(director/writer: Bong Joon-Ho; screenwriter: based on a story by Kim Gwang-rim; cinematographer: Kim Hyung-Ku; editor: Kim Sun-min; music: Iwashiro Taro; cast: Song Kang-Ho (Detective Park Doo-Man), Kim Sang-Kyung (Detective Seo Tae-Yoon), Byun Hee-bong (Sgt. Koo Hee-bong), Song Jae-ho (Sgt. Shin Dong-chul), Kim Rwe-ha (Detective Cho Yong-koo), Koh Seo-hee (Officer Kwon Kwi-ok), Jeon Mi-seon (Kwok Seol-yung), No-shik Park (Baek, Kwang-ho–retarded suspect), Hae-il Park (Park, Hyeon-gyu); Runtime: 132; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Kim Moo-ryung; Palm Pictures; 2003-S. Korea-in Korean with English subtitles)

“Superb police procedural film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Writer-director Bong Joon-Ho(“Barking Dogs Never Bark”) bases his superb police procedural film on a story by Kim Gwang-rim. The film fictionalizes a real incident in Korean society. It follows Korea’s first serial killer case that took place in 1986 and lasted five years, and resulted in the brutal murders and rapes of ten women. The killing spree began in a small-town in Gyeongi Province, outside Seoul, where a woman is found brutalized in a rice paddy field ditch and the evidence is compromised by reporters walking all over the crime scene. The elusive killer was never caught, though a suspect (Hae-il Park) was eventually questioned and released when DNA evidence couldn’t be confirmed.

The film is played in the first part mostly for broad comedy and gallows humor. The two uneducated local thuggish cops,Detective Park (Song Kang-ho) and Detective Cho Yong-koo (Kim Rwe-ha), are in over their head and when another vic is found similarly strangled with her stockings, Seoul sends the young, but better educated, Detective Seo Tae-Yoon (Kim Sang-Kyung) to assist. The city cop and the country cops clash, as their ways of investigating are vastly different. The police are stuck as the body count grows, as they don’t have the resources or the skill-set to handle this murder investigation. The local cops beat any suspect brought in for questioning, follow false leads or get to real leads too late, and think they can tell if someone’s guilty by looking them in the eye when questioning them or resorting to the use of shamen to point them in the right direction.

The pic becomes considerably darker when an alert policewoman (Koh Seo-hee) notices all the murders take place when the requested by postcard song of Sad Letter is played on the radio. Detective Seo Tae-Yoon also notes all the murders occur on rainy nights and the single female vics all wear red clothes. When the detectives at last forget their differences to catch the suspected killer, a newly arrived factory office worker, they are thwarted because the military dictatorship fails to send the garrison of troops needed to corner the killer in the act and another murder occurs when they lose sight of him in a botched tail. Seo Tae-Yoon seems to be losing his professionalism over the failed investigation and lack of help from the authorities.

This case, a sad record of the Cold War era when the events happened, resulted in the biggest investigation scandal in South Korean history and left bad memories about police incompetence and the country’s lack of modern scientific labs, as Bong Joon-Ho criticizes the government and the police for doing a poor job protecting the public and on top of that acting so boorishly.