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Heroes of the Zeroes: Memories of Murder

by on July 12, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Memories of Murder”
Rated R

South Korean filmmaker Joon-ho Bong flourishes when fluttering like a genre gadfly — converting popular American plots into smooth-suspension vehicles for caustic Korean critique.

He preceded 2006’s lividly satirical monster-movie “The Host” with 2003’s “Memories of Murder” — an ultimately melancholy true-crime drama based on South Korea’s first instance of serial murders, which spanned from 1986 to 1991.

The trail of killings start with a woman raped, murdered, bound and left in a rural sewage ditch. Investigating detectives are dedicated, but a lack of resources and a surplus of bureaucratic apathy favor the killer as much as his meticulously covered tracks. As leads disappear, even the best of the cops turn away from analysis and deduction and toward fall guys and brute force.

“Memories” allows viewers to fall into the cops’ fallibilities and frustrations, but the characters don’t have the constant countenance of grim glowers their American counterparts might wear. These detectives are dogged, but not downtrodden, and Bong shows their lives, however tortured, outside the case — somewhat like “Heat” without the antagonistic rivalries or “Zodiac” with a more political slant.

It does share an obsessive bone with “Zodiac,” as shrewd observation and legwork give way to laughable goose chases, desperate theories (attempted shamanism to divine the killer) and, eventually, irrational behavior with severe consequences.

All the logic gaps and judgment errors led to a finale reflecting real-life futility — the investigation’s brutally exacted physical, mental, emotional, social and political tolls, as well as how utterly distracting political machinations around us can become.