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Bong Joon-ho reflects on the real-life serial killer of his masterpiece Memories of Murder

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Watch a new clip from from the film’s Criterion 4K restoration

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Before he directed 2019’s Best Picture winner Parasite, Bong Joon-ho was already a pioneer filmmaker at the forefront of Korea’s New Wave. Films like Okja, Snowpiercer, and The Host garnered him international acclaim for his biting social commentary, acerbic wit, and deft tonal twists. Bong’s 2003’s procedural murder thriller Memories of Murder is commonly touted as not only one of his best, but one of the greatest Korean films ever produced.

Based on a true story from the 1980s, Memories of Murder finds two detectives struggling to capture the culprit behind a then-unprecedented series of murders of women in the agrarian town of Hwaseong. As the stress of the case wears on and the bodies pile up, Seo (Kim Sang-kyung) and Park (Song Kang-ho) are pushed to their brink by a desperate search to bring the killer to justice.

Detective Park (Song Kang-ho) and Seo (Kim Sang-kyung) holds the photo of murder suspect Park Hyeon-gyu (Park Hae-il ) in Memories of Murder Courtesy of the Criterion Collection

Memories of Murder is an emotionally taut and exquisitely plotted crime thriller that encompasses many if not all of the aesthetic touchstones that would go on to become Bong’s signature across his later films: darkly comedic undertones, evocative cinematography, and impressive blocking. It’s a film whose consummate craft and tone rivals, if not outright surpasses, David Fincher’s Zodiac from 2007, with terrific performances courtesy of Song Kang-ho and Kim Sang-kyung and a final scene and shot that’s sure to devastate and haunt you long after the credits roll.

Following the release of Bong’s film in 2003, the real case remained unsolved for another 16 years. But in 2019, Korean authorities confirmed the identity of the killer as Lee Chun-jae, a 57-year-old serving a life sentence since 1994. He eventually confessed to the murder of over 14 women, 10 of whom were victims in the Hwaseong murders.

This week, Criterion will release a new 4K digital restoration of Memories of Murder, complete with extra dvd features including commentary tracks, interviews with admirers such as Guillermo del Toro, and interviews with the director himself. In the clip above, critic Darcy Paquet speaks with Bong Joon-ho about the research that went into constructing the profile of the killer as they were portrayed in the film, the emotional strain of filming some of Memories of Murders’ most harrowing scenes, and his complicated reaction to the news of Lee Chun-jae’s confession.

Criterion will release the 4K edition of Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder on April 20, and it can be purchased via Amazon or the Criterion store.