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Won Shin-Yeon landed a healthy crowdpleaser in 2013 with the Gong Yoo-led espionage fugutive actioner, The Suspect. The former stuntman-turned-director has dabbled sufficiently in years prior with other genres like horror, comedy and suspense and for this, his latest novel adaptation, Memoir Of A Murderer, should generally prove a worthy blend of each for Won’s audience among others.
Pacing overall wanes midway into the film to a small extent as Won extracts as much narrative as he can from Kim Young-Ha’s 2013 publication. Accomplished in wake of this are a mulitude of things that help supplement the film’s progression without losing its identity or energy, including solid performances from the cast led by Rikidozan and The Merciless star, actor Sol Kyung-Gu who compels as Kim Byeong-Soo, a stoic former serial killer-turned-veterinarian now struggling with dementia and looming Alzheimers.
True to its film title, Memoir Of A Murderer dives right in to its murky, fluctuating milleu, immersing viewers with tale starkly told from Kim’s viewpoint. Viewers explore everything from Kim’s tormented childhood and the psychosis and reasoning that emboldens his heinous acts, to the very moment that everything changes and the real story begins. Further perplexing things is the fact that his very freedom hinges on not only how well hidden the bodies of his victims are, but the innate secrecy of his past life, especially from his own daughter, Eun-Hee (Seol Hyun).
Moreover, that he’s still fully aware of his previous crimes also plays into his present grapple with fending off similar urges and habits; Parallel to this is his concurrent effort with Eun-Hee’s help to adapt to new ways of maintain himself as a functioning member of society. Soon enough, reports of a spate of recent serial murders of young women and a chance meeting with an unsavory police officer named Min Tae-Joo (Kim Nam-Gil) give rise to Kim’s reawakened killer instincts and a chance to keep Min at bay. When he learns of the suspected killer’s courtship with the incognizant Eun-Hee, what ensues from then on is a psychological cat-and-mouse game that will journey Kim on a road clouded by his deteriorating mental state, and the uncertainty of old age in lieu of facing off with a younger, more agile killer playing both sides of the law.
Within the first half-hour, Won gives the viewer an almost worthy anti-hero in Kim. Won doesn’t hang on excuses for the violence, but rather makes perfect use of the template preset by Kim’s ailing condition suggestively as well as visually. Sympathy for Kim comes natural without feeling explotive or cheaply insuinated, along with more poignant moments of levity and jest per Kim’s filiality with Eun-Hee, as well as with one of his few close friends, another police officer named An Byeong-Man (Oh Dal-Su).
With a signature focus on mental disorder as the crux of Kim’s struggle, it’s the illness that coheres throughout the film and all the mind-bending twists and revelations that it culminates. Kim’s performance as Min brings definitive charm and poise with a striking dichotomy, faring intensely in opposition to Sol in his exceptional portrayal of our oftentimes brooding, albeit vulnerable main character, and distinctively invoking the palpitating nature of two generationally different men cut from the same cloth drenched in blood.
Without meandering too far into a slow-burning character study, Memoir Of A Murder takes as much time as it needs to unpack its ingredients to craft an exciting, brutal, kinetic, labyrinthine thriller that stimulates from start to finish. Superb acting and a nimble, celluar understanding of the source material that rouses the senses, combined with the invigorating chills and thrills similarly endulged in films like Kim Jee-Woon’s I Saw The Devil and in the ‘Mo Brothers’ Killers, are the perpetual basis for enjoyment with Won’s latest Hitchcockian endeavor.
Contemplating the intro and tail end scenes of the film may prove a bit puzzling – albeit likely meant to be somewhat artful per Won’s vision. Nevertheless, it’s not a huge hurdle given what he achieves for the film’s fundemental purpose overall, ultimately underscoring himself as an apt filmmaker with a keen, lithe intellect for character development and storytelling that leaves movielovers all the more satisfied.