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Palm Pictures presents
Memories of Murder (2003)

"Let him go. He's not the murderer."
- Suh Tae-yun (Kim Sang-kyung)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga  
Published: August 07, 2005

Stars: Song Kang-ho, Kim Sang-kyung
Other Stars: Park Hae-il
Director: Bong Joon-ho

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult language, violence, nudity, sexual situations)
Run Time: 02h:10m:48s
Release Date: August 09, 2005
UPC: 660200311421
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+AC+ B

DVD Review

Heartwrenching, funny, horrific. These aren't exactly words that are usually grouped together to describe a serial killer mystery film, but they fit perfectly when we're talking about Korea's 2003 Memories of Murder. Director Bong Joon-ho (Barking Dogs Never Bite) has crafted a precise, taut thriller that grabs us from the opening scene and never lets go.

Based on the story of South Korea's first serial killer (which had already inspired the stage play Come See Me in 1996), Memories of Murder begins with the discovery of a dead woman's body underneath a small walking bridge. Inspector Park Du-man (Song Kang-ho from JSA and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) is first on the scene, but is soon joined by Inspector Suh Tae-yun (Kim Sang-kyung), a detective from Seoul that is volunteering his expertise on the case. Park and Suh are entirely different personalities that instantly clash, with Park being a bruiser who will use his fists before his brain, and Suh being an intellectual thinker who doesn't believe in beating the truth out of a suspect.

Park wants nothing to do with Suh at first, but he gradually realizes that the only chance they have to find the killer is to work together. This unlikely duo also grows closer as Suh begins to lose his cool as frustrations with the case mount. They take in three major suspects, one a mentally challenged young man who knew one of the victims; another, a man who is caught pleasuring himself near the site of one of the murders; and the third, a man who made a series of strange song requests to a radio station.

One of the beauties of the project is its focus on the detective pair instead of the killer and his motives. Those elements do play a vital part in the overall story, but the film would not have been as effective if it spent its entire time on a clichéd whodunit. I've always been fascinated by films that aren't about to explain everything to the viewer step-by-step, Scooby-Doo-style, and Memories of Murder is definitely ambiguous when it comes to its ending. The murders that the film were based on were never actually solved, so staying true to the source, Bong Joon-ho made the right move by allowing us to draw our own conclusions about the identity of the killer. Keeping the ending both ambiguous and satisfying is a tall order, but Bong makes it work, and then some.

There's plenty of vivid, realistic imagery as well, involving female corpses, not exactly what most people want to witness on a daily basis. There is even a scene in a morgue where certain fruits are plucked from one of the victim's orifices, which will leave you especially uncomfortable. This underlies another beauty of the film, its ability to raise the viewers' discomfort level to great heights. We're constantly squirming in our seats, but just when things seem to be getting a bit too much to take, Bong puts his secret weapon to good use again, his ability to keep our funny bone tickled.

Writing a serial killer story with a sense of humor is a risky proposition and then some. Still, I can't remember a more balanced thriller than Memories of Murder as far as tone goes. While not particularly scary (heck, the equally effective Se7en wasn't scary either), there is an overall sense of dread that is laid out by both the subject matter and look of the film, taking the viewer along for the same ride that these detectives are taken on. The one instance where we actually catch a glimpse of the killer is handled beautifully. We see a young woman walking through a field, when she hears a noise. Suspecting that someone is near, she takes off running, but it turns out that this is exactly what the killer wanted, and we see him (or what looks like a man) spring from one of the paddies and Bong instantly cuts to a black screen. The tension in this scene alone will have you recommending Memories of Murder to as many friends as possible.

It's worth noting that, even though there is a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track on this DVD, the language is dubbed in English. The original Korean audio, definitely the audio of choice, is only available in Dolby Digital 2.0. This is an unfortunate misstep which seems like it could have been avoided.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The movie is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and looks fantastic. Near-perfect contrast between light and dark sequences is the most impressive aspect, aiding in the consistent appearance of super sharp images. The color scheme is gorgeous, with the sunny landscape of Korean fields really standing out among the rest of the beautiful imagery. There's absolutely no grain or dirt either, which doesn't exactly hurt matters.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Korean, Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: This is about the only problem area on this disc as there is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix dubbed in English, but no 5.1 for the original Korean language. There is a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix in Korean, but after listening to the impressive surround usage and deep bass in the English 5.1, my disappointment grew. Still, the Korean 2.0 is quite good, as the surrounds do make their presence felt, but the bass just doesn't have the same impact. I'll take an original audio track over a bad dub job any day, so, despite the bombast of the English 5.1, the Korean 2.0 is the only way to go.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Breaking News, Cronicas, The Director's Label Series: Volumes 4-7
1 TV Spots/Teasers
8 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Some nice extras have been included, including some Deleted Scenes. There are eight of these, running for just over 14 minutes, and they basically flesh out the characters a bit more, including one of their penchants for visiting prostitutes.

We then have Interviews/Behind the Scenes, a 36-minute piece that takes an in-depth look at the production of Memories of Murder. There's interview with the principal cast and crew, as well as quite a bit of on-set and location footage.

Finishing up the extras are the Original Korean Theatrical Trailer and Original Korean Theatrical Teaser for Memories of Murder and Palm Previews for other films.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Korean films are making a huge dent in film fans' wallets these days, and Palm Pictures domestic DVD of Memories of Murder assits in continuing this trend. Bong Joon-ho's account of Korea's first serial killer is an instant classic, and, if it wasn't for the amazing Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, it would be the nation's best film to date. The disc itself is a treat, thanks to excellent audio (although the lack of a Korean 5.1 track is a misstep) and video presentations, and a decent collection of extra features.


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