When Parasite won the Best Picture Oscar in February of 2020, it hit on more zeitgeist points than anything should ever be allowed to.
To wit, the immediate backlash regarding a foreign film taking the top prize went a long way to further explaining how Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has been so “successful”; it also incisively tapped into the rising tide of global class warfare; and, well, it deftly captured the new sort of contemporary, technofied anxiety that has characterized life in this 21st Century, and has only been exceedingly accelerated during this still carrying on pandemic.
What it also did was make Best Director Oscar winner Bong Joon Ho a very hot commodity in the film world. And as happens when someone suddenly becomes so very famous, a reassessment of his pre-fame work has been decisively put into action.
And so we get the re-release of his exalted 2003 crime thriller Memories of Murder, a digital remastering of which will be in theaters for a two-nights-only engagement, October 19 and 20. It was his second effort, and his first of four starring Song Kang-ho. The Hollywood Reporter has called it “An international cult classic.”
It’s built around a not unfamiliar trope: two small town, seemingly inauspicious detectives are on the trail of a series of rapes and murders, which may or may not be the work of a single culprit. What distinguishes the film from the typical American crime drama, is that the latter usually follows a fairly linear path from murder through investigation to satisfying resolution. But Bong chooses to make it about the detectives themselves, and how the machinations, stresses and disappointments of the process take their toll personally, and psychologically, despite the generally held belief that such a job requires training in emotional detachment.
There’s also a cockeyed quality to their own self-belief. Detective Park claims, “There’s a reason I survive as a detective. I may know nothing else, but my eyes can read people.” Yet regardless of how germane that is made to seem at first, nothing in the film actually bears it out.
The cinematography, indeed the entire aesthetic of the film, is more gothic than noir, with surely accidental nods to the likes of David Fincher and David Lynch. Darkness and shadows are practically featured characters.
It’s worthwhile to point out here that Americans are so confident in their universal crime solving ability, that for twelve seasons (of Murder She Wrote) we allowed that even a meddling old biddy with a book contract could catch the criminal week after week. But the proof that Bong’s detectives in Memories of Murder are pretty much in over their heads is summed up by this definitive exchange:
“How can a detective be such a bad fighter?,” sneers one. The reply: “How can a detective have such a bad eye for criminals?”