The mystery genre is so easy to love in film. Curiosity is a powerful thing and as long as the introduction to an unsolved puzzle grabs one's attention, they will likely stick with it, if only for the answer that lies at the end. Good mysteries keep the truth well hidden, but show just enough for the viewer to have a chance and for them to make the connection later on. Sadly, as entertaining as "Private Eye" is, it is not a very good mystery.
The year is 1910 and the place Seoul. A medical student named Kwang-su (Ryu Deok-hwan) is gathering corpses for research. When he discovers that he has worked on the murdered body of a politician's son and the killings continue, he enlists the help of Hong Jin-ho (Hwang Jung-min), a detective working petty scandal cases, to find the murderer and save him from wrongful prosecution. Together, they try to beat the eager for power authorities to the killer's identity and motive.
When it comes to mysteries and diving into the investigative mind of someone, viewer investment in the truth is key. If the character's desire to solve a puzzle and involvement in it are not written well or acted well and if the way that process is presented is boring, people do not get hooked by it. "Private Eye" does well with its lead, using the archetype of an unwilling hero who eventually gets sucked into the mystery himself. It also shows some great casting, because Hwang Jung-min sells it perfectly.
In the same way, Ryu Deok-hwan as the fidgety sidekick works and so does their chemistry. The characters solving the case are the ones that hold a viewer's interest through it all. The movie is also pretty good in terms of its atmosphere and directing. The use of colors and the environment fit both the genre and era very well and create a dark, but not overly oppressing feeling. It is a very beautiful movie to look at and for a while, it is also an interesting mystery.
However, the movie slips up on the most important thing. Its plot and the obscurity of its secrets. As mentioned earlier, the idea of a mystery is to keep viewers guessing and to remain a question mark until the solution is presented. Things go wrong here when a key person is introduced and their nature is all too obvious for the big twist that it is supposed to be. Their connection to the other parties is something easy to guess from the start of the film, so it being presented as yet another twist feels odd.
To make things worse, the final act is not even about the mystery, the solution of which is quite anticlimactic, with the last part turning into more of a revenge campaign than a crime thriller. Adding to that some unnecessary characters and subplots interrupting with scenes that do not matter in the big picture and things just seem to lose focus after a point, focus being what the movie does well until its second half.
The film has a lot of good elements. As a pop-corn movie, it is entertaining and its mystery starts off quite well. Even its flaws do not really ruin the experience and are likely not an issue for viewers less accustomed to spotting clues in such stories. The cast is fun, the action well presented. It is however regrettable that a work with so many good elements does not go beyond light entertainment. While not a good mystery, "Private Eye" is still a rewarding crime thriller and is worth one's time.
Written by: Orion from 'Orion's Ramblings'
Available on DVD from YESASIA and Amazon
DVD Single Disc (En Sub)
DVD US (En Sub)
Vasia, also known as Orion or Ori online, is currently doing opinion pieces and database upkeep. She has a love for good TV and a penchant for rambling in written form. Vasia can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Private Eye""
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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