[HanCinema's Film Review] Undercover Love in "Runway Cop"

Film: "Runway Cop"  

Director: Shin Terra  Screenplay: Ko Yeong-jae

Stars: Kang Ji-hwan, Sung Yu-ri, Lee Soo-hyuk, Kim Young-kwang 

Review Score: 3.5 / 5

Also Try: "Spy" and "Miss Conspirator"

Shin Terrae previous film "My Girlfriend is an Agent" pulled in over 4 million admissions back in early 2009, enough to more than triple what his second film "Black House" made two years before. Sin's latest film "Runway Cop" continues in the light manner of his previous film but this time Korean audiences were not as obliging and forthcoming with their support. Regardless of what are actually quite decent figures (1.3 million admissions to be fair), "Runway Cop" hits more than it misfires as the cast pulled-off the film's slapstick style, much to my enjoyment and surprise.

Kang Ji-hwan plays detective Cha, a sloppy and out-right unhygienic mess of a man whose stench is made visible by all the characters' faces he passes. Cha's appearance is so 'bohemian' that his fellow cops have a inside joke of putting him as a suspect in a witness line-out, knowing that he will always get picked by the victim just because of his looks. Despite his shaggy and unkempt aesthetic, Cha is charged with heading an undercover operation that involved penetrating the fashion world in order to get dirt on a drug dealer within its upper echelons. 

Cha's sagging gut and matted hair (not to mention posture and attitude) proves almost too much for Go Yeong-jae (Sung Yu-ri), the up-and-coming fashion designer whose show he has to be forcefully included in. Go is not happy about her show being high-jacked by the authorities, especially considering that Cha and her are old school friends with unanswered romantic questions.

The majority of the film centres on the relationship between these two mismatched souls as they work through the police's drug case and their own unclosed history book. It's easy to see where the comedy can come into a tale like this. Cha's goofball characteristics really do make him a fish-out-of-water as he attempts to walk the catwalk with his head held high. I was concerned, however, over just how incredible and unbelievable as his transformation was (Kang did gain around 20kg for the role), by the time the film's runway moment came about. But I had to remind myself that, more than anything really, this film was a love story, and I had to put Cha's transformation into the context. Besides, flab to abs in under two hours, I've seen crazier transformations in less.

It's not that far a stretch to relate "Runway Cop's" love story to that of "Architecture 101", in that, here as well, past lovers are reunited in a troubled present; and the director asks the question of whether or not now they can make it work. The "fashion show" element is perhaps guilty of being part of the film's bait-and-switch antiques, as this is really a romantic-comedy at heart.

Three actual models, and quite popular ones at that, nicely accented the fashion element of the film with a bit of K-culture realism. These included Lee Soo-hyuk, Kim Young-kwang and Shin Min-chul, all of which were in their element and performed well. Although I had wished that Lee Soo-hyuk's character Kim Seon-ho didn't make the transformation from sides like he did, he was perfect as the snobbish elitist model! Having been to Seoul Fashion week a couple times, a really did buy into the film's world of high fashion.

I seem to be running into Korean comedies at every turn lately, but thankfully they haven't let me down yet. "Runway Cop" looks a little obnoxious on the surface and perhaps it's more stick that slap, but it's romantic undertones and great story world allow you to look past some of its more cliché elements found in the K-comedy genre. It's an over-the-top Korean comedy that will please any and all fans of the genre and, perhaps, woo a few others.

- C.J Wheeler (chriscjw@gmail.com)


* Christopher is a film writer and a graduate arts student at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. He lived and worked in South Korea for four years and there he channeled his passion for film into the Korean cinema scene. Driven by his rampant cinephilic needs and Korea's vibrant cinema, Chris now enjoys watching Korean films and writing about what he thinks of them.

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