JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Memories of Murder | Absolute Misfortune | Beasts Clawing at Straws (Directors: Bong Joon Ho, Thomas Wright, Yong-hoon Kim) - January 11, 2021

Memories of Murder | Absolute Misfortune | Beasts Clawing at Straws

Salinui chueok

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Mystery, biography and a crime

Here are three decidedly different examinations of the human experience.

Memories of Murder
2003, 131 minutes
Bong Joon Ho
Four stars

The failure to serve and protect

Ahead of his career-changing masterpiece, Parasite (cross-reference below), Ho (along with co-writers Kwang-rim Kim and Sung-bo Shim, this much-earlier production shows that even 16 year earlier, Ho knew how to choose a subject, craft a story and engage viewers in every frame.

From the opening shot (based on actual events) in South Korea’s field of rice where a young boy adds to his live grasshopper collection, to the closing image of a Shaman-like detective (artfully done by Song Kang-Ho) delivering a visual moment of “J’accuse” (to all of us), the film is extra-relevant now, just two days after “law enforcement” could not provide adequate protection of the U.S. Capitol.

At the heart of the drama are the brutal rape/murders (beginning in 1986) of women wearing red, while rain fell, and heralded by pop song “Sad Letters” playing over the air in a small province of the Republic.

When the locals can’t find any answers, a “big” detective (played with coolness until the climax by Kim Sang-kyung) enters the fray, initially offering skills rather than gut feelings. Yet the body count continues to soar.

Time after time, suspects are discovered then forced to confess (in a sad effort to show the local media that the police are “on it”) by beatings, coerced confessions or even upside-down hangings. The accused (notably No-shik Park in an incredible performance as mentally challenged Baek Gwang-ho and baby-faced Park Hueon-gyu exuding an air of innocence) are bewildered, bashed and denied any semblance of justice by those who just “need it to be solved.” That couldn’t happen in 2021, of course…

Ho’s insights—leaving more questions than answers as many good films do—is particularly relevant today as the world battles invisible viruses and political monsters that revel in wreaking havoc. JWR

Acute Misfortune
2018, 91 minutes
Thomas Wright
Three and one half stars

A Portrait of the Artist as a Deranged Man

Here’s a docudrama from Wright (co-written with Erik Jensen, who also penned the biography), that is, essentially, a two-hander between bad-boy artist and fledgling biographer. Famed New South Wales painter Adam Cullen (played with courageous gusto by Daniel Henshall), is so pleased by journalist Erik Jensen (good work from Toby Wallace even as he can’t seem to age a day during his extended assignment) with his retrospective review (far earlier in the career than most artists receive) that he invites the 19-year-old into his extraordinary life to set down his life story for posterity.

Filled with pink swastikas, portraits of the damned, rifle lessons, drugs, booze alongside sexual exploits of love, lust and revenge, Jensen’s shorthand-filled notebooks are soon overflowing.

It’s their relationship that drives the film, even as a few other characters (mostly from respective family members) add narrative relief. But, finally, it’s Cullen’s idée fixe that art = pain relief, that fuels the production. The original score from Evelyn Ida Morris (notably the carefully placed lyric-less vocals) ably supports the artistic trust’s point of view.

See for yourself and decide whether or not Cullen was a genius in his own right, or one who used his avocation to live life extra hard until it call caught up with him. JWR

Beasts Clawing at Straws
2020, 118 minutes
Yong-hoon Kim
Two and one half stars

It’s all in the bag

Kim’s first feature (written alongside Keisuke Sone) feels like more of a dress rehearsal than a fully crafted film.

The premise of sudden riches found in a neglected locker leading to intrigues, murders and duplicity is nothing new in the cinema. The saving features are Ga-ram Jung’s alluring chest, the just-bloody enough executions and the original score featuring a sultry clarinet and marimba.

The rest is to foreseeable by half, leaving experienced viewers predicting the next death as simple as predicting the reaction of the loser of the 2020 US presidential election. JWR

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