What makes a great story? One metric might be the narrator’s ability to convey an impactful social commentary alongside the personal struggles of the protagonists. With this in mind, Korea View offers a movie recommendation for the holiday season. It is on the gory side (viewer discretion advised) but one that you will find reflecting on long after the credits end.
Memories of Murder (2003) was Parasite director Bong Joon Ho’s first commercial success and is widely considered to be one of his best films. Loosely based on a serial killer case from the 1980s, the film is a dark satire, interweaving moments of comic absurdity and the grotesque. The film stars Song Kang Ho as a bumbling small-town cop struggling to crack the case – a vehicle for the movie to simultaneously criticize police misconduct and government abuse that was arguably as violent as the serial killer.
The movie was released long before the killer’s eventual arrest and sentencing in 2020. Revelations from the trial were almost as chilling as the murders themselves – police brutality, botched investigations, wrongful convictions, and corruption. Perhaps this is why this case spawned several other works: 2015 drama Signal focused on several notable Korean (then-)cold cases including the hunt for the same serial killer from Memories. And just like Bong, Signal uses the investigation to profile a prideful police force hostile to admitting their own mistakes even in the case of wrongful convictions.
As debates around the role of police continue in the United States, these movies are worth a watch to reflect on whether any institutions can remain true defenders of society without public accountability.
This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.
Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Janet Hong, Yubin Huh, and Mai Anna Pressley. Picture from the movie Memories of a Murder