Bong Joon Ho may be a recent Oscar winner, but he’s been making incredible films for decades. Now, his 2003 film Memories of Murder is heading to VOD and digital platforms.

Based on true events, Memories of Murder tells the story of the hunt for a serial rapist and murderer terrorizing a small province in 1980s South Korea. The film follows three increasingly desperate detectives as they attempt to track down the killer.

Now, 17 years after its initial release, the film remains as timely and compelling as ever.

Memories of Murder Review

From the start, Memories of Murder proves itself to be a very different detective story than most (American) audiences are used to. 

In fact, it’s clear Detective Park Doo-Man has seen a few too many cop shows himself. He believes a good detective possesses the inherent power to suss out criminals. He keeps asking people to look him in the eye, as if he can simply read the guilt written there. Case closed.

His partner, Detective Cho Yong-koo, isn’t much better. He may not buy into the “look me in the eyes” play, but he also doesn’t seem to believe in catching actual criminals, either. Between the two of them, getting a confession proves paramount. And they’ll do whatever it takes to coax it out of someone.

Kang-ho Song and Sang-kyung Kim in Memories of Murder

Detectives Park and Cho have definitely internalized some “truths” about the justice system that the audience won’t agree with. But at the same time, they do honestly feel helpless by the killer’s repeated attacks and their inability to stop him. They want to stop him. But they don’t know how.

It’s their job to know how! you may cry in frustration. Enter Detective Seo Tae-yoon. He’s been sent over from Seoul, and he’s ready to catch this killer by doing everything right. Suddenly this investigation feels legitimate. Seo is comparing the victims and following up on real, documentable leads instead of Park’s hunches.

It’s still not enough.

The killer continues to elude the detectives and claim more victims. 

Finding Justice

Memories of Murder works well as a traditional crime thriller, but this story stays with you because it’s asking something deeper: what is justice?

When the detectives finally identify the killer, the story isn’t immediately tied up in a bow. This is real. And finding the criminal is only part of the battle.

Memories of Murder

Suddenly we’re in a new kind of justice story. What happens when you know you’ve found the killer…but you don’t know how to prove it? (There’s a particularly painful scene when the detectives learn they don’t have the resources to process a DNA sample. Instead, they’ll have to send the samples to the United States and wait for them to be processed there. And as an American watching, knowing the backlog in our own system? Oof.)

Are those breaches in law enforcement etiquette acceptable now that they’re directed at the guilty party? Are acts of violence permissible if they’re done to stop a greater evil? Who decides what justice looks like, and how it can be delivered?

Memories of Murder points to not just the flaws in our justice system, but to how our own perception of justice can be inherently flawed. And for that, it lingers with you.

The Bottom Line

Painfully timely, dramatic, and thrilling, Memories of Murder throws into question the real meaning of justice. It’s another must-watch from Bong Joon Ho.

Rating: 9/10

Memories of Murder is now available on VOD.