Monday, March 17, 2008

Memories of Murder

One expects the unexpected in a police procedural so automatically that the twists become formulaic: the first suspect won't pan out, the corruption at the heart of the law and the cop-criminal slippage usually starts to unfold about 2/3 of the way in. Memories Of Murder sticks to the formula partially, which makes it an incredibly weird movie. As in Law and Order, you see only hints of the policemen's private lives; the film focuses on the case, a serial rapist and murderer terrorizing a village in 1980s Korea. This movie--it is so strange.
First, the film plays much of the investigation for laughs. The cops bumble around, employing idiotic strategies (at one point, the lack of pubic hair at a crime scene convinces one that the criminal must be a hairless monk, prompting him to camp out in bathhouses, investigating his fellow bathers), seem generally ignorant, act cruelly and beat suspects out of sheer stupidity rather than vindictiveness. The comedy runs through the whole movie, but the wackier the cops seem, the more the film emphasizes their helplessness. In an early scene, they can't prevent a tractor driver from running over a footprint; later on, they sit in their office knowing that a murder will take place but unable to do anything to prevent it.
The movie's stock characters--the sharp city detective, the old chief of police, the murderer--act atypically. The man from Seoul has sharper investigative skills than the small-town police (who also don't shape up to impress him, as they might in a different movie), but proves equally unequipped for this case. Rather than affecting those around him, the irrationality of his fellow cops and the crimes' cruelty take an abrupt, heavy toll.
The DVD case describes Memories of Murder as a "moody thriller," which I first found unapt but think might be accurate--better, it's rueful, all about missed opportunities and disappointments, but this tone is unexpected in a movie about what this movie's about. It also puts a weird cast on the actual scenes of brutality, of which there are a few, that are horrifying and, more frightening still, inevitable.
I find this movie hard to describe. It came recommended really ardently from a few disparate sources, and it definitely hits you a lot harder after you finish watching it than while it's actually unfolding in front of you.

1 comment:

si hwang choi said...

This movie is based on a true series of events. The comedy making fun of the detectives is a transparent social critique of the Korean police (and their capabilities); also a commentary on the division between Seoul and the outlying rural districts (cf the hard-boiled guy from the city and the man-child detective from the country).

Also, the killer still hasn't been caught.

I agree, the movie is weird. What's weirder is that you can rent it at Blockbuster in Lyndhurst, NJ; although, on some level, this makes sense.