Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Original Title: Salinui chueok
Year: 2003
Director: Joon-ho Bong
Writer: Joon-ho Bong, Kwang-rim Kim, Sung Bo Shim
IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0353969/
Genre: Crime, Drama

South Korea in 1986 under the military dictatorship: Two rural cops and a special detective from the capital investigate a series of brutal rape murder. Their crude measures become more desperate with each new corpse found. Based on a true case.

Kang-ho Song month, limited as it may be, rolls on with another fantastic entry in Memories of Murder. This film, for various reasons, took me forever to finally finish, at no fault whatsoever to the film itself. But I am so glad I finally finished it today!

Since it is his month here afterall, we will start with Mr. Song and his again phenomenal performance. He plays a rural detective, Doo-man Park, who is a little chubby, a little lazy, and a little too sure of his investigative skills. What has fallen into his lap in his little Korean village is a serial murder case that immediately feels much broader in scope than what his limited police office can handle. He doesn't seems to take things as seriously as he should, but the case that finds its way to him sets a change in motion.

Song is so great as he portrays a gradual transformation in Detective Park as the story unfolds. Very funny at times and very frustrated and confused at times, he goes from the corner-cutting clod to a more introspective, serious man as he becomes increasingly involved in this seemingly unsolvable murder. His character is played off nicely against the more serious Detective Seo Tae-Yoon, played by Sang-kyung Kim.

Detective Seo is brought in from Seoul when it becomes apparent to the local police that this serial murder case is beyond their scope. He sits on the sidelines, investigating quietly and seriously while Park and his hothead partner Detective Cho Yong-koo (Roe-ha Kim) torture suspects and plant evidence, trying to just get a confession and end the case easily. Seo claims that documents never lie, and where Park relies on his instinct to do his job, Seo pours over these documents for his. It's a straightforward approach that also begins to shift toward a more Park-like frame of mind as the film progresses.

We can almost see the exact point when the investigation has Seo and Park passing like two trains, as Park grows up and Seo's emotions and frustrations surface and he begins problem solving with his heart as well.

Kim plays an understated role here, almost the opposite of Song's character, until he begins to bubble over as the case frustrates him as well.

Joon-ho Bong does a great job here in constructing this story for the screen. While an ordinary film would have gone the route of the detectives simply trying to solve a case, Bong here makes this story just as much about these two very different detectives morphing as this case becomes more and more frustrating. As with many of the Korean films I have seen from this time, Bong's gradual and delicate storytelling can seem to meander initially, but things compound upon themselves and the ending, while not explosive and decisive, is very impactful.

Is impactful a word? There are a few dropkicks in the film which are definitely impactful. Awesome!

Bong's characters are very interesting, and often shot very closeup in emotional moments. Lesser actors would definitely be exposed in scenes such as these. This along with some beautiful camerawork in outdoor locations make the film a true joy to watch. Cinematographer Hyung-ku Kim definitely deserves much credit for the lighting in some fantastic dark and rainy scenes.

As I said, the story in the first third of the film does feel like dragging feet in a way. As characters are established, I really felt like this was going to be a generic detective story with the little twist of one of the prime investigators being lazy and the other very driven. A little patience goes a long way, and it does seem that this may be a common element in Korean film structure. I do not want to give away any plot points really, but the story is never overly complex, but instead the character interactions are. The true plot becomes the relationships and transformations.

I had similar feelings about JSA: Joint Security Area at first as well, as it starts feeling one way and turns into something quite different and quite remarkable.

I have to highly recommend this film for Kang-ho Song's and Sang-kyung Kim's performances, for it being beautifully shot and very well told. I think any imperfections I may have noticed can come down to a difference in American and Korean storytelling in cinema as well as my watching it unfortunately in a broken schedule.

Grade A filmmaking.

Score: 8.75 / 10


Matt-suzaka said...

Man...this movie was on instant watch for so long and I just never watched it, but really wanted to. It sounded great, but now after reading your review, I am so bummed I didn't check it out before its instant availability was no more. Fucker.

Awesome review!

pickleloaf said...

thanks, matt

you can track it down, i'm sure

most definitely worth it.