Memories of Murder – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray Review)

Before Parasite won Best Picture and three other Oscars in 2020 (back when the world was in order), it was just one of several incredible films directed by the Academy Award-winning Bong Joon-ho. Memories of Murder is among them. However, much like the elusive killer in this film (and in real life), this film has sadly not been widely available, but that has fortunately changed. Whether or not people had a chance to recently see the film, this sophomore effort from Bong is a great reminder of his talent early on, let alone a great crime drama layered with dark comedy. Fortunately, the Criterion Collection has now provided a proper U.S. Blu-ray release for the film.


2003’s Memories of Murder is director Bong Joon-ho’s crime drama loosely based around the true story of Korea’s first serial murders, taking place between 1986 and 1991. Song Kang-ho and Kim Sang-kyun star as two detectives trying to solve the crimes, balancing their different skills and mindsets while grappling with the heavy toll these murders take on them.

Not unlike David Fincher’s films (with Zodiac becoming a very fitting companion film four years later), Memories of Murder accomplishes so much without relying on the grisly murders of innocent women. While horrific, we discover things after the fact, with lots of time committed to the police working on theories and suspects. Not unlike the films from Asghar Farhadi, while set in the past, there’s still a sense of understanding how culture differs from my perspective that only adds to the complications of such a difficult case to solve.

As a result, due to the limits of the time, watching these detectives’ struggles to have adequate means to go after a killer allows for many frustrating moments, some humorous ones, and a lot of tension in the relationships forming between certain characters. This is very much a film about the feeling of defeat and reckoning with a lack of ability to save lives. True to form, Bong does everything needed to convey so much throughout this story.

Inspired by the true story of these murders and Alan Moore’s From Hell, the film is rich with detail. Using real locations and letting the environments factor into how characters can move around and react goes a long way in maintaining a certain mood that feels authentic yet stylized to a point. The use of slow-motion and specific color choices makes the viewer aware of what’s important at all times, along with subtle hints to cue certain feelings. This movie was designed from the ground up, and the rewards are just so evident throughout.

Of course, one cannot count out the performs either. Song Kang-ho, one of Bong’s most reliable collaborators, is terrific as always. Not letting vanity get in the way of his performance. He’s a smart detective but also limited in his abilities, let alone stubborn at times. This plays well for Kim Sang-kyung, who is not quite the opposite, but certainly allows for the contrasts between the two to play well in their work together, letting the film have a solid dynamic to play with, as the two investigate the murders.

For a stunning mystery that presents violent crimes in a manner aided by quality filmmaking, Memories of Murder easily sits alongside the best of the genre. That Bong would go on from here to make more equally terrific films speaks to his abilities as a writer/director, let alone just how much good company he keeps around him.



Encoding: MPEG -4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Details: This new 4K digital restoration was undertaken by CJ Entertainment and was supervised by cinematographer Kim Hyung Ku and approved by Bong Joon Ho.

Clarity/Detail: Apparently, the power of color correction has struck again, as I’m aware of the discourse surrounding what the film’s previous Blu-ray release looked like compared to this greener transfer. Given the filmmakers’ work and approval, I don’t have much to add, as one would think the filmmaker knows what’s best for their film. As it stands, the look of Memories of Murder is very moody and full of atmosphere. More crowded scenes give way to plenty of details in the production design. It all registers very well.

Depth: This film’s staging makes for a good understanding of character placement, with no sense of flatness in watching these people move around the various environments. That’s especially the case in these crowded scenes set in fields, where the distance is key to understand.

Black Levels: Again, I wonder if the new color scheme is taking more effect here, but I can’t say the film feels drowned out in any significant way when considering the black levels. It’s a stable image for the most part, but there are signs of crushing in a few instances. This is the area that felt the most impacted by restoration choices.

Color Reproduction: This is a fairly muted film where choices in color pop out quite easily. When those moments occur, they register well enough, even with the added greenish/brownish approach to the overall look.

Flesh Tones: The detail level seen in the characters, in close-up, is impressive.

Noise/Artifacts: The film is spotless.



Audio Format(s): Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: This is a terrific lossless track that does well to combine all of the elements together – dialogue, sound effects, music, ambient noise. It all plays well to the film delivering in the ways it needs to in order to maintain a level of suspense.

Low-Frequency Extension: Some thundering storms and other moments do well to punch up the sub-woofer at the right moment.

Surround Sound Presentation: One can get a great sense of the film’s environment thanks to work done in balancing this 5.1 track. While center-focused, the film does well to immerse the viewer thanks to the way it lays out its audio elements properly.

Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone is heard loud and clear.



Memories of Murder is packed with extras, both new and ported over from previous releases. The first disc features three commentary tracks and a fun conversation with the always welcome Guillermo del Toro. The second disc has a massive making-of going over the whole film, along with Bong’s original short film that’s been newly restored for this release. There’s just a lot of great stuff here.

Features Include:

Disc One:

  • Commentaries
    • Director and Crew – Bong Joon Ho, cinematographer Kim Hyung Ku, and production designer Ryu Sung Hee, recorded in 2003.
    • Director and Cast – Bong Joon Ho, and actors Song Kang Ho, Kim Sang Kyung, and Park No Shik, recorded in 2003.
    • Tony Rayns – Film critic Tony Rayns, recorded in 2020.
  • Perfect Cinema (HD, 14:08) – Guillermo del Toro discusses Memories of Murder and director Bong Joon Ho. Recorded in 2020, Del Toro is, as always, well-spoken and very enthusiastic about what he appreciates about his subject.
  • Deleted Scenes (SD, 15:00) – Seven deleted scenes featuring optional commentary from Bong Joon Ho, with optional English subtitles.
  • Teaser (SD, 2:00)
  • Trailer (SD, 2:47)
  • TV Spot (SD, 0:33)

Disc Two:

  • Imagination vs. Reality (HD, 10:45) – Bong Joon Ho and critic/translator Darcy Paquet discuss Lee Chun-jae, the real-life serial killer, in this newly recorded program. There’s plenty of discussion of the research and preparation done before the production. In Korean, with optional English subtitles.
  • Making Memories of Murder (SD, 2:38:22) – Originally made in 2004, this expansive documentary chronicles the film’s entire production history, with plenty of interviews with the cast and crew. In Korean with optional English subtitles.
  • Sonic Precision (HD, 20:38) – Film scholar Jeff Smith discusses how sound plays an important role in Bong Joon Ho’s films in this newly recorded feature.
  • Incoherence (HD) – Bong Joon Ho’s 1994 short film has been newly restored and added to this release.
    • Introduction (HD, 6:47) – Bong Joon Ho and critic/translator Darcy Paquet discuss the short.
    • Incoherence (HD, 30:32) – A series of vignettes that are enjoyable enough to watch, and feel informed by a couple of filmmakers.

PLUS – An essay by critic and novelist Ed Park



If you like tense crime procedurals on film, Memories of Murder is one of the best examples of modern times. It’s a terrific feature that does well to establish how great a filmmaker Bong Joon-ho was from his earliest days. While not winning over everyone as far as an artistic choice, the new video transfer does a fine job supporting the film, along with the terrific audio track. And this disc is packed with extras for all to enjoy as well. Anyone looking for a sprawling crime thriller can get plenty out of this release.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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