Korean Movies You Should Watch Before You Die #9

September 19, 2010

This is a guest post by Nick Mann

Memories of Murder

Open letter to Janus Films

Re: Criterion Collection

To begin with I would like to say thank you for your ongoing efforts to preserve and distribute important films from all over the world and throughout the entire history of cinema. A generation and more of cinephiles are indebted to you for making some of the most influential films of all time widely available.

Of course some bias is inevitable in the selection process, however in your selections of important works I feel that certain countries and filmmakers are over-represented while others are completely overlooked. It is this issue that has motivated me to write today, specifically in regards to Korean film.

After a perusal of your library, one can’t help but notice that Japanese cinema nearly eclipses cinema from the rest of Asia– there are well over 50 Japanese films on the list and not a single Korean one. While Korea’s film history may not be quite as illustrious as Japan’s, it seems that at least one example of Korean cinema is long overdue among your titles, especially when one examines the many exciting and challenging films presently being produced in that country.

Filmmakers such as Kim Ki-duk and Kim Ji-woon have made a number of films I feel worthy of wider recognition and distribution; however if only one film were to be selected to represent Korean cinema internationally, I feel the most worthy candidate is Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder (2003)

Memories… tells the story of two police detectives on the trail of a serial killer in rural 1980’s South Korea. Director Bong takes his inspiration for this film from the pages of history, basing it on a string of unsolved killings that took place during the authoritarian rule of Chun Doo-hwan. As a crime thriller it is on par with masterpieces of the genre such as Silence of the Lambs, Se7en, The Vanishing, etc. with a peculiar blending of moods which sets it apart as a uniquely Korean film. As well as a riveting thriller the director uses the period setting to comment on a time of rigid state control, when democracy was on the wane in the RoK.

The engaging plot is complemented by flawless performances (by Song Gang-ho, among others), beautiful atmospheric cinematography, and a solid soundtrack. The story is full of twists and turns and manages to hold the tension until the final haunting moments without stooping to gimmicks. The themes are suitably complex and the result is a film that audiences can expect to take something new from every time they watch.

Please consider adding Memories of Murder to your library of important international films if for no better reason than that Korean cinema is long overdue to be represented among your titles.

Thank you for your time,

Nicholas Mann



  1. I did also send this to Criterion, now that it is officially an open letter.

  2. loved the film.

  3. […] 9 Memories of Murder […]

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