‘Memories of Murder’ Ending Explained: Who Is the Rain Killer?

Memories of Murder Ending
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Welcome to the Ending Explained for ‘Memories of Murder’, a 2003 film written by Bong Joon-ho and Shim Sung-bo, and directed by Bong Joon-ho. The film would become Bong Joon-ho’s breakthrough as an international artist. Quentin Tarantino, who has always made his mission to promote the films he likes in interviews and articles, began to promote ‘Memories of Murder,’ which gave the movie a huge boost in the international film scene. As of right now, ‘Memories of Murder’ is considered to be one of the best South Korean movies ever made and probably one of the best in the thriller genre.

The film displays Bong Joon-ho’s amazing attention to detail, incredible level of composition when it comes to putting things in and outside of the frame, and also his mastery of mood and tone. The movie is a whiplash of emotions, as at one moment, we can feel sadness for the horrors of the murders, and the next, we can laugh along with the characters and their silly antics. This mastery of extreme tones inside one movie would become one of Bong Joon-ho’s signature characteristics that other South Korean directors have tried to imitate, only to find that it is harder than it seems.

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The following paragraphs contain spoilers for Bong Joon-ho’s ‘Memories of Murder’. Read at your own risk.

Two detectives are introduced with completely different styles of investigation

It’s October 1986, and already two women have been found murdered in a small provincial town in South Korea. As you can imagine, such a small place has limited resources when it comes to the sparing police force and forensic experts, and overall, it’s struggling to provide the lead detectives with the education and means to lead the investigation properly. Park Doo-man is sent to the crime scene, but within several hours, the crime scene is completely ruined by bystanders and local people just trying to get their usual daily tasks done.

Forensics? Forget about it; there has been a track left in the mud, but the tractor ruined it, and the only clue they have is pretty much ruined. Park Doo-man claims that he has a peculiar ability to determine who the suspect or guilty person is by watching the person in the eyes, he claims that its his shamanistic trait and his partner Cho Yong-koo just goes along with it. They are an unconventional duo, and instead of relying on physical evidence, they prefer to follow the gossip around town.

Park Doo-man is not a very good detective as he has little thought for the objective truth of the matter. One day, with his girlfriend, Doo-man hears a rumor about a local mentally handicapped boy, Baek Kwang-ho, who used to follow the victim around. He immediately arrests Kwang-ho, and we soon find out that the main tactic of interrogation under Doo-man and Yong-koo is torture.

Doo-man and Yong-koo have trouble pulling anything useful out of Kwang-ho, but things pick up a little when Seo Tae-yoon, a young detective from Seoul, arrives in the town. He has a more scientific approach to investigating murders. When first meeting him, Doo-man mistakes Tae-yoon for a rapist and killer, and Yong-koo beats him up.

Kwang-ho couldn’t have been the killer

It doesn’t take long for Tae-yoon to figure out that Kwang-ho couldn’t have been the killer since all victims have been chocked by having pantyhose tied around their throats, and Kwang-ho can’t do that since he has webbed fingers, in fact, he has trouble holding chopsticks properly. Tae-yoon also theorizes that there has to be a third victim that they simply haven’t discovered yet, and he theorizes that it has to be a local girl who disappeared a few weeks prior. Doo-man says it’s ridiculous and that the girl who disappeared simply went to Seoul since she always talked about leaving. This is the first clash between the techniques of Doo-man and Tae-yoon.

Tae-yoon also develops a theory that the girls are always killed during rainy nights and that they are always wearing red. Sure enough, Tae-yoon searches the local field and finds a third victim. At the police station, a female police officer points out that every time a girl would be killed, one specific song was requested: “Sad Letter.”

Doo-man finds this proposition ridiculous and instead theorizes that whoever killed the girls has to have a shaved genital area due to a lack of pubes in the evidence. He attends the local bathhouses and saunas to figure out who is “bald down there,” as he puts it. Despite having all this logical information at hand provided by Tae-yoon, they fail to stop another murder from taking place. Once again, it’s a woman walking alone; she is raped and choked during a rainy night, and someone has once again requested “Sad Letter” to be played. The police ask for a greeting card that has the info about a person who requested it, but a disorganized radio station lost it at some point.

Is Jo Byeong-Sun the killer?

Doo-man resorts to the shaman’s wisdom to uncover some clues, and she sells him a magical trinket that is supposed to uncover the face of a murderer, but to do that effectively, he needs to mix the charm with the soil from the crime scene. Doo-man and his partner make their way to the crime scene at night, beginning their ritual when they are interrupted by Tae-yoon, who has returned to the crime scene to look for some additional clues. Doo-man and his partner hide in the bushes, observing Tae-yoon.

Tae-yoon is also interrupted by a stranger who makes his way to the bushes; Tae-yoon hides and watches the man as he starts masturbating while watching a pair of female underwear. The only recognizable thing about him is the fact that he wears a pair of lacy red female panties. Both Doo-man and Tae-yoon jump out of the bushes and start chasing after a man. They manage to locate him at the gypsum mine, and Doo-man notices one of the workers wearing red lacy panties. Jo Byeong-Sun is arrested and once again promptly tortured to give a confession.

But something is wrong regarding the confession. The details of the crime are all wrong, and Jo Byeong-Sun claims that it was a dream. He noticed one detail. However, he mentioned that in his dream, he, as a killer, rose from the outhouse, which is a detail similar to a rumor that Doo-man and Tae-yoon heard from the local schoolgirls.

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Tae-yoon makes his way to the school and talks with one of the girls; she complains that her back hurts, and Tae-yoon puts a bandaid on her. The girl sends him on his way to locate the only living victim of a serial killer and the rapist.

The woman who survived claims that she didn’t see her attacker’s face, but she did notice that he had unusually soft hands, like a woman would have. At the same time, Tae-yoon and Doo-man get a phone call that the radio station has finally identified the man who keeps requesting “Sad Letter.” It’s Park Hyeon-gyu, a local office worker in the factory. In the meantime, the killer strikes again, and this time, they find 9 pieces of peach in the victim’s vagina. The tensions are running high, and Doo-man and Tae-yoon eventually fight each other.

Hyeon-gyu is most likely the killer, but they have no evidence

Tae-yoon and Doo-man arrested Hyeon-gyu, but at the moment, they have no physical evidence to link him to the woman or the crime scene; everything is highly circumstantial. They are sure that Hyeon-gyu is most likely the killer because he lied about his whereabouts on the night of the latest murder. He claimed he listened to the radio program until it finished, but when questioned what the last song was, he had no idea despite the radio announcer using some specific memorable words to announce the last song.

Without evidence, Hyeon-gyu has to be released from police custody, and ironically enough, he was the first suspect who wasn’t severely tortured at the hands of Cho and Doo-man. Speaking of Cho, he has been suspended from the police force due to torturing the former suspect. In all this mess, however, one good news emerges: they have managed to recover some semen from the latest victims, which could be DNA tested against Hyeon-gyu’s sample. However, Korea doesn’t have the technology, and the sample needs to be sent to the United States to be analyzed.

Hyeon-gyu is put under police surveillance 24/7 until the results of the test arrive. Speaking further, Doo-man and Tae-yoon figure out that the only “suspect” who gave them an accurate description of the murders was the mentally handicapped boy who was the first initial suspect, Kwang-ho. The two figure that he has to have seen the murder occur and therefore could be able to possibly identify the murderer. Tae-yoon and Doo-man make their way to the restaurant where Kwang-ho’s father is running, and once there, they see that Cho is drunk and ready to fight.

The local people mock them for failing to solve the crime, and Cho loses it; he starts a brawl in the restaurant, during which Kwang-ho hits him in the leg with a piece of wood with a rusty nail, the rusty nail lodging itself deep in Cho’s leg.

Doo-man and Tae-yoon follow Kwang-ho that is now running from them in fear, they manage to talk him into speaking with them and Kwang-ho confirms that he has seen the murder take place. Doo-man and Tae-yoon show him Hyeon-gyu’s photograph, but something about it triggers PTSD, and Kwang-ho jumps in front of the train accidentally and is killed instantly. Later, we learn that Cho has gotten tetanus from the rusty nail and has to have his leg amputated. This is unfortunate since his primary technique of interrogation was falcon-kicking suspects.

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The killer strikes again

Tae-yoon has been assigned to keep watch over Hyeon-gyu but he falls asleep in his car during rainy night and loses sight of Hyeon-gyu. Unfortunately, in the morning, another victim has been discovered, and Tae-yoon notices the bandaid on her back, meaning that it’s one of the schoolgirls he has befriended. So what happens now? Tae-yoon promptly locates Hyeon-gyu and beats him within an inch of his life. He is about to shoot him when Doo-man appears carrying the results of the DNA analysis from the United States. They both take a look at the results, and unfortunately, the results are inconclusive, meaning that Hyeon-gyu cannot be either confirmed or ruled out as a suspect. The DNA was most likely contaminated or taken improperly since we know how negligent the entire police force in the town is.

Tae-yoon still wants to kill Hyeon-gyu, but Doo-man stops him in time. Now, there is a time skip, and in 2003, 17 years later, Doo-man is working as a salesman. He is no longer a detective; he is married to his girlfriend and has quite a lot of kids to take care of. He returns to the crime scene that we’ve seen at the beginning of the movie and looks in a ditch, where they found the second victim a long time ago.

At that moment, a young girl approaches him and asks him what he is looking for. Doo-man is reluctant to answer, but the girl mentions that she has already seen a man here staring into the exact same ditch some time ago, and when asked what he is looking for, he answered that he had done something here a long time ago. Doo-man asks the girl to describe the man, and she says that he looks ordinary and plain. Doo-man is visibly shaken and stares into the camera.

So, who was the killer all along?

The thing is, the movie was inspired by a real-life case of a murderer who killed at least 10 victims in the Hwaseong area between October 1986 and April 1991. Some suspects have been analyzed and processed, but it ultimately led to nothing. The DNA evidence ruled out all the suspects at the time, so when the movie was made and released, no murderer was known for those crimes, which means that the director actually meant for the killer to go unknown by the end of the movie. Even though Hyeon-gyu was a suspect who best fit the profile and description of the killer, we can’t say for sure whether he was guilty or not since the director never confirmed it.

The real-life case was solved in 2019, however. The most impactful scene in the movie has to be the end itself, in which Doo-man stared into the camera directly into all of us viewers, meaning that the killer was most likely an “ordinary” man like me and you, someone with family, a job, someone that the community would never suspect. The point of the movie was not to find the killer; it was more of a social commentary on police work at the time and the failures of the local small-town police force to deal with a crime of this scale.

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