November 9, 2022
by Carla Hay
Directed by Lee Il-hyung
Korean with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in South Korea, the action film “Remember” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: An 80-year-old man with a brain tumor and early-onset Alzheimer’s disease acts out a murderous revenge plan that he wants to complete before he dies.
Culture Audience: “Remember” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching suspense thrillers about vendettas.
Some aspects of the action flick “Remember” are entirely predictable, but it’s still a suspenseful thrill ride with better-than-average acting. This story about revenge and terminal illness brings some freshness to its familiar ideas. “Remember” also has some commentary about the fallouts of colonialism and war, and how those repercussions can pass on through generations.
Written and directed by Lee Il-hyung, “Remember” (which takes place in an unnamed city in South Korea) is told from the perspective of 80-year-old Han Pil-Joo (played by Lee Sung-min), nicknamed Freddie, who at first seems to be a mild-mannered, friendly senior citizen. He works as a server at a T.G.I.F. restaurant. During the Christmas holiday season, he dresses up as Santa Claus and entertains the customers.
Pil-joo’s closest friend at his job is a cook in his 20s named In-gyu (played by Nam Joo-hyuk), who sees Pil-joo as a grandfather figure. In-gyu, a bachelor who lives alone, looks up to Pil-joo and sees Pil-joo as someone whom he can turn to for advice. During the course of the story, Pil-joo and In-gyu get caught up in a dangerous and deadly conspiracy where their trust in each other is tested.
Pil-joo has some big secrets that are eventually revealed in different parts of the story. As already shown in the movie’s trailer, one of his secrets is that he’s dying of a terminal illness: He has a brain tumor and early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The other secret (also revealed in the “Remember” trailer) is that he has a plan to murder several people, one by one, as part of a revenge plan.
Pil-joo begins his revenge plan after his wife dies in a hospital from an unnamed illness. He has a secret collection of newspaper clippings and other information related to this revenge plan. Pil-joo is a veteran of the Vietnam War, but his vendetta has to do with Japan’s colonization of Korea from 1910 and 1945.
Why is Pil-Joo out for revenge? During Japan’s takeover of Korea, his family suffered devastating consequences. His father (a farmer in Yangju) was framed for a crime, arrested, tortured, and died while in custody. Pil-joo’s mother had a mental breakdown and was put in a psychiatric facility, where she died. Pil-joo’s brother was deceived by a friend and sentenced to a labor camp, where he died while working in a mine. Pil-joo’s sister was forced to be a sex slave for Japanese soldiers, and she eventually committed suicide.
Before he carries out his planned executions, Pil-joo films himself making a video stating that he has a brain tumor and Alzheimer’s disease. He also makes a statement explaining that the people he will murder are the people responsible for destroying his family. All of the people he wants to murder are elderly men who were directly involved in betraying or causing the downfall of Pil-joo’s now-deceased parents and siblings.
Because of his declining health, Pil-joo enlists an unsuspecting accomplice to these murders: his restaurant co-worker In-gyu. Pil-joo tells In-gyu that he will pay In-gyu to drive Pil-joo to certain locations, because Pil-joo says that he let his own driver’s license expire. Pil-joo also says that he has a “bucket list” of people he wants to visit before he dies.
The car they use isn’t exactly an anonymous-looking vehicle: It’s a red Porsche. It’s a somewhat ridiculous part of the movie that Pil-joo wants his getaway car to be something that’s easily identifiable. However, the movie gives somewhat of a plausible explanation.
When In-gyu asks how Pil-joo was able to afford a Porsche, Pil-joo says that the Porsche is actually an unregistered vehicle that can’t be traced back to him. In-gyu doesn’t ask why the vehicle is unregistered. In-gyu is just happy to be able to drive a Porsche.
The trailer for “Remember” already shows that Pil-joo carries out some of the killings, and In-gyu discovers the real reason why Pil-joo hired him to be Pil-joo’s driver. By the time that In-gyu finds out that he’s been an accomplice to murder, he’s in too deep. The police announce to the media that they have a blurry surveillance camera video and an eyewitness sighting of a young man at one of the murder scenes, so In-gyu becomes paranoid about being blamed for the murder because he fits the description.
In-gyu begs Pil-joo to turn himself in to the police, but Pil-joo refuses to do that until he kills everyone on his hit list. He assures In-gyu that when he turns himself in for the murders, he will do everything possible to not let In-gyu be blamed for the crimes. Pil-joo promises that he will tell the authorities that In-gyu was forced to help Pil-joo commit these murders. In-gyu has a big secret of his own that Pil-joo gets involved with and makes both In-gyu and Pil-joo a possible target to be killed.
Hot on the trail of solving these murders is a police detective named Kang Young-sik (played by Jung Man-sik), who is a smart and formidable opponent to Pil-joo. A retired and respected military veteran named Kim Chi-duk (played by Park Geun-hyung) is the biggest target on Pil-joo’s hit list. Pil-joo wants to save that murder for last.
What “Remember” lacks in originality it makes up for with a lot of tension-filled action and believable performances from the principal cast members. The movie puts forth questions about how sympathetic Pil-joo should really be, just because he’s elderly and dying. Lee’s portrayal of Pil-joo adeptly occupies that gray area of being neither a complete hero nor a complete villain.
Nam also gives a convincing performance as In-gyu, who becomes confused and terrified for most of the movie, but who is often Pil-joo’s only moral compass. “Remember” is not just a mindless film that shows people getting murdered. The movie also offers thoughtful messages about the emotional cost of holding grudges and how people who act out deadly revenge plans are usually hurting themselves too.
815 Pictures released “Remember” in select U.S. cinemas on November 4, 2022. The movie was released in South Korea on October 26, 2022.