Memories of Murder

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Memories of Murder
Korean theatrical release poster
Hangul살인 추억
Revised RomanizationSarinui Chueok
McCune–ReischauerSarinŭi Ch'uǒk
Directed byBong Joon-ho
Produced byCha Seung-jae
Written byBong Joon-ho
Shim Sung-bo
Based onMemories of Murder (play)
by Kim Kwang-rim
StarringSong Kang-ho
Kim Sang-kyung
Kim Roi-ha
Park Hae-il
Byun Hee-bong
Music byTarō Iwashiro
CinematographyKim Hyung-koo
Edited byKim Sun-min
Distributed byCJ Entertainment
Release date
  • 2 May 2003 (2003-05-02)
Running time
131 minutes
CountrySouth Korea
BudgetUS$2.8 million[1]

Memories of Murder (Korean살인의 추억; RRSarinui chueok) is a 2003 South Korean crime thriller film co-written and directed by Bong Joon-ho. It is loosely based on the true story of Korea's first serial murders in history, which took place between 1986 and 1991 in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province. Song Kang-ho and Kim Sang-kyung star as Detective Park and Detective Seo, respectively, two of the detectives trying to solve the crimes.

The film was the second feature film directed by Bong, following his 2000 debut film Barking Dogs Never Bite. The screenplay was adapted by Bong and Shim Sung-bo from Kim Kwang-rim's 1996 stage play "Come to See Me" about the same subject. The film has earned critical acclaim for its cinematography, film editing, score, Song's performance, and Bong's direction and screenplay. It has been regarded by several publications as one of the best films of the 21st century.[2][3]


In October 1986, two women are found raped and murdered on the outskirts of a small town. Local detective Park Doo-man, not having dealt with such a serious case before, is overwhelmed — evidence is improperly collected, the police's investigative methods are suspect, and their forensic technology is near non-existent. Park claims he has a way of determining suspects by eye contact. He decides to first question a scarred mentally handicapped boy, Baek Kwang-ho, because he used to follow one of the victims around town. Park uses his eye contact method, thinking Baek is responsible, and has his partner Cho beat confessions out of Baek.

Seo Tae-yoon, a detective from Seoul, volunteers to assist them. However he and Park's methods clash. Seo deems Baek's hands too weak and scarred to be able to commit such an elaborate crime, clearing his name. After more murders are committed, they realize that the killer waits until a rainy night and only kills women wearing red. Officer Kwon Kwi-ok realizes that a local radio station is always requested to play a particular song during the nights the murders are committed.

At the latest crime scene, Park, Cho and Seo all arrive to investigate in different ways, but a local man there masturbates in a woman's red lingerie. Park and Cho apprehend the man, brutally beating him. Seo finds a survivor of the killer with Kwon's help. Upon learning that the killer's hands were noticeably soft, Seo clears the man, as his hands are rough. Infuriated that they lost their suspect, Park scuffles with Seo until Kwon alerts them that the song on the radio is playing. They realize it's raining but arrive too late, finding another woman murdered. Park, Seo and Cho finally decide to work together.

Upon doing an autopsy of the latest victim, they discover pieces of a peach in the body. Clues lead them to a factory worker, Park Hyeon-gyu. Seo notes that his hands are soft like the survivor had described. Hyeon-gyu begins to show discomfort when Seo presents the peaches and they think they've found the killer. Cho loses control and beats Hyeon-gyu, prompting their superior to ban him from the interrogation room. Park and Seo listen to Baek's earlier confession. Seo points out that he talks as if someone else did it and they realize he knew details of the murder because he witnessed it. They go to Baek's father's restaurant, only to discover a drunken Cho there. As people watch news and ridicule police officers, he beats everyone and Baek joins the fray, swinging a wooden board at Cho's leg and accidentally piercing it with a rusty nail. Park and Seo chase Baek and question him, but he gets frightened and runs into the path of an oncoming train, where he is hit and killed.

Park learns that Cho's leg will have to be amputated because the nail caused tetanus, leaving him feeling guilty. They discover semen on one of the bodies, but because of lack of technology, the sample has to be sent to the United States to confirm if suspect Hyeon-gyu is the killer. That night, a young girl is killed. At the crime scene, Seo recognizes the girl as the same schoolgirl he had befriended while investigating. Enraged, he attacks Hyeon-gyu until he is interrupted by Park bringing the results from America. The sample does not match Hyeon-gyu's DNA. Park lets Hyeon-gyu go.

In the end, the crimes remain unsolved. While visiting the crime scene years later in 2003, Park Doo-man, now a businessman, learns from a little girl that the scene had recently been visited by an unknown man with a 'normal' face, someone who looked very ordinary. The little girl had asked the man why he was looking at the ditch; the man had responded that he was reminiscing about something he had done there a long time ago. The film ends as Park, realizing the truth, looks straight at the camera, seemingly using his eye-contact method to spot the killer among the audience.


  • Song Kang-ho – Park Doo-man, the detective in charge of solving the murders
  • Kim Sang-kyung – Seo Tae-yoon, a younger but also much more experienced detective from Seoul who volunteers to help Park
  • Kim Roi-ha – Cho Yong-koo, Park's partner who beats suspects, and is popular among women
  • Song Jae-ho – Sergeant Shin Dong-chul, the detectives' superior
  • Byun Hee-bong – Sergeant Koo Hee-bong, another superior working on the case
  • Go Seo-hee – Officer Kwon Kwi-ok, a female police officer who works with the other detectives to solve the case
  • Park No-shik – Baek Kwang-ho, an intellectually disabled man and one of the suspects
  • Park Hae-il – Park Hyeon-gyu, a factory worker and another suspect of the case
  • Jeon Mi-seon – Kwok Seol-yung, Park Doo-man's girlfriend
  • Yeom Hye-ran – So-hyeon's mother


Within a year of its debut, Memories of Murder was received as a cult film, later in the decade it was praised by numerous international publications, referred to as one of the greatest films of 2000s, one of the best crime films ever made, and one of the best South Korean films of all time. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 94% based on 63 reviews, with an average rating of 8.20/10. The site's critics consensus reads, "Memories of Murder blends the familiar crime genre with social satire and comedy, capturing the all-too human desperation of its key characters."[4] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 82 out of 100 based on 15 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[5] The film won the South Korean film industry's 2003 Grand Bell Awards for best film, while Bong Joon-ho and Song Kang-ho won the awards for best director and best leading actor respectively.[6]

By the end of the film's domestic run it had been seen by 5,101,645 people,[7] making it the most watched film during the year 2003 in South Korea. While it was eventually outgained by Silmido, which was released in the same year, most of Silmido's audience did not see it until 2004.[citation needed] At the end of the film's run, Memories of Murder was also the fourth most viewed film of all time in the country, after Shiri, Friend and Joint Security Area.[citation needed] The commercial success of the film has been credited as saving one of its production companies, Sidus Pictures, from bankruptcy.[8]

Memories of Murder received screenings at several international film festivals, including Cannes Film Festival, Hawaii International Film Festival, London International Film Festival, Tokyo International Film Festival and San Sebastian International Film Festival, where Bong Joon-ho won the Best Director Award.[9]

Director Quentin Tarantino named it, along with Bong's The Host, one of his Top 20 favorite movies since 1992.[10] It was also chosen as the best Korean film of the century.[11] Sight & Sound included it in their list of "30 key films that defined the decade".[12] It was no. 63 in Slant Magazine's list of the 100 best films of the aughts.[13]

In 2010, Film Comment listed their top films of the decade based on an international poll of various cinephiles including filmmakers, critics and academics.[14] Two films directed by Bong Joon-ho were included in the list – The Host (no. 71) and Memories of Murder (no. 84).[14]

Real life case[edit]

While a total body count was never mentioned in the film, at least 10 similar murders were committed in the Hwaseong area between October 1986 and April 1991. This killing spree became known as the Hwaseong serial murders.

Some of the details of the murders, such as the killer gagging the women with their underwear, were also taken from the case.[15] As in the film, the investigators found bodily fluids suspected to belong to the murderer in the crime scenes, but did not have access to equipment to determine whether the DNA matched with the suspects until late in the investigations. After the ninth murder, DNA evidence was sent to Japan (unlike the film, where it was sent to America) for analysis, but the results did not correspond with the suspects.[16]

As in the film, at the time of its release, the actual murderer had not yet been caught. As the case was growing closer to reaching the statute of limitations, South Korea's leading Uri Party sought to amend the law to give the prosecutors more time to find the murderer. However, in 2006, the statute of limitations was reached for the last-known victim.[17] More than 13 years later, on 18 September 2019, police announced that a man in his 50s, Lee Choon-jae, had been identified as a suspect in the killings.[18] He was identified after DNA from the underwear of one of the victims was matched with his, and subsequent evidence linked him to four of the ten murders.[19] At the time he was identified he was already serving a life sentence at a prison in Busan for the rape and murder of his sister-in-law.[20]

Lee initially denied any involvement in the serial murders,[21] but on 2 October 2019, police announced that Lee had confessed to killing 14 people, including all 10 serial murders and 4 others. Two of those murders happened in Suwon, and the other two happened in Cheongju. As of October 2019, details about those 5 victims have not been released because the investigation is ongoing.[22] In addition to the murders, he also confessed to more than 30 rapes and attempted rapes.[23][24]

After Lee's arrest, Bong Joon-ho commented, "When I made the film, I was very curious, and I also thought a lot about this murderer. I wondered what he look[ed] like." He later added, "I was able to see a photo of his face. And I think I need more time to really explain my emotions from that, but right now I’d just like to applaud the police force for their endless effort to find the culprit.”[25]

Awards and honors[edit]

2003 Chunsa Film Art Awards
2003 Busan Film Critics Awards[26]
2003 Grand Bell Awards
2003 Tokyo International Film Festival
  • Best Asian Film
2003 Blue Dragon Film Awards
  • Best Cinematography – Kim Hyung-koo
2003 Korean Film Awards
2003 Director's Cut Awards
2003 Torino Film Festival
2004 Festival du Film Policier de Cognac
  • First Prize
  • Premier Prize


Screenwriter Kim Eun-hee (Sign, Phantom) was attached to a television adaptation with the working title Signal, which aired on tvN in 2016.[27]

Gap-dong, which aired on tvN in 2014, was also loosely inspired by the film.

Footfairy, an Indian Film in Hindi language released on 24 October 2020 directly on Television.


  1. ^ Cheong, Sung-il; Paquet, Darcy (2004). Korean Cinema 2003, Korean Film Commission. p.92.
  2. ^ Kim, June (April 1, 2015). "Memories of Murder Makes Cinema Scope's Top Ten Films of the Decade". Korean Film Biz Zone. Retrieved April 2, 2015.
  3. ^ "한국영상자료원 | 웹진". 2015-05-14. Archived from the original on 2015-05-14. Retrieved 2020-08-27.
  4. ^ "Memories of Murder (2003)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 2020-01-03.
  5. ^ "Memories of Murder Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 2020-01-03.
  6. ^ "Grand Bell Awards, South Korea (2003)". IMDb. Retrieved 2020-12-27.
  7. ^ 2003 Korean film reviews and box-office report at
  8. ^ Cheong, Sung-il; Paquet, Darcy (2004). Korean Cinema 2003, Korean Film Commission. p.7.
  9. ^ "San Sebastián International Film Festival (2003)". IMDb. Retrieved 2020-12-27.
  10. ^ Youtube - Quentin Tarantino's Favourite Movies from 1992 to 2009...
  11. ^ "한국영화 100년, 최고의 작품 '살인의 추억'". (in Korean). Retrieved 2019-03-22.
  12. ^ "30 great films of the 2000s". Sight & Sound.
  13. ^ "The 100 Best Films of the Aughts" Slant Magazine. February 7, 2010.
  14. ^ a b "Film Comment's End-of-the-Decade Critics' Poll". Film Comment.
  15. ^ Unsolved murders may escape prosecution Archived 2007-10-13 at the Wayback Machine,, March 2, 2006, retrieved March 11, 2006.
  16. ^ Hwang Ho-taek, DNA Evidence,, January 21, 2006, retrieved March 11, 2006.
  17. ^ Lee Sun-young, Uri seeks extension of prosecution time limits, The Korea Herald, November 23, 2005.
  18. ^ "South Korean serial killer who inspired 'Memories of Murder' identified after 30 years". BNO News. 2019-09-18.
  19. ^ "Hwaseong serial murderer may have confessed as chances of parole dimmed". Yonhap News Agency. 2 October 2019. Retrieved 2 October 2019.
  20. ^ "Police find suspect in 30-year-old Hwaseong serial murder case". Lprea Herald. September 18, 2019. Retrieved September 19, 2019.
  21. ^ "Suspect denies involvement in S. Korea's worst serial murder case". Yonhap News Agency. September 19, 2019. Retrieved September 19, 2019.
  22. ^
  23. ^ Suspect in Hwaseong serial murder case confesses to killings: police
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^ "Memories of Murder - Awards". Cinemasie. Retrieved February 15, 2015.
  27. ^ Kim, June (February 12, 2015). "MEMORIES OF MURDER to Be Reborn as TV Series". Korean Film Biz Zone. Retrieved February 15, 2015.

External links[edit]