Based on the real-life events surrounding South Korea's first recorded serial killer case in the mid-1980's, Memories of Murder is closer to (very) black comedy than it is to police procedural. While the cops come off pretty well in the average detective film (after all, they usually solve the crime), this movie is unlikely to be a hit even in Korean squadrooms. Any rural police force would be overwhelmed by the events that transpire in the film, but the three detectives at the heart of the case are left to their own devices to a quite remarkable degree, and their investigative methods are, to say the least, unconventional (when not downright incompetent).
There's a strong political point being made here, with broad suggestions that the government of the time was much more interested in suppressing democracy demonstrations than in catching a rapist/killer, but the absence of central investigational oversight is lacking in credibility (and doesn't seem to fit with the facts). That said, the sense of South Korea as a country ill-prepared for its headlong entry into the global economy, and still existing rather pathetically in the shadow of its American benefactor, is powerful, while the portrait of a small town in the grip of fear is generally convincing. Director Bong Joon-ho never quite settles on a unified tone, although he has a knack for atmospherics and off-kilter humour.