January 11, 2014

Lerman's 14 For '14 Day Seven: MEMORIES OF MURDER And Police Duplicity

"Documents don't lie."
Back in 2006, Lerman took me out to see The Host, which I remember him describing as, "Jaws meets Godzilla, but Korean and fucking funny."  The film (which you can currently stream on Netflix) did not disappoint and I ended up buying on DVD the moment it became available.  I even revisited it for the first time in a few years during the run-up to Pacific Rim and found it to be just as great as I remembered.  Director Joon-ho Bong manages to balance a number of different tones and styles in a fairly remarkable way and I'm now growing positively rabid to see his upcoming post-apocalyptic epic Snowpiercer. Yet somehow I'd never managed to dig back through the rest of Bong's filmography.  It's only a small handful of films and I'm glad that Lerman threw one into the mix.  It seems fitting.

Memories Of Murder, Bong's immediate predecessor to The Host, is a dramatic change of pace, the tale of two rural and and largely unskilled police detectives, along with a far more competent officer transferred in from Seoul, who are investigating a serial rapist and killer of women in 1986.  Much like The Host, it's beautifully shot and smartly structured although it lacks much of that film's playful sense of humor, hardly a surprise considering the grisly subject matter.  Star Kang-ho Song (a frequent Bong collaborator) has a certain pathetic yet lovable quality that makes for a strange emotional disconnect when seeing him as a police officer, similar to Joe Lo Truglio's character on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.  Song's Detective Park is like a dark mirror of his character from The Host, less of an adorable child and more of a simple-minded brute.  Park is isn't really interested in following the evidence to find the actual killer and would rather grab the first convenient suspect and fit him for the noose regardless of any obvious innocence.

This struck a chord with me, as it reflected a situation that befell a friend.  She has a son who filed a false police report and when the police followed up they quickly realized that his claims were bullshit.  The officers told the boy's mother that he should simply admit his mistake, pay a small penalty and that would be the end of it.  But when he came clean the kid was hit with a huge fine and charged with a misdemeanor.  Aside from the radioactive fallout that will haunt this kid forever and the fact that it feels like absurd overkill for a largely victimless crime (yes he wasted the time and efforts of the officers involved, but he also never actually pointed a finger at anyone specific) what's worse is that the kid and his mother have now been instilled with a strong distrust of police in general.

I've been lucky enough to have had minimal interactions with cops in my time, mostly consisting of a series of (largely unwarranted) noise complaints at my old apartment in LA and a handful of traffic stops.  I have an uncle who's a cop and he's one of the nicest guys I've ever met.  He volunteered his car for my license road test simply because neither of my parents' cars had an accessible parking brake.  Especially after the events of the Boston Marathon bombing and the subsequent manhunt, I have nothing but respect for the police.  But, at the same time, I recognize that not all cops are my uncle and, just like in any profession, there are always a couple of assholes.  The thing to keep in mind if you ever find yourself a suspect in an investigation, no matter how minor, is that the police do not necessarily have your best interests at heart.  Odds are that, much like Detective Park, the officers involved are far more interested in successfully closing the case and moving on to the next thing.  Park even goes so far as to manufacture evidence and coerce knowingly false confessions out of suspects using methods tantamount to torture.  It's reminiscent of the situation with the Central Park Five, in which the NYPD decided to pin the brutal rape and attack of a female jogger on whatever suspects they had conveniently lying around, despite the fact that they were minors and obviously couldn't have committed that crime.  Much like the kid with the false police report, the investigators lied to the suspects, telling them that they would be able to go home if they cooperated and made up a story that implicated themselves and/or each other.  It's pretty fucking despicable behavior.

Is this simply a systemic problem, a natural side effect when someone is given that much authority over others, constantly exposed to the worst impulses of human nature and then placed under tremendous stress?  Memories Of Murder would seem to suggest as much.  Detective Seo, held up as the model detective who focuses solely on the evidence and refuses to engage in Park's aggressive interrogation techniques, is finally driven so far to the edge that he's willing to ignore DNA evidence exonerating the suspect that he feels in his gut is the killer.  It's a powerful moment to be sure, and illustrates that even the best of the police is susceptible to weakness and poor judgement, especially when surrounded by the likes of Park.  In truth, it happens to everyone regardless of your station in life.  The difference is that if I have a bad day at work, I can't literally destroy someone's life as a result.

That's why if I ever find myself being questioned by the police, the only thing they're going to hear me say is, "I want my phone call and my lawyer."

What's The Connection? - I really struggled to find a common thread with The Disappearance Of Alice Creed and I feel like I'm probably missing something that connected the two in Lerman's mind.  But I'm gonna go with an inverse relationship: in Alice Creed we spend all our time with kidnappers and never see the efforts of the police.  The opposite is true here...sort of.  While we do see the killer take down two women, it's only a brief flash, not enough for us to identify him.  Instead we spend all our time focused on the cops, who never actually catch up with the killer.  Hey, they have that in common too!  Also for what it's worth, in both films the title doesn't really take on its full weight until the final moments.

Up Next - Bloody Sunday

Title: Memories Of Murder
Director: Joon-ho Bong
Starring: Kang-ho Song, Sang-kyung Kim, Roe-ha Kim, Jae-ho Song, Hie-bong Byeon, Seo-hie Ko, No-shik Park, Hae-il Park
Year Of Release: 2003
Viewing Method: Netflix DVD

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