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'Private Eye' Signals New Detective Genre

2009/03/27 Source

By Lee Hyo-won
Staff Reporter

Debutant director Park Dae-min brings a delicious mix of drama, comedy and adventure in "Private Eye", which, moreover, paints rosy prospects for South Korean cinema as it signals the potential of homegrown detective films.

Set against the Japanese colonial period (1910-45), the movie invites viewers to hop on coolie-drawn carts and join an accidental Sherlock Holmes (Hwang Jung-min) in tracking down a serial killer on the loose.

If 2007's "Shadows in the Palace" hinted at the possibility for an Agatha Christie-style suspense, "Private Eye" promises something more solid, and perhaps even a serial franchise. It keeps things smart and intriguing rather than mind boggling or cryptic, and leads the audience half a step ahead in the cat and mouse game. The movie also manages to be entertaining without being too light as it gives birth to a detective with character.

Hwang plays Hong Jin-ho, one of those amiable rude people, whose successful survival is more a factor of luck than skill. He's nevertheless a detective who is well equipped for the job, with his sixth sense for investigation ― but he keeps far away from dangerous cases that might spoil his hand-pressed suit and white hat. Instead, he pockets money by catching cheating housewives and other small matters that decorate tabloids _ in order to manifest the great American Dream in a country with a larger population and thus more adulterers and more income.

The "Happiness" star brings yet another unforgettable character, and the film actually allows the actor's immense talents to fully sparkle ― as if to make up for how "A Man Who Was Superman's" narrative flaws eclipsed the endearing persona Hwang pulled off, and how the suspense factor got lost in the gooey gore of "Black House".

Rising actor Ryu Deok-hwan ("Our Town") melts into his role, somewhat reminding you of a young Park Hae-il, as Jin-ho's unlikely sidekick Gwang-soo. The enthusiastic medical intern finds an abandoned corpse in the woods that would be perfect for dissecting, but his lucky day turns into a nightmare when the dead man turns out to be the missing son of a powerful politician.

Afraid of being accused of murder, Gwang-soo seeks the help of Jin-ho. Our dandy personal investigator refuses, naturally, but is eventually won over by the hefty cash reward. The two are forced to team up and solve the puzzle with a couple of clues found at the murder site, a small pack of white powder and a mysterious Japanese "karakuri" doll.

As the two explore odd corners of old Seoul, the viewer is taken from secret drug rings to exotic Joseon-era circus shows during a time when slaves cost less than cattle. The artist of last year's hit "The Good, the Bad, the Weird" provides exquisite period details.

Despite their initial bickering, intuitive Jin-ho and brainy Gwang-soo become a productive pair. Meanwhile, Uhm Ji-won makes a small but memorable appearance as Sun-deok, a quiet noblewoman by day and quirky inventor by night who provides C.S.I.-worthy tips and nifty gadgets for the case.

Shortly thereafter, another important social figure is killed and discarded in the same manner. Here, the movie lets the viewer know whodunit, and the task at hand is to figure out the tantalizing why bit. The police, led by ambitious social climber Young-dal (played by yet another talented actor, Oh Dal-soo), are eager to close the case by framing an innocent man. Jin-ho and Gwang-soo, however, discover crucial evidence that leads to astonishing secrets.

English subtitles will be available at CINUS Myeongdong and Gangnam. The movie will be released nationwide April 2. 15 and over. Distributed by CJ Entertainment.

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