The prestige of Korean films exploded since the time nearly twenty years ago when I traveled there as a panelist for the Busan Film Festival. Korean Air screened the first Korean movie I ever saw; back then, the country’s films rarely made it to United States theaters. After that, I went out of my way to catch Korean movies, which was not an easy task.
This explains why the breakthrough film by director Bong Joon-Ho never showed in Reno. Bong — last year’s Oscar winner for Parasite — previously earned acclaim for thought-provoking, dark pictures like The Host, Okja, and Snowpiercer, which my critics group included on our list of the year’s ten-best when it came out. Bong first caught attention in 2003 with Memories of Murder, though Reno residents never got the chance to see it in theaters.
That changed Monday and Tuesday, with special presentations at the Summit Sierra and Riverside theaters. Besides showing Memories of Murder on the big screen, the evening included a live conversation with Bong and director Edgar Wright.
Presenting a fictionalized look at Korea’s first serial killings, Bong showed his own promise as a world-class director who knew how to frame shots that maximize suspense and terror. Several scenes stand out, including a scary night walk where a woman senses someone following her. Another segment gains extra impact in today’s COVID-19 world through its use of masks. Pursuing a suspect into an industrial complex, police find themselves stymied because everyone wears masks. Finally, the movie’s last shot, featuring Parasite actor Song Kang-ho, stands out with haunting sadness.
While Memories of Murder bears similarities to David Fincher’s Zodiac movie by following procedural techniques, Bong’s project bears its own individuality as Korean officers deal with a situation completely new to them. Their approach fails; basically, anyone accused of the crime gets beaten into a confession, again, a situation that gains relevance with today’s focus on police issues.
As a hit release in Korea, Memories of Murder prevented the crimes from turning into a cold case. That gives the post-film conversation extra impact because of what happened a year ago when Bong came to the United States to promote his little Parasite movie. Someone confessed, but without police intervention. It all combines to make a fascinating cinematic experience.
Robin Holabird is a former film commissioner for the Nevada Film Office and a longtime KUNR entertainment reviewer. Catch her commentary Fridays during Fresh Air, between 2:37 and 2:47 p.m.
KUNR's Jayden Perez adapted this story for web.