The Killer Who Inspired Bong Joon Ho’s ‘Memories of Murder’ Is Surprised He Wasn’t Caught Sooner

Serial killer Lee Chun-jae discussed the Hwaseong murders publicly for the first time this week.
"Memories of Murder"
"Memories of Murder"
Film at Lincoln Center

Lee Chun-jae, the serial killer who inspired Bong Joon Ho’s 2003 masterpiece “Memories of Murder,” spoke publicly about his crimes for the first time in court on November 2 in Suwon, South Korea (via CNN). Lee confessed last year to the murder of 14 women, 10 of whom were victims in the Hwaseong murders between 1986 and 1991. Nine of the 10 cases went unsolved until new DNA evidence identified Lee as a suspect in September 2019. The 57-year-old Lee has been serving a life prison sentence since 1994 for the rape and murder of his sister-in-law.

“I didn’t think the crimes would be buried forever,” Lee told the court at the retrial of Yoon, who was convicted of one of the 10 murders and spent 20 years in prison. Yoon, whose full name has not been published due to South Korean privacy laws, was released from prison in 2008 and is now in a retrial trying to overturn his conviction.

“I still don’t understand [why I wasn’t a suspect],” Lee said about his involvement in the Hwaseong murders. “Crimes happened around me and I didn’t try hard to hide things so I thought I would get caught easily. There were hundreds of police forces. I bumped into detectives all the time but they always asked me about people around me.”

Lee mentioned that he was even carrying one of his victims’ watches when he was questioned by police during the height of the murders, but all law enforcement asked of him at the time was why he didn’t have an ID card on him and they let him go.

The murder Yoon was convicted for was the killing of a 13-year-old girl. Lee told the court he was responsible for the murder and called it “an impulsive act.” CNN reports that Lee “said he didn’t have a reason for killing the 13-year-old and showed no emotion as he described how he killed her.” Lee also apologized to both the family members of his victims and to Yoon. Per CNN, Lee cannot be prosecuted for the Hwaseong cases as the statute of limitations on those has expired.

“I heard that many people had been investigated and wrongfully suffered,” Lee said about the aftermath of his murders. “I’d like to apologize to all those people. I came and testified and described the crimes in hopes for [the victims and their families] to find some comfort when the truth is revealed. I’ll live my life with repent.”

Bong’s “Memories of Murders” followed detectives investigating the unsolved Hwaseong murder cases. New interest in “Memories of Murder” has skyrocketed following Bong’s historic Oscar wins for “Parasite” earlier this year. Neon re-released “Memories of Murder” in theaters last month. IndieWire named the film the fourth best crime movie of the 21st Century.

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