The Underrated: Memories of Murder


Once again, for the underrated film of the week I’m picking one that nobody has seen, but I think is simply superb and is being overlooked unfairly. Joon-ho Bong is turning out consistently excellent work (he followed this with the simply superb The Host, and I’m told that his latest, Mother, is also of a high standard) and this is a fine early example. If I had to make a comparison, then the nearest parallel I can draw is Fincher’s excellent Zodiac, being as they both deal with police procedure, an unsolved serial murderer, and are both first-rate films. 

The year is 1986 and a second woman’s body has been discovered. Local police are completely clueless as to the identity of the murderer. Detectives Cho and Park are interviewing anybody and everybody that may be related to the case- but really they have nothing to go on and their methods are a touch unsubtle. Acting on a tip from Park’s girlfriend they arrest and interview (beat a confession out of) local retard Kwang-Ho. Just as they are staging a reconstruction of events, and Kwang-Ho does know far too much detail about the killings, Seo arrives from Seoul on a mission to find the killer. The rest of the film follows Park and Seo’s futile attempts to solve the case. 


This film was billed initially as a horror film in the UK, and it’s nothing of the sort. It started life as a play in Korea, and the adaptation from stage to screen was done brilliantly. It has none of the usual limitations that such conversions tend towards, and feels suitably cinematic from word go. The cinematography is stunning, with the weather combining with the action to create a moody atmosphere. These are particularly brutal and unsavoury killings (one woman has segments of peach inserted into her vagina post-mortem), but the film doesn’t dwell on the violence, and the cinematography is muted, almost sad, rather than bright and sensational. It also looks, as no doubt it was, grimy for significant sections (the interrogation room in particular) and there is a depressing air of squalor that hangs over proceedings. 


The acting is also first-rate. Kang-Ho Song as Park is excellent (just as he was in The Host, Thirst, and The Good, The Bad and The Weird) as the plodding and brutal detective. He resents Seo for being far smarter than him, and turns it into a kind of reverse snobbery (detectives in Korea apparently solve crimes with their feet). Seo, on the other hand, is played equally well by Kim Sang-Kyung and has absolutely no time for the bumpkin police force. He believes that documents never lie, and that brainwork is preferable to leg-work. The collapse of his character over the course of the movie is fascinating he raises Park up by comparison, but drops to the level of the local Police by the climax. The supporting cast, particularly, Park No-Shik as the deformed retard are also all spot on. 


This is essentially a mystery. The audience are presented with the suspects that the police round up which include a local man masturbating on the spot where a body was found, and (the most likely) an ex-soldier that works in the clerical office of the local factory. All suspects appear initially plausible, the retard stalks women, masturbating guy is, well, wanking on a crime scene, and the ex-Soldier fits the profile and sent the song requests (that form a key part of the killer’s MO) to the radio station. As brutal as the interrogations are, this is not sensationalised, rather it  feels realistic and effective. 


Having said that, though, Memories of Murder is not uniformly grim. There are several excellent comic scenes particularly Park’s ludicrous belief that a Buddhist monk must be the killer, which entails him hanging around in a public bath and checking out male genitalia to see who may be shaved. The comedy (usually at the expense of the dim-witted locals) serves to lighten proceedings, and relieve what would otherwise be a grim and gritty affair. I do have to say, though, that the comedy is genuinely funny- it isn’t cack-handed and is as deliberate as everything in the film. 

Cockspotting: What Droid gets up to on weekends


There are other clever touches in this film- we see, for example, the killer snatch one of his victims- a scene that is actually quite frightening. Bong films this rain-sodden sequence cleverly, using motion to disguise the face of the killer, and keep the possibilities open as long as possible. I also particularly like the end, which I won’t spoil, but serves as a touching and pathetic coda to the events we’ve witnessed. Memories of Murder is an excellent all round film. 

Overall, I recommend this. It’s the Korean Zodiac, and I’m undecided as to whether I actually prefer it to Fincher’s or not. I was initially put off by a certain goat-molesting Portuguese nobhead’s love of it, but, as they say, even a blind squirrel finds a nut on some days. I’ve deliberately kept this review short and vague, just in case anyone does want to see it, as I saw it with little knowledge and I think enjoyed it much more than I would if I’d known the details. In conclusion, this is an excellent film, with an excellent cast, from an excellent director that for some unknown reason has no exposure. The BBC, and this is a use of the license fee that I do approve of, have picked it up as part of a move to expose some fine films to a wider audience and I hope they are completely successful. 

Memories of Murder: a truly overlooked gem of a film. 

Until next time, 


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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

26 responses to “The Underrated: Memories of Murder”

  1. xiphos0311 says :

    Haven’t seen it guess I should.

  2. Tom_Bando says :

    Our friend from Almada also is a fan of Blade Runner, as he named himself (According to Noted_Sage The_PaZoozoo) BladeRunnerUnit/Eunuch after That, as well.

    So THIS is the movie Mammaries was gaga for. Well Jarv, it Does sound good, I am sure I’ll check it out.

    (Prob. should see the Zodiac too while I’m at it).

  3. Continentalop says :

    Echo recommended this. Still have yet to see this.

    God do I have a long list of Asian films to see from the past decade.

  4. just pillow talk says :

    Yup, add me to the “haven’t seen it yet” list.

    Adding to queue…right…now.

  5. Droid says :

    Nope. Haven’t seen this, but I remember seeing the trailer quite a few times and it looked good, if a little bleak.

    Also, bath houses are a great place to meet people.

    • Jarv says :

      It’s not as bleak as it could well have been. The cockspotting bit, for example, is actually very funny. As is the arrest of the wanker.

      There are lots of good jokes in it (I was surprised) and most of them stem from Park being a bumpkin.

  6. Hawaiian Organ Donor says :

    Jarv, I was about to comment that everyone I know has seen this until I read the above comments that no one has seen this.

    This is indeed a fantastic film and I would love to watch this back to back with Zodiac some day, although that might be too depressing.

    Get cracking on the Asian films Conti. Maybe I can convince Jarv to write up a review of more stuff I sent him in the packets like A Bittersweet Life to encourage you to seek out the good stuff. And if you haven’t watched the Vengeance trilogy yet, get on it my friend.

    • just pillow talk says :

      Jarv could write on about 90% of the stuff that you sent us Hawaiian that I would consider good – excellent.

      • Hawaiian Organ Donor says :

        Someone needs to review The Warlords.

        But I’m glad Daisy has received love from this site.

      • just pillow talk says :

        Don’t forget Chocolate, which has been mentioned before.

        The Warlords is an epic film…Jet is great in it, as is Andy and Takeshi. I had just seen the trailer for it, and it made me want to see it again.

    • Jarv says :

      Now that, Donor, is a fucking top idea. I may well do that.

    • Continentalop says :

      Yeah, I remember you and Echo both giving me a pretty big and extensive list of films to get through. I think I will make that my project for the year – get through a bunch of Asian films. Maybe start with this, A Bittersweet Life, Chaser and Election.

      And of course Cockasians vol. 2.

  7. Hawaiian Organ Donor says :

    Speaking of Asian films, for anyone who’s interested, Ip Man 2 is up on the tubes.

  8. ThereWolf says :

    Heard about MOM, not seen it.

    Added to list. A very long fuckin list now…

  9. Tom_Bando says :

    And here are a few more:

    The X From Outer Space



    Mighty Peking Man


    I recommend The X most of these, Pulgasari has it’s problems throughout, and Yongari…well Korea never had it so bad.

    And to top it off-A*P*E*. You need to see that if you see nothing else. Watch for it! Toy cows and battering rams.

    • ThereWolf says :

      Right. I’ll have to start a new page…

      I have seen A*P*E – it’s magnificent. Wasn’t sure if it was a dream I’d had, but no, it was real, I watched it. Shark wrestling!

      • Tom_Bando says :

        A*p*e* (gotta get in those asterix just because)-has that scene of the 3-D bayonet in the camera, they liked it SO much they repeated it twice-and then of course there’s that footage of Ape ‘Throwing boulders’.

        Well okay, they took a styrofoam ‘boulder’, hung it on a wire, swung it thru the air at Ape, who catches it-and then simply REVERSED THE FOOTAGE to make it look like he TOSSED IT. And to top This, they repeat THAT shot 3 or 4 times. What-you couldn’t have him catch the stoopid fake rock and swing it back at the camera twice? thought you’d run over budget-?! the mind REELS–

        Somewheres there lurks a reported Directors Cut of this. Including COMPLETE restoration of the Infamous Battering Ram Scene(TM). I understand it involves a Fake foot(ape’s), tomato paste/exploding packets, and varied and sundried plastic Weeble dolls etc. It’s not that convincing but sufficiently bloody that they opted to cut this after test footage back in ’76. Somehow this sounds Too suspiciously like that infamous cut Spider cave footage that was yanked from the original Kong in ’33, we’ll never know. Anyways-

        Get Ape. Watch Ape. And let the drool commence!

    • DocPazuzu says :

      Pulgasari also has the distinction of being a NORTH Korean big monster movie. Oh, and being utterly terrible and hilarious, of course.

      • Tom_Bando says :

        Yes word has it they kidnapped a poor unsuspecting Japanese director and MADE him do this– I kid you not–

        You can see the flame-thrower in the monster’s throat in about ever shot. Very very bad.

  10. Vash The Stamepde says :


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