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(Movie Review) Epic film noir rich in period detail

All Headlines 09:45 March 24, 2009

(ATTN: photos available)
By Shin Hae-in

SEOUL, March 24 (Yonhap) -- The last thing a murder mystery is expected to do is give away the culprit in its title: a rule "Private Eye (Geulimjasalin)" chooses to completely ignore.

With the Korean title meaning "shadow killing," the film gives much away from the very beginning. Yet it is a gripping epic even if the mystery is less than well-concealed, and the story remains captivating throughout.

Set in the late Joseon Dynasty period of 1910 just before the Japanese colonization of the Korean Peninsula, the film is rich in period detail, with a solid scenario and skillful acting more than compensating for any lack of suspense of the culprit's identity.

Gwang-su (Ryu Deok-hwan), an ambitious physician in training under a Japanese mentor, discovers a corpse in the woods and takes it home to conduct an autopsy.

Discovering that the body is the son of one of the Dynasty's most powerful men, the young doctor-to-be is worried that he may be wrongly charged with murder and entreats Jin-ho (Hwang Jeong-min), a police-turned-private detective, to solve the murder case.

Superbly paired and matching intuition with reasoning, Jin-ho and Gwang-su launch a dangerous investigation, stumbling upon another murder, and authorities who seem strangely reluctant to find the real killer.

However instead of building up the suspense around the culprit, "Private Eye" chooses to reveal the killer's face early in the film. It remains highly compelling, however, to watch the flamboyant detective and the timid trainee physician build up a sense of responsibility in solving the case, which exposes the twisted desires of high-ranking officials and young girls victimized by them.

"The last thing I wanted was a brain-racking plot," director and playwright of the film Park Dae-min told audiences at the preview Monday. "I wanted to create something simple and easy enough for audiences to follow, while being captivated by it all the while."

With the scenario winning the Makdongi Scenario Contest in 2005 -- one of the most acclaimed scenario contests in Korea -- "Private Eye" received attention from movie critics long before its crank-up.

The film undeniably benefits from seasoned acting by award-winning actor Hwang Jeong-min of "You're My Sunshine" and Ryu Deok-hwan, who brilliantly supports Hwang's staunch character in a refined, boyish kind of way.

"The two paired off excellently," director Park said. "The movie became more lively and fun because there were two, not one, solving the case."

The movie takes advantage of the period it's set in, as it fuses noir thriller tropes with contemporary action styles in a potent brew. The streets of Gyeongseong, the ancient capital of Korea, are fresh to the viewers' eyes as the film ignores historical factors and creates sets mixing gothic, baroque and renaissance architectural styles.

To tag this film simply as a "Korean film noir" doesn't seem to do it justice; audiences will discover not only dead bodies, gangsters and suspense, but comical twists and a historical quest in it.

The movie, with a running time of 111 minutes, will hit local theaters April 2.


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