STUDIO: Palm Pictures
MSRP: $24.99
RATED: Unrated
RUNNING TIME: 132 Minutes
English Subtitles
Korean and English Audio Tracks
Cast & Crew Interviews
Deleted Scenes

I have a hard time thinking of especially good procedural crime dramas, at least those that have been committed to film. It’s incredibly hard to balance character development with captivating pacing. Mostly when we think of successes in the genre, we think of shows like The Shield, that give you many storylines on a weekly basis but can stretch out their plot development over an entire season. Like it or not, television offers a certain versatility that can’t be matched in the span of a 2-hour film.

Enter Memories of Murder, a Korean thriller about South Korea’s first serial killer. Can it succeed where other films have failed?

"No, I don’t mind you smoking near me, just as long as you don’t mind me vomiting near you…"

The Flick

Detectives had it hard in South Korea, at least back in 1986. Accusations of police brutality (many of them warranted) were rampant. Crime scene investigation was handled awfully, as procedures like roping off the crime scene went completely ignored. Cops had access very few of the forensic tools available today, and sometimes evidence needed to be shipped off to the U.S. of A. to get processed correctly. This is the world that Bong Joon-Ho’s Memories of Murder establishes within its first half hour…and it does so incredibly effectively.

It is in this world that one detective, Inspector Park (played deliciously by Song Kang-Ho), first finds a dead woman’s body raped and brutally murdered underneath a cement divider in the middle of a remote wheat field. It quickly becomes apparent that this isn’t an isolated incident; another body soon pops up with the same M.O., and Park tries his best to maintain order on each crime scene that he encounters, though he often fails (like when he unsuccessfully attempting to stop a tractor from rolling over a footprint in the mud, one of the only clues left by the killer).

Though Park isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, his desire to bring the killer to justice is palpable, and he’s not above planting evidence and torturing suspects to do it. While he’s in the process of brutally questioning one suspect (a local man’s mentally retarded son), Detective Suh, played by Kim Sang-Young (channeling a younger Tony Leung), arrives from the city to aid in the investigation.

"At last, entry #14 into my long-awaited first book, ‘Asian Men I’d Like to Pork’…"

If Detective Suh is the Dutch Wagenbach of the South Korean police, Detective Park is the Vic Mackey, only much dumber and with none of the oversight that occasionally keeps him reasonable on The Shield. Yet the two of them must strike an unlikely alliance in the furtherance of a common goal. Their respect for each other begins to develop as time goes on, but they also slowly begin to take on each other’s crime-solving methods and each other’s attitudes about justice, transformations which serve as some of the most powerful elements of the film.

The film’s 2+ hour running time allows for a well-told, well-paced tale of intrigue and drama that will keep you on the edge of your seat right up until the film’s chilling epilogue. Though much of the film is spent on the quest to find the killer, the final act of the film slows down substantially, delving deep into one final plotline and into the deterioration of one of the main characters’ objectivity and sanity as the obsession to find the killer grows ever stronger. The pacing feels just right, all the way throughout and the performances by the actors are absolutely fantastic.

This is a film about a lot of things. It’s a relational film about the respect that forms between colleagues that have worked together for too long. It’s a black comedy (and it is indeed often hilarious) about the occasional stupidity, ineffectiveness and brutality of detectives. It’s a thriller about the race to find a rapist before he kills again. It’s a meditation on the conflict between factual guilt and legal guilt. And the fact that it’s based on a true story lays on a startling level of plausibility to the already-intense proceedings.

Look at Chang’s wife the wrong way and he will treat you to a nice taste of his signature move, the Flying Legfists of Fury.

Some have called the film’s tone wildly uneven. I would agree to the extent that one minute you may be laughing at Park’s incompetence, while at the next minute you’re learning gruesome details about the rapes and again thrown on the exciting path to finding the killer. However, director Bong Joon-Ho balances this huge collection of wildly divergent moments and he does it masterfully. The movie becomes more than the sum of its parts and unexpectedly turns into one of the more satisfying procedural dramas of recent memory, partially because it is so unconventional in its approach. Don’t come here looking for Law & Order, or even C.S.I.; this is, first and foremost, a film about people and the ways in which they are affected by the things that they do in the name of justice.

9.0 out of 10

The Look

For the most part, this transfer is totally gorgeous, and details come through incredibly clearly. Scenes that take place both outside and inside are incredibly well-lit. There are some fantastic shots in this film and the cinematography is great throughout. An occasional compression artifact here and there mars this otherwise flawless transfer.

9.0 out of 10

Manface Kim never did become a hot commodity, despite her constant primping.

The Noise

We have 3 options here: English Dolby Digital 5.1, English 2.0, or Korean 2.0. The Korean 2.0 is adequate and the dialogue sounds fine, although the music cues sometimes come on incredibly loudly (and startlingly). Thankfully, since you’ll probably be reading subtitles anyway, loud music won’t really affect your enjoyment of the film. The subtitles are pretty well done for the most part.

The English dub is one of the worst dubs in recent memory and renders this great film almost completely unwatchable. Do not, under any circumstances, watch the English dub, as it will sully any previous or future viewing you may have of the flick.

Why a Korean 5.1 option wasn’t included is beyond me…

6.0 out of 10

As you can see in the background, because Korean policemen aren’t allowed to use weapons, they perform crowd control through an efficient formation known as "The Red Rover."

The Goodies

Only two real special features here:

The Deleted Scenes aren’t really deleted scenes as they are extended alternate versions of scenes already in the film. There are about ten alternate scenes, totaling roughly 15 minutes. The scenes are shown in their entirety with the deleted portions inserted, made obvious by their lack of color balancing. Though most of these scenes were obviously cut for pacing reasons, as they would have added nothing to the film, there are a few that might have changed the film significantly, including a striking revelation about one character’s pubic hair.

Cast & Crew Interviews are a few fairly in-depth interviews with the film’s main actors and the director. The interviews are done in Korean with English subtitles and total 36 minutes. There’s also some great behind-the-scenes stuff which is interspersed throughout the feature.

Some trailers and weblinks round out this set of special features. Given the lack of a 5.1 Korean soundtrack, it’s unsurprising that this set is relatively lean.

6.0 out of 10

Dennis Kozlowski’s birthday parties always required a massive army of waste management specialists. (A white-collar crime joke? You bet I went there…)

The Artwork

Different, but classy. A cool design, a nice color scheme, good font usage, and a quasi-iconic image. The jacket design for this DVD case is quite good, but I take points off for the lame picture of the dead woman that is visible through the title letters. It’s not taken from the movie and it looks piss-poor.

7.0 out of 10

Overall: 8.8 out of 10