Memories of Murder
This is one of the best serial killer thrillers to come out in a while, and more proof that Korea is producing some of the most interesting and original films in the world right now. Like his contemporary Chan-wook Park, Bong Joon-ho's modus operandi is an unusual mixing of oddball humor, shocking brutality, and deeply felt pathos. It shouldn't work, but it really, really does. For example, one of the suspects in the case is a mildly retarded young man who is the butt of many jokes at the beginning of the film; near the end of the film, he suddenly ceases to be a comic figure in the most startling shot of the film, which I won't disclose. I'll just say that it recalls the great ending of Chinatown- those moments when everything seems to finally be going right, and then suddenly, all is lost. The transition from caricature to tragic figure is present in the characters of the cops as well. The small-town officers are clumsy and brutal, just trying to get the investigation over with quickly so they can say they were the ones who solved the case; we feel nothing but disdain for them until the final act, when we truly see them in their tragic humanity (much like the transformation of Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull). In the climactic scene of the film, the slick big-city cop is stripped bare as well, and it becomes clear that he is no different than the vicious locals he distances himself from.
The last scene, an epilogue some years later, is deeply haunting- try forgetting the look on Song Kang-ho's face as the film fades out.
There are some clever formal tricks throw in. For example, there is a scene where it seems that the protagonist's wife is about to be the next victim. Through some Hitchcock-style crosscutting we see POV shots that tell us the killer is about to pounce. Suddenly another young woman appears, walking in the opposite direction. What happens next? The director does an excellent job of playing with the expectations of genre thrillers in that scene.
Overall, this is one of the best films released in the US this year (it came out in 2003 in Korea).