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Original Title:
Geurimja salin

South Korea 2009


Park Dae-min

Hwang Jeong-min
Ryu Deok-hwan
Eom Ji-won
Oh Dal-soo
Yoon Je-moon
Joo Da-yeong
Kim Hyang-ki
Song Jae-ho
Kim Eung-soo
Eom Hyo-seob

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Private Eye

Story: Jin-ho (Hwang Jeong-min) is a private detective and always on the hunt for women cheating on their husbands. That is good for the cash flow and isn't a really dangerous job. However, one day medical student Kwang-su (Ryu Deok-hwan) visits him and tells him of a big problem he has. In a nearby forest he found a corpse and in order to deepen his medical knowledge he took it home with him. But it eventually turned out that the dead body is the son of a high-ranking official who is doing everything in his power to find his missing child. Therefore, the medical student asks Jin-ho to find the true killer for him to avoid any misunderstanding that goes hand in hand with his possession of the body. Although the detective actually doesn't accept such job offers because of their high risk the promised reward is reason enough for him to make an exception. The initial investigation proves to be rather difficult since the police detective in charge, Yong-dal (Oh Dal-su), wants to close this case as soon as possible and for this even puts up with false testimonies. But Jin-ho soon finds a trail that leads him to a circus.

Review: Korean thrillers still have some difficulties hitting the right buttons. This means that nearly all of them are just mediocre genre treatings which are soon forgotten, too. "Private Eye" is a different story, because the thriller plot is shifted into a Korea occupied by the Japanese at the beginning of the 20th century. This gives the film a completely different tone that in fact manages to bring a fresh breeze in an otherwise maybe not really extraordinary story. Furthermore, there are some parallels to "Sherlock Holmes" that can't be denied, as the story revolves around a brilliant investigator and a medical student who need to solve a case together. Without a doubt the character differ enough but the producers didn't stray too much from what is a well-tried formula and so the biggest problem of the movie is that we don't get anything new after all.

At least you can be thankful that the movie is not at all the awkward comedy the poster made us believe it to be. Hwang Jeong-min with his hat radiates some 20s/30s-charm and you can't imagine anything good coming from that direction. However, in the movie the costumes seem pretty natural. Jin-ho runs around in western clothes simply because he wants to be a private eye like there are in America and he also succeeds in giving his character enough facets for you to take him serious aside from the humoristic parts he gets to play. "Private Eye" is not at all slapstick despite its oftentimes lighthearted tone and towards the end it even becomes pretty dark.

But that's also another problem arising since the director can't really make up his mind which genre he prefers to come along with his movie. Moreover, it is apparent that the film struggles with a screenplay that lets the viewer trip over plot holes over and over again. What exactly happened to the little girl and how did the confrontation between Kwang-su and his superior end? This and a lot more questions come to mind after certain individuals simply aren't illuminated anymore. "Private Eye" tries to make up for that by keeping the viewer on the hook with some action scenes, but they don't work out as well as intended either.

The main fault for this lies with the editing which deprives the action scenes from some real dynamic. A chasing scene through the streets is among the victims of the not so great editing as is a brawl in an opium den, and especially those two scenes could have had what it takes to add to the movie's overall assets. The question of the culprit's identity is also answered very soon, luckily the motive for the murder is giving more room for exploitation after that and there are even some twists that you won't see coming right away. Yet, the director also achieves this by the use of some means that seem rather cheap. Furthermore, Jin-ho becomes more ambivalent concerning his character than it might be fitting for him. Still, the movie gets on the right track again and that's also necessary since Hwang Jeong-min ("Moby Dick", "Blades of Blood") is the only one who keeps the film together.

The rest of the characters are too shallow. Ryu Deok-hwan ("Our Town") at least has a little bit of good chemistry with Hwang, but real character traits aren't anything to be found with him as is the case with the female inventor from a noble house, played by Eom Ji-won ("Like You Know It all"). Oh Dal-soo once again plays his part too comical and the villain of the movie isn't easily to be pinpointed as there are even numerous ones of them. Maybe one of the most positive aspects of the film. In the end, "Private Eye", and I'm repeating myself here like I often do when it comes to Korean thrillers, suffers from a too unstructered narration for it to be truely captivating. Only the fact that the movie takes place at the beginning of the 20th century and the sets and costumes that come along with it can give the movie something out-of-the-ordinary.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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