Memoirs of a murderer, why recover Bong Joon-ho’s film

Available on Infinity+, the film that unleashed the immeasurable cinematic talent of the director of Parasite, telling the true story of the first South Korean serial killer in an unmissable title.

Memoirs of a murderer, why recover Bong Joon-ho's film

In the filmography of Bong Joon-ho no title is ever the same as the previous one. Among the many and essential authors of new Korean cinema, the director is the one who comes closest to Kubrick’s eclectic talent through curiosity, ambition and diversity, regularly ranging between genres and evolving and expanding his own stylistic signature, always recognizable although enriched, different, improved and centered on the objective film of the moment. His first attempt dates back to 2000, just before the new millennium, when he created Dog that barks does not bitea dark comedy with thriller vibes that marked the beginning of Joon-ho’s explosive career, which tended to always be played to the upside.

Memoirs of an Assassin 2

Memoirs of a Murderer: a scene from the film

From there, just three years passed before the arrival of his second feature film, a true masterpiece of Korean cinema still considered by many today to be one of the author’s most intense, important and successful films. Memoirs of a murderer it is in fact a work that is difficult to forget, both for Joon-ho’s magnificent direction and for the atmosphere and the subject matter, which in addition to delving into one of the most intriguing and mysterious cases of capitalist Korea everything short, also tells of a police culture and methodology completely at odds with that of the West, a product of its times and in any case astride an almost radical systemic change. The arrival of the film on Infinity+ is an excellent opportunity to talk about the reasons why Memoirs of a murderer a layered and unmissable film.

Air of change

Memoirs of an Assassin: Song Kang-ho in a scene

Memoirs of an Assassin: Song Kang-ho in a scene

It is not just Korea that is experiencing a cultural transition, but the world. In Europe, the Chernobyl disaster was the first piece of the domino that would lead to the fall of the USSR and the Berlin Wall, while in the United States of America the Irangate scandal broke out, casting more than a shadow on the Reagan presidency. In all of this, the tentacles of capitalism are beginning to tighten around Seoul, changing the face of the South Korean metropolis despite rampant poverty and a wide gap in wealth between social classes. The countryside provinces slowly absorb the blow of progress and decades-old if not even centuries-old habits and customs prove difficult to change or eradicate completely. This is the case of the local police of Hawaseong, in Gyeonggi province, literally “the area surrounding the capital” and consequently the first hit by this unstoppable air of socio-economic change.

Memoirs of a Murderer 5

Memoirs of a Murderer: A still from the film

It is precisely in these areas that it came into action between 1986 and 1991 the first serial killer in Korean history, a quarter of a century after the nomenclature created by profilers John E. Douglas and Robert K. Ressler (catch Mindhunter on Netflix) and just a year after the discovery of the genetic fingerprint in DNA which will totally revolutionize investigative and scientific methods. In Hawseong, however, proceedings are carried out according to investigative standards of the time, involving torture of suspects, false testimonies and a certain widespread abuse of power by the authorities, which is however considered more than normal and, indeed, the right deterrent against crime. The only counterpart of justice and modernity is placed in the hands of Seo Tae-yun, an investigator sent from Seoul to “fix” the violent and farcical methods of his colleague Park Du-man (Sang Kang-ho), old-fashioned detective and convinced that he can recognize a murderer with just a glance.

Memoirs of a Murderer, the review: hunt for the serial killer in Bong Joon-ho’s cult

A case of gender

Memoirs of a Murderer 6

Memoirs of a Murderer: An Image of the Ending

By staging this climate of cultural and structural transition and cleverly playing with the topoi of detective films and conventional thrillers, almost parodying them with a certain dark realism (expanding and effectively confirming the key criteria of his stylistic signature already seen in the film ‘debut), Bong Joon-ho stages an extraordinary cross-section of Korea in the late 1980s, focusing the cinematographic approach only and exclusively on the genre, transforming his second work into a wonderful case study. Despite an extraordinary artistic improvement, with moments of great cinema devoted to tension, reverse shots of rare mastery and the construction of chase scenes with a high level of pathos and adrenaline, Memoirs of a murderer And a film that piques the viewer’s attention and awakens a certain atavistic interest in atmospheric crime fiction, paraphrasing together masters of depth such as William Friedkin and David Fincher without imitation, instead with wit, vision, respect and personality.

Memoirs of an Assassin 3

Memoirs of a Murderer: The opening scene of the film

A movie, Memories of Murder, which takes advantage of the many rules of the thriller by intelligently adapting them to the context of the story and the grammar of the image, developing one of the most fascinating historical-contemporary overviews mediated by the genre that Korean cinema has ever created. If that wasn’t enough, the ending of the feature film remains a magnificent meta-cinematic invention capable of settling even deeper into the protagonist’s emotions and at the same time breaking the fourth wall to delve into the eyes of the audience. In that moment it is the author’s gaze that scans the viewer’s attention, in search of answers that he will never have, lost in doubts and suppositions just like Park Du-man, a new man – like his Korea, after all – in which mistakes and regrets from the past re-emerge, all imprinted in the iris, all imprinted on film.

Leave a Comment