When news arrived that the latest Korean thriller was premiering a day after my birthday, I gladly thanked the Korean film industry for a satisfactory birthday present. While not an avid fan of my homeland’s films, my heart rate does jump up a notch at the sound of an upcoming addition to its strongest genre. I began reminiscing about some exemplary thrillers, such as Oldboy, The Chaser, or I Saw the Devil, and quickly decided to purchase a ticket. Upon viewing it, I can say that while it was a good attempt, it did not join the ranks of those mentioned above.
Memoir of a Murderer is directed by Shin-yun Won and stars Kyung-gu Sol, Nam-gil Kim, and Seolhyun. It tells the story of Byung-soo, a veterinarian and former serial killer, and his daughter, Eun-hee, in the countryside of Korea. Byung-soo is struggling with Alzheimer’s disease, when one day he identifies another serial killer, Tae-ju. While he attempts to have him arrested without much luck, he finds out that Eun-hee is dating Tae-ju. He has to protect his daughter from danger, and to make matters worse, he must battle his own deteriorating memory.
The movie is based on a best-selling novel by Young-ha Kim, a renowned Korean novelist. While a few adaptations were made, it stayed along the lines of the source material. However, in this examination of the movie, no comparisons to the book will be made.
The film takes off with a captivating introduction to Byung-soo, his background story, and an admirable dynamic with his daughter. Viewers have little problem sympathizing with him due to his tragic past, and the film succeeds in making the audience care for him from then on, even though he was a killer. The most notable feats of Memoir of a Murderer are the storytelling and direction. By primarily following Byung-soo’s perspective, the viewers are forced to experience memory problems similar to his. Just as the main character constantly questions his own memories, it is up to each person in the audience to decide what to trust. The story constantly moves forward, feeding in new information and making it more difficult to differentiate between reality and the creations of Byung-soo’s diseased brain. This continues to elevate the tension, drawing viewers further into the story and making them yearn for an answer. Furthermore, nuanced shots and edits added to the intended confusion of the story.
A psychological thriller would fall short without an outstanding lead actor. Just as Oldboy had Min-sik Choi and The Chaser had Jung-woo Ha, Memoir of a Murderer is gifted with Kyung-gu Sol. A convincing performance as a scatterbrained ex-killer with award-worthy renditions of ticks definitely added to the experience. Nam-gil Kim as his rival was also commendable, and Seolhyun, a popular K-pop idol with little experience in acting, was surprisingly alright. Ultimately, however, the movie falls short in many ways as do other Korean movies. I was very distracted when in the midst of the rising tension, arbitrary comedic scenes broke the well-realized mood. The need to incorporate comedy into movies of any genre, whether it be action, romance, or thriller, causes a sudden and awkward change in tone that seriously detracts from the experience. Another issue was the abuse of narration. When used with caution, it can be a helpful tool in introducing the story; however, the filmmakers’ decision to convey a majority of the information through voiced-over narration exhibits an example of lazy scriptwriting.
Finally, character motivations and plot devices stayed within hackneyed ideas. A bland motivation for Tae-ju disappointed many during the last minutes of the movie. Plot twists, although well-portrayed, were not very innovative, and the use of dream sequences to confuse the audience weakened the plot by adding unnecessary scenes. Digging deeper into the plot, Byung-soo’s reasons for his past crimes hinted at potentially thought- provoking philosophical ideas, but in the end, the movie only managed to scratch the surface without developing any profound concepts.
Overall, Memoir of a Murderer has the potential to be more but falls short in many of the hurdles it had to overcome. Those who have read the book have noticed that changes were made to accommodate film audiences. Perhaps it is the shift to a more commercial route that placed the movie in unoriginal territory. The newest Korean thriller was an enjoyable two hours that unfortunately will not last long in memory.