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Memories of Murder is a 2003 South Korean drama directed by Byong Joon-ho (The Host, Barking Dogs Never Bite) based on the still unsolved serial murders that took place in Hwaseong between 1986 and 1991. The film follows police detectives Park Doo-Man (Kang-Ho Song) and Seo Tae-Yoon (Sang-kyung Kim) in their investigation to track down and apprehend the killer.


This film provides examples of:

  • 2 + Torture = 5: Played for Laughs when Park and Cho torture the man who was caught masturbating in the woods.
    Seo: "Hey, are you the murderer?"
    Suspect: "Yes I am."
    Seo: "Shut up, no you're not."
    Suspect: "I'm pretty sure I am though..."
  • Anti-Hero: Detective Park and detective Cho, both of whom are willing to rough up suspects if it means getting a confession out of them.
  • Bishōnen: The factory worker, who is a major suspect.
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  • Black Comedy: Comes out of the fact that it's about a serial killer who was never found.
  • Book-Ends: The film starts and ends with a scene at the same corn field.
  • Bound and Gagged: All of the victims.
  • Character Development: Around the time the third suspect emerges, Park and Seo begin to change in personalities. The originally violent and instinctive Park becomes more patient and calculating when interrogating the suspect while the normally calm and rational Seo becomes increasingly intense and vengeful.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Park's superior lights up after he finds out that the killer is loose and the police don't have enough manpower to stop him, meaning that he will kill again that night.
  • Cue the Rain: Justified in universe. The killer strikes when it rains and, so when they figure it out, the rain causes this dramatic reaction in everyone.
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  • A Date with Rosie Palms: While Seo investigates one of the crime scenes there is a man caught masturbating. He becomes a suspect and they try to beat him into a confession. But Seo determines that he is not guilty and insists that they try to capture the real killer.
  • Dies Wide Open: All of the victims.
  • Distant Finale: A Time Skip from 1987 to 2003 reveals that Park has a family and has left the police force to sell juicers, but is still haunted by the unsolved murders.
  • Downer Ending: Cho's leg is amputated after a fight. Seo completely loses it after the case wears down on him. Park is shown to be still haunted by the murders years after. The police's reputation with the public is completely destroyed and the culprit is never found. Made worse by the fact that it's Truth in Television.
  • Everybody Smokes: As the main characters are all cops, it should come as no surprise that smoking is frequent throughout the film. At one point while searching for leads, Seo nearly lights up at a middle school but finds his pack to be empty and throws it on the ground, highlighting how stressful the case is getting.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Park and Seo eventually become this, despite being an Odd Couple too.
  • Flipping the Bird: Det. Park shows his fist, with his thumb stuck between the index and middle fingers, to some heckling kids. This is an offensive gesture roughly equivalent to the American raised middle finger.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The killer is never apprehended.
  • Freudian Trio: The three detectives working on the case, with the Id, Ego, and Superego being Cho, Park, and Seo respectively.
  • From Bad to Worse: Begins with a murder, and escalates into a terrifying serial killer case that leaves everyone forever changed.
  • Funny Background Event: In one scene, while Park and Seo are having an argument in the foreground, Cho is making out with a hostess in the background, and the Chief is choking.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: The detectives try this with Kwang-ho, their first suspect. Park is nice and polite while Cho literally kicks Kwang-ho around. This is particularly disturbing as Kwang-ho is mentally challenged.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: The rain pours down as they find the last victim, after Seo let a suspect slip surveillance.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Detective Seo, who is originally calm and rational and disapproving of the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique employed by Park and Cho, becomes more and more unstrung over the course of the film, as the body count piles up. He snaps when he loses a suspect whom he was keeping under surveillance, and a school girl he had previously spoken with gets killed. He's about to shoot the suspect when Park comes charging up, with the DNA report from America revealing that the suspect's sample doesn't match. Seo refuses to believe it—"this paper lies"—and tries to kill the suspect anyway. Park knocks his arm, saving the suspect's life.
  • Hidden Villain: Combined with The Faceless.
  • High-Altitude Interrogation: Done with the man they catch masturbating near a crime scene.
  • Idiot Hero: While hero is stretching it, Park is this. He follows leads based on gossip and rumors, fails to collect the most basic of evidence and judges suspects guilty by looking into their eyes which is implied to be a sham by the way he identifies the second suspect.
  • It's Personal: Upon seeing the schoolgirl he had befriended winding up as the latest victim of the killer, Seo abandons all reason and attempts to perform a vigilante execution on the man he believes to be the murderer.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Used liberally by the police, especially Cho. Though it doesn't help much.
  • Just a Flesh Wound: Averted. Cho gets stabbed in the leg by a plank of wood with a nail attached to it. We see him limping around afterwards, and eventually his shin has to be amputated.
  • Karaoke Box: The detectives unwind in one.
  • Karma Houdini: The killer, whoever he may have been.
  • Kick the Dog: Park and Cho repeatedly beating the mentally challenged Kwang-Ho certainly counts as this.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Detective Cho has a habit of drop-kicking his suspects. It is ironic that he ends up having his leg amputated.
  • Match Cut: A pretty twisted one. The police are circled around a coroner's table, looking at the body of a murder victim. The film cuts to meat on a grill at a Korean barbecue restaurant.
  • Never the Obvious Suspect: Discovered by Seo, probably. He and Park pick up various creepy characters, and then he learns that the killer apparently looked no more sinister than he does at the end.
  • Only Sane Man: Detective Seo tries to mount a reasonable investigation into the case, but has to put up with two bumbling partners and a mismanaged, under-equipped police force. However, the stresses of the case wear him down, and he's nearly driven to shoot a suspect who may or may not be the killer.
    • Shin, the detectives' supervisor, also counts as he's trying to keep the detectives focused on solving the case instead of bickering with each other.
  • Perp Sweating: See Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique above. It never works. The suspects only tell the police what they want to hear.
  • Porn Stash: The cops find the masturbator's stash hidden away in his home.
  • Police are Useless: Park and Cho make no effort to actually find the killer effectively and spend most of their time beating coerced confessions out of anyone they have a bad vibe towards. Their superiors are mostly concerned with their reputation with the public. The government at one point sends a large police squadron to suppress a political riot rather than to find the killer. Seo seems to be the only one doing any actual police work. Though in the end, even he fails to apprehend the killer or save any people.
  • Police Brutality: It's implied by the political background of the film with South Korea as a military dictatorship that the police are more accustomed to beating and suppressing political dissidents than tracking down criminals.
  • Rabid Cop: A common theme of this film. Detective Park Doo-man and Detective Cho Yong-koo both brutally try to beat and torture confessions out of their suspects, one of whom was a mentally handicapped young man, and get very few results. They're contrasted with Detective Seo Tae-Yoon, who uses logic and reason in his investigation, but by the end of the movie, is driven to becoming almost as bad as them.
  • Race Against the Clock: Present throughout the film as the detectives eventually figure out that the next time it rains, the murderer will strike.
  • Rape as Drama: The murderer raped his victims before killing them.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Who is the killer?
  • Rule of Three: There are three main suspects in the film. Kwang-Ho, a mentally challenged boy who could not possibly be the murderer due to his physical deformities and imbalanced mind. Byung-Soon, a pervert who was caught jerking off at a crime scene who is a likely suspect but is cleared after examining a witness statement. And finally Heyon-Gyu who matches the physical description of the killer and only just moved to the area shortly before the killings began, making him very likely the culprit. Though even he is cleared at the end by a DNA analysis.
  • Sanity Slippage: Seo becomes increasingly unhinged and obsessed with the case, this culminates in him attempting to murder an innocent suspect.
  • Scenery Porn: There are many landscape shots of the Korean countryside.
  • Serial Killer: The main plot.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Detective Park, who claims that he can instinctively tell who's a bad guy.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: The superstitious and impulsive Park frequently butts heads with the logical and evidence based Seo and they argue and fight frequently through the story. Though they seem to reach something of an understanding upon discovering the third suspect.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: In the end, a young girl describes a man who is more than likely the killer, and says that he looked "ordinary" and had a "normal" face. This suggests even further that the handsome Hyeon-gyu Park really was innocent.
  • The Unsolved Mystery: To this day.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Although compared to the Hollywood standards of anything "based on a true story", it's almost a documentary.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Seo and Park's supervisor pukes into a bucket at a party.
  • Workaholic: Seo. He is shown to stay overtime at the police station in order to look over some documents surrounding the case and unlike the other detectives, his mind is occupied about the case even during his downtime.

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