Director Bong Joon Ho reacts to the ID of alleged ‘Memories of Murder’ serial killer

Director Bong Joon Ho, photographed in Los Angeles in 2010, echoed national horrors over a series of unsolved murders in his acclaimed 2003 true crime film, "Memories of Murder."
(Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

Three decades after the unsolved serial killings that inspired director Bong Joon Ho’s critically acclaimed 2003 film “Memories of Murder,” the Korean authorities recently identified a man they believe is responsible for the crimes.

“It felt very complicated to hear that news,” the filmmaker said Friday in Los Angeles at Beyond Fest, speaking to a sold-out film festival audience at the West Coast premiere of his Palme d’Or-winning new film, “Parasite.”

That suspect has now confessed to the crimes, police said Tuesday, according to South Korean media reports.


The real life killer has remained on Bong’s mind ever since the making of his acclaimed second film — his first collaboration with frequent muse Song Kang-Ho, who played a detective haunted by his failure to solve killings based on the Hwaseong serial murders that occurred between 1986 and 1991.

During that span of time, 10 women between the ages of 14 to 71 were found raped and murdered in Gyeonggi province. One of the murders was later determined to be a copycat killing, but the trail ran cold for nearly 30 years before the statute of limitations expired on the remaining crimes.

That is until earlier this month, when Korean authorities announced that a DNA match had been made linking evidence from some of the crime scenes to a suspect already behind bars. According to South Korean media reports, he is a 56-year-old man serving a life sentence for the 1994 rape and murder of his sister-in-law.

When the news broke that the killer may have been found, director Bong was in the midst of a North American tour for his seventh film, “Parasite.” The Oscar favorite premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the top prize. Already a box office hit in Korea, it opens stateside Oct. 11 and marks his fourth film starring Song, who plays the patriarch of a poor family that ingratiates itself into the lives of a wealthy family.

Song also starred for Bong in sci-fi allegories “The Host” and “Snowpiercer,” but one of the most haunting screen moments from their collaborations is the final shot of “Memories of Murder,” in which Song gazes directly into the camera as if searching the audience for the real killer. The scene and the film found renewed attention online when the new development made international headlines this month.


“These serial killings, they were a horrendous incident that happened in Korea,” said Bong, noting similar true crime tales David Fincher’s “Zodiac” and Netflix’s “Mindhunter.” “In Korea, this incident was a big trauma to our society.

“When I made the film, I was very curious, and I also thought a lot about this murderer. I wondered what he looks like,” he added. While writing the script, his research brought him face to face with police officers, journalists and others involved in the case. “The only one who I could not meet was, of course, the murderer.

“Finally last week, I was able to see a photo of his face,” said Bong. “And I think I need more time to really explain my emotions from that, but right now I’d just like to applaud the police force for their endless effort to find the culprit.”