Not since The Blair Witch Project has a found-footage movie been so cryptic about its origins. The severe lack of information about the making of Murder Death Koreatown is frustrating for anyone who craves answers. No director is publicly listed, and the identities of the cameraman or any of the other ‘actors’ are unknown. What’s even stranger, the murder at the center of the film is apparently real. In 2017, a 26-year-old woman named Mi-sun Yoo murdered her husband, Tae-kyung “Andy” Sung in Koreatown, Los Angeles. It appears to be an open-and-shut case, but the obsessed filmmaker in Murder Death Koreatown thinks otherwise.
A jobless everyman becomes intrigued by a recent murder that happened not too far from his and his girlfriend’s apartment. He starts investigating on his own despite everyone telling him to stop. The more he probes, the more he falls into a rabbit hole he can’t escape from. He soon suspects that he’s learned too much and that someone is out to get him.
Murder Death Koreatown is born out of the same vein as any true-crimed podcast. Someone takes an interest in a case, solved or not, and devotes a good amount of time to examining the cause and evidence. What differentiates this movie from other similar endeavors is the level of immersion on the narrator’s part. He’s not making a documentary for widespread consumption; he earnestly wants to understand Mi-sun Yoo’s motives. At first.
Our nameless protagonist does what any amateur sleuth with a camera does these days: he hits the streets, interviewing anyone who will talk to him. He comes across people who lived in the same apartment building as the couple — the interviewees range from helpful to obstinate — and others who bear no connection to the case but help support his wild theories. Even so, the authenticity in these dialogues between disconnected parties is impressive. It truly feels unscripted.
After a while, it seems like the nosy auteur is only making one sizable reach after another. For instance, he believes a series of Korean graffiti on public surfaces, which makes mention of a group of dangerous pastors, is somehow linked to Yoo’s crime. Sounds absurd, but what he deems to be validation comes quickly in the most precarious way. This is the part in the movie, which is so eerily realistic to begin with, where the viewer has to ask if this is really fictional or not.
This no-budget narrative takes the sharpest of turns as soon as our cameraman reveals why he’s so invested in Sung’s murder. Onlookers can only feel uncomfortable because of how intrusive they must feel now knowing the sad desperation that is the film’s impetus. Unlike true crime, there is no elusive veil of impartiality here that keeps you at a safe distance. The death of a random man has somehow become another man’s reason for living.
Koreatown has a troubled history that is touched upon in the movie. And, whether or not it was his intention, the filmmaker captures the general despondency of the area and those living in it. The garbled culture, the negligible vagrants, the indifference towards deaths—it all boosts the increasing tension of the film. The attention to detail in this cluttered, urban jungle is an afterthought, but it’s important to remember when considering the cameraman’s fragile state of mind.
Murder Death Koreatown is as intriguing as it is upsetting. The movie’s lure of a busybody looking into a neighborhood crime will draw in curious viewers. The almost sudden shift in focus is a welcome surprise, too. The psychological decline of the narrator, whose disposition is feverish and laden with absolute paranoia, is what elevates the film above others in the subgenre. How everything turns out is food for thought. All the unanswerable questions are more reason to seek out this hidden gem. The performances are plausible and lifelike, and the spun-off mysteries are as equally puzzling as the main one, if not more so. Murder Death Koreatown goes beyond the call of duty when it comes to covering a true crime—and the end result is haunting.
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