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Memoir of a Murderer - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Sal-in-ja-eui gi-eok-beob

South Korea 2017


Won Shin-yun

Sul Kyung-gu
Kim Nam-gil
Oh Dal-soo
Hwang Seok-jeong
Jeong In-gyeom

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Memoir of a Murderer

Memoir of a Murderer - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Kim Byeong-soo (Sul Kyung-gu) is a single father who has to face the grim reality that he suffers from dementia. This is especially bad since he is actually a serial killer. He didn't choose his victims at random, but selected only those who deserved it in his opinion. Because of his daughter he stopped killing 17 years ago, though. In order to not forget his past he writes a diary these days. And his daughter Eun-hee (Seolhyun) lovingly takes care of him during his dementia episodes. However, one day a serial killer is terrorizing the town. Byeong-soo fears for his daughter's safety and plans killing the serial killer while he is still healthy enough. That's when he rear-ends a stopping car in the fog. Blood is dripping from the trunk and he quick-wittedly takes a sample. The man doesn't want to give Byeong-soo his name, but the man suffering from dementia writes down the license plate. At home Byeong-soo finds out that the blood he took is in fact from a human being. He asks his friend with the police (Oh Dal-soo) to check the license plate. The car belongs to Min Tae-joo (Kim Nam-gil), also a police officer. When Tae-joo then suddenly turns up at Byeong-soo's doorstep and introduces himself as the new boyfriend of his daughter the father knows for sure that Tae-joo is the serial killer he was looking for and that the killer knows about his research...

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Review: As a filmmaker you have to come up with quite a few ideas these days if you want to create an inventive thriller. Thus, pitting a serial killer suffering from dementia against another murderer who has chosen the killer's daughter as his next victim seems to be a promising plot. And in fact director Won Shin-yun attempts to work with different facets of his story. At times, this manifests in something like new impulses, at others it means that the movie constantly shifts away from its centre and wanders around somewhere within its numerous subplots. Yet, the movie remains captivating since it toys with Byeong-soo's fading resp. selective memory. Yet, the real aspect of the story that makes it stand out from similar works and constitutes the main appeal of the film is the lack of a hero in a classic sense.

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First of all, it's not hard to grow somewhat fond of the aging father, even when we realize that he is a serial killer. Just like the famous forensic specialist Dexter from the TV show of the same name he only kills people who have deserved it. As things progress we start to have doubts about the parameters that made or make the father kill someone. But for 17 years he has been a peaceful single father. Which again raises the question, whether a bad person deserves our simpathy because of his love for his daughter alone or not. Then again, director Won also puts the question forward if Byeong-soo maybe has started killing again with the begin of his dementia while not following any pattern this time. This would make him very dangerous. But at this point another killer suddenly enters the stage.

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To dispose of this killer proves to be rather difficult when suffering from dementia. The movie doesn't only depict the tragical moments which such an illness brings about but also exhibits surprisingly well working black humor, e.g. when the father is desperately looking for his daughter in a movie theater, then can't remember what he is doing there and starts watching a movie while eating the popcorn of the woman sitting next to him. In other words, Byeong-soo isn't really very effective as a detective. But just when the lines seem to be drawn there are a few jumps within the picture's timeline. Scenes we have seen before could have taken place in a completely different way and we have to ask ourselves if there really is another killer next to the dementia patient. This question may get a rather predictable resolution, but it still brings a special flavor to the thriller.

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Director Won Shin-yun has already gained some experience in the thriller genre with "Seven Days", but this time he approaches his subject more ambitiously. As already stated, this doesn't always work as well as intended. There are a lot of different levels beneath the actual story coming to the foreground, but they are not dealt with in a befitting manner. Moreover, this may mean that the story always stays in motion, but oftentimes makes a detour which doesn't fit that well into the rest. Particularly striking is the director's lack of decisiveness during the finale what the picture actually wants to be in the end. There are even a few different endings, since to each possible ending another one has been added. The last addition seems to be the most unfortunate choice, which isn't meant to state that the ending is bad, yet, it shows that the movie's tone easily could be changed by minor editing.

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The movie is perfectly grounded by Sul Kyung-gu ("Hope"), though. Sul brings a certain intensity to the movie and the way he manages to look a lot older without simply relying on make-up proves once more what a great actor he is. However, Kim Nam-gil ("One Day") isn't really convincing. His role is too stereotypical. Seolhyun ("Gangnam Blues") doesn't deliver a memorable performance either, but at least the relationship between father and daughter is carried by her neatly as well. Yet, Sul is enough to elevate the movie in the acting department by a lot. Furthermore, there are a few interesting twists which keep "Memoir of a Murderer" thrilling all throughout. The main idea of this thriller is good, and the fact that different sides of the dementia subject are tackled is laudable, too. Accordingly, this thriller is in fact recommendable.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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