Memories of Murder 2003 & The Host 2006 – Korea
Since everyone is talking about Parasite and its director Bong Joon Ho I decided this would be a good time jump on that bandwagon and go back and take a look at some of his earlier movies. I watched 2003’s Memories of Murder and 2006’s The Host within a 24-hour period and it took a ton of restraint to make myself write this review before watching everything else Bong has ever made.
Memories of Murder
On the surface Memories of Murder seems like any of a dozen movies you’ve seen before; a serial killer is raping and murdering women in a rural town and the hapless local detectives can’t crack the case so a slick big-city cop comes in to save the day. The story takes place in rural Korean in 1986, where Park Doo-man (Parasite’s Kang-ho Song) a hapless detective and his partner, are faced with solving the rape and murder of multiple women. Two things quickly become clear, these murders are the work of the same person and that these detectives are severely out of their depth. Eventually, Seo Tae-Yoon (Sang-Kyung Kim) an inspector from Seoul asks to be assigned to the case and clashes with the rural detectives and their less than legal methods of trying to solve the case.
With some exceptions, the plot plays out in a way that you would expect, besides the depths of brutality of the local cops which is pretty shocking at first. but what immediately struck me was the seamless blend of comedy and drama that also made Parasite so remarkable. When consuming American/Western movies we talk about something that adds, “comic relief” to a dramatic movie, or a touching moment in a comedy, but it’s nothing like what happens in Memories of Murder. It’s amazing how one scene can go from intense and heavy to unbelievably funny within seconds. Bong and his cast bring it all together it a way that hits you straight in the gut.
Beyond that, there’s so much more that makes this movie bonkers good, the cast and their performances are stellar. There’s nobody I was familiar beside Kang from Parasite, but everyone did an excellent job. Sang also stands out as the by-the-book city cop who slowly becomes obsessed with the case and is eventually is willing the throw the book out the window.
The movie also captures the county wonderfully; I don’t know what rural Korea in 1986 looked like but this movie felt so real in every other aspect that I can’t imagine it’s far off. Thing dingy interiors, the rolling countryside, and the eerie rainy nights are all come off both incredibly real and beautiful. In a recent interview Bong talked about how the feeling he wanted to capture in Memories of Murder was how chaotic Korea in the 80s was, and how that impacted the real life case that the movie is based on. I don’t really know anything about Korea in the 80s but you do really get a sense of a place that is going through a difficult time and a place where cops that are so reckless and inept could be put in charge of such an important case because there probably wasn’t anybody better.
Watch this movie. It’s amazing. I love detective stories, and this is already one of my favorites. It’s so good. If you get to through the last scene and don’t want to immediately tell someone else to watch this movie, I’ll buy you a Dr. Pepper.
The other of Bong’s movies that I watched was 2006’s The Host. This was the movie that first gained him international attention and it’s easy to see why. While it retains the mixture of heavy emotions and humor, it focuses more on horror and action, which makes it much easier for western audiences to watch without having to think too much.
Kang-ho Song is back in The Host, this time he is playing Gang-Doo an immature and inept man in his 40s who seems to be content working in his father’s snack bar and raising his 13-year-old daughter, Hyun-Seo (though he’s not really great either). Not long after we meet him Gang-doo and his family, they are terrorized by a giant monster that is living in Seoul’s Han River (thanks to the US Army dumbing a bunch toxic chemicals in it). The monster attacks, killing and injuring many and eventually escaping with Hyun-Seo clutched in his mouth. At first, we assume she’s dead but we soon learn that she’s alive, the rest of the movie involves Gang-Doo, his father, his unemployed businessman brother, and bronze medal-winning archer sister all working together to save her.
The horror/action aspects of The Host are a lot easier to grasp than the heavy mystery of Memories of Murder, it’s also a lot more fun. Bong takes the monster movie genre that was started with Godzilla and King Kong and adds a layer of humanity as we watch a father and his adult children band together to save the one child they all have in common.
Of the two I have to say I think Memories of Murder is the better movie, the emotions, and depths that it reaches are just remarkable, but while I’m not generally a horror guy (it’s horror like Alien not like Halloween) I thoroughly enjoyed The Host too. Watch them both!
Memories of Murder is a little hard to find but if you look around You might be able to find it in some sort of Tube
The Host is easier it’s available to rent on any of the places you digitally rent movies. It’s on Amazon for $2.99