just don't go into the movie expecting a particularly colorful experience as this doesn't really deliver that. As to the quality of the image, it's quite strong. Detail is nice, there's good depth and texture here. The disc is well-authored and free of any noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression artifacts. The color scheme is definitely going to rub some people the wrong way, however, even if it is what the filmmakers apparently intended.


Sound:

A Korean language option is provided in 24-bit DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track. Removable subtitles are offered up in English only. This 5.1 mix sounds great, offering up some nice surround activity during the more action-intense scenes and spreading out the score and effects into the rear channels from time to time. Levels are balanced well, the track is free of any hiss or distortion and the subtitles were devoid of any obvious typographical errors. No problems here at all.


The Extras:


Disc on includes a new and exclusive commentary from film critic Tony Rayn who looks back on Bong Joon-ho's career and explores how its evolved over the years while also breaking down the quality of the direction, what the different cast and crew members bring to their respective roles in the production, some details on the cast that inspired the film, critical analysis of the picture and its themes, the use of comedy, horror and drama in the film and plenty more. It's a very good talk and quite insightful.


There are also two archival commentary tracks included here that were originally recorded in 2003 and are presented in Korean with optional English subtitles. The first of these tracks feature Bong Jong-ho, cinematographer Kim Hyung-ku and production designer Ruy Sung-hee and it's a fairly technical talk. There's a lot of discussion here about how the film was shot, why different locations were specifically used for the production, technical details on the cinematography and how specific looks were achieved for the picture. They're quick to praise the people that they worked with and are very interesting to listen to, especially if you have a personal interest in the process of filmmaking.


The second archival track features Bong and cast members Song Kang-ho, Kim Sangh-kyung, and Park No-shik in 2003. Understandably less technical than the other archival track ,the focus here is on the actors' experiences working on the picture, their thoughts on the characters that they played, challenges that arose on set, which it was like taking direction, thoughts on shooting specific scenes and their thoughts on the movie overall. Again, it's worth your time as it covers a lot different ground compared to the two other commentary tracks on the disc.


Criterion also provides a selection of seven deleted scenes, with optional audio commentary by Bong that provides some context and explain why they were removed. The scenes are: Inspector Jo / A Pervert / On The Hill / Hairless / Female Officer / Release Departure/Scarecrow


The fifteen-minute Perfect Cinema featurette is a new interview with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro who offers up his thoughts on Memories Of Murder as well as on Bong Joon-ho's skills as a director. He covers the visuals employed in the film as well as the tone and feel of the movie, speaking quite astutely about what works for him in terms of how this film was put together.


Rounding out the extras one disc one are a theatrical trailer, a teaser and a TV spot.


Disc two kicks off with Imagination Vs. Reality, an eleven-minute featurette where Bong Joon-ho is joined by critic Darcy Paquet to talk about the details of Lee Choon-jae's case and the basis for the movie. They cover some interesting events here and also share some details on what all was involved in getting the story down right for the film while it was still in its pre-production phase.


The three-hour Making Memories Of Murder documentary from 2004 is also included on this disc, and as you'd guess from its running time it is ridiculously comprehensive. It covers pretty much every aspect of the movie making process, going over pre and post production, what it was like on set, casting the film, working on the story, locations, cinematography and lighting, special effects work, the score, the film's theatrical release and how it was received and lots, lots more. There's a load of great behind the scenes footage here as well as some welcome and revealing cast and crew interviews.


The last featurette on the disc is the twenty-one-minute Sonic Precision wherein Jeff Smith examines how the use of sound ties into the visuals in Memories Of Murder and some of the director's other work in exceedingly unique and creative ways. It's very perceptive and might just get you to look at some specific scenes differently.


Criterion also provides Bong Joon-ho's 1994 short film Incoherence on the disc. It's an interesting thirty-one-minute piece presented here from a 4k restoration courtesy of the Korean Film Archive. Presented with an optional seven-minute introduction from the director himself, it's an interesting and unusual crime film that feature Bong Joon-ho in an acting role and it's a nice inclusion no an already stacked release.


Menus and chapter selection options are provided as well. Criterion also provides a booklet of liner notes and credits for this release, with the essay from essay by critic and novelist Ed Park well worth reading.


Overall:


The Criterion Collection's Blu-ray release of Memories Of Murder is an excellent release of an equally excellent film. The transfer is going to irk some fans but the extras are both comprehensive and interesting, documenting the history of the film and examining its themes and ideas in rich detail. Highly recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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