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Original Title:
Insadong Sekaendeul

South Korea 2009

Thriller, Action

Park Hee-gon

Kim Rae-won
Uhm Jeong-hwa
Hong Soo-Hyeon
Im Ha-ryong
Kim Jeong-tae
Kim Byeong-ok
Oh Jae-gyoon
Ma Dong-seok
Oh Jeong-se
Lee Bong-gyoo
Lee Jong-goo
Ko Chang-seok

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Insadong Scandal

Story: Art dealer Bae Tae-Jin (Uhm Jeong-hwa) snatches the legendary picture Byeokando from under her rival's nose. Bae is a routhless dealer who is more interested in making money than art. However, before she can introduce the audience to the picture in an event that attracts the media's attention it first has to be restored in a tedious process. For this Bae gets the famous restorer Lee Kang-Joon (Kim Rae-won) on board of her team, as he has some problems with gambling and really could use the job. Art dealer Bae intends to make an imitation of the picture and sell to original to Japan. However, she didn't reckon with Lee who has assembled a team of art forgers himself and secretly spoils the business for Bae on several occasions. His biggest coup is supposed to be the Byeokando, though. While Lee tries to outwit his employer detective Choi (Hong Soo-Hyeon) is hot on the trail of Bae as well as Lee. She already had to deal with both of them in the past and this time she certainly won't let them off the hook again.

Review: A movie about restoring art and forging it is no bad idea. Where else do you get to see this subject wrapped up in a movie? Sadly, "Insadong Scandal" is no subtle thriller but a fast-paced "action" film that is supposed to appeal to a wider audience and thus tries so hard to be entertaining and clever that eventually the movie really succeeds in none of it. The biggest problem is posed by the one-dimensional characters that you can't sympathize with at any point in the story. Added to that are some entanglements that completely leave us in the dark about the motivation of the several characters. The many twists in the screenplay are also so far-fetched that you even wouldn't have wondered in the end if everything would have been different all along - again. Furthermore, the story is by far not as clever as the director wants to make us believe. That's the main point making "Insadong Scandal" such a frustrating experience.

There are thrillers that can offer a high pacing and still you are sitting in front of your screen bored as you can't understand why everyone is in uproar exactly. This movie is a prime example for that. But why is that? Because of sketchily drawn characters that lack any kind of motivation. Bae is the evil art trader, a textbook example of a femme fatale but apart from that there is nothing that would define her in any respect. Uhm Jeong-hwa ("Princess Aurora", "Marriage is a Crazy Thing") can't change anything about that either, but at least she seems to have fun playing her part. However, in my opinion she has gone under the knife one time too many and therefore has something artificial about her visually as well. Well, at least this fits the movie's subject... But things are even worse with Lee, because what his character is about remains unknown for so long that in the end we aren't interested in knowing the truth anymore.

At the beginning it would have been helpful to know about Lee's motivation, because the viewer might have accepted him as an appealing figure. Unfortunately, there isn't such an individual and thus we often feel lost in "Insadong Scandal". Apparently there are only villains but this in itself wouldn't need to be a bad thing if they had been drawn in more detail so that we actually could have developed some interest in them. Lee is simply an art restorer who is always dressed very stylish. For whatever reasons. Kim Rae-won ("Sunflower", "") could already deliver better performances, here he is the character that is forgotten the soonest and this even though he is the actual protagonist of the story. As the only good character there is detective Choi who is supposed to come across as a tough and self-confident individual but more looks like a unconvincing caricature. Also problematic is the high number of characters with which the story is supposed to be enriched.

You can't miss the fact that the story is told in a lot more complex way than it actually is. For this thousands of names and faces are introduced that no one really needs to know in the end. In other words, you oftentimes feel a bit lost because you believe that you can't keep up with the story anymore. But it soon shows that all the additional information is actually of no relevance and that the real story development is rather simple. That narration therefore proves to be unnecessarily complicated and convoluted in order to hide that there is really not much happening at all. The fast editing and the fact that you are lead to believe that the story is constantly moving forward still create the illusion of tension. However, our disinterest in the characters relativises that kind of tension soon. Technically "Insadong Scandal" is a good achievement but this brings out the scripts flaws even the more apparently as there is one unneeded twist chasing the next.

Insadong is the art and antique goods district in Seoul and the "scandal" the movie centers around was supposed to be presented to a wide audience in the most appealing fashion possible. But the movie doesn't manage to do that and that's also a bit difficult concerning the subject. Nonetheless, it's the small insertions and explanations about how you forge a work of art and the sophisticated technological aid that is put to use that is the most exciting thing the movie has to offer. Therefore, it wouldn't have been a bad idea to wrap up the movie in a less commercial manner and instead create a more subtle work about art forgery. "Insadong Scandal" may have had potential, but the artificially pushed pacing, the flat as paper characters and a bloated script that throws insignificant twists at us every other minute make this thriller an uninteresting work that you don't need to see.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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