Sunday, July 17, 2005

Movie: Memories of Murder (2003, U.S. 2005)

On my bleary-eyed Friday morning march through the New York Times, I took special note of Manohla Dargis’ rave review of this South Korean film. I had missed it during its brief run at the Northwest Film Forum a few weeks back – one of the rare occasions when a movie opened in Seattle ahead of the Big Apple – and wanted to catch up with it.

I did the very next day. In the comfort of my own home. For free.

MEMORIES is part of Palm Pictures’ new video on demand film festival, run in conjunction with Comcast Cable. Palm asks viewers to vote for the films online to determine which ones receive theatrical and/or DVD release. So far their website keeps rejecting my vote, which would be to get this movie into as many theaters as possible.

It’s based on a true story and unfolds primarily in 1986, as South Korea gears up for a critical election. A serial killer begins preying on women in a rural section of the country. The lead local detective is a cagey brute content to force the most likely suspect into confessing. As the murders continue, he’s paired up with a brilliant but damaged inspector from Seoul determined to take a more intellectual approach.

All the stock elements are in place. Mismatched partners? Check. Depraved psychopath who kills according to an elaborate set of rules? Check.

But they’ve never been delivered like this before. Writer/director Bong Joon-Ho perfects a singular tone, one that incorporates deadpan black comedy – even the big city cop is woefully unprepared to investigate a crime of this magnitude – to chilly reverence. He also skillfully weaves in political commentary, as South Korea’s national upheavals play out in the background. It all culminates in a quiet, utterly devastating climax.

In the last few weeks, entrepreneurs as varied as Mark Cuban and Morgan Freeman have made noise about turning the mechanism of film distribution upside down. I’ve had my doubts. But if this is the future – having one of the year’s best movies debut on your cable box instead of falling into the cracks – I say bring it on.

Miscellaneous: Link

Patrick McGilligan, author of the indispensable BACKSTORY books, interviews my hero Larry Cohen. From getting in on the ground floor of blaxploitation films to directing Bette Davis’ last movie, it’s all here. Courtesy of GreenCine.