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Secret [2009] - Movie Poster
Original Title:

South Korea 2009

Thriller, Drama

Yoon Jae-goo

Cha Seung-won
Song Yoon-ah
Ryoo Seung-ryong
Park Won-sang
Kim In-kwon
Oh Jeong-se
Jeong In-gi

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Story: Detective Kim Seong-yeol (Cha Seung-won) is called to a crime scene. A gangster has been stabbed. What's unsettling though is that Kim finds evidence at the crime scene that his wife Ji-yeon (Song Yoon-ah) has been there. However, he manages to make the most pressing evidence disappear, among it one of her earrings. When Seong-yeol confronts his wife, she avoids him. Since their daughter died in a car crash caused by Seong-yeol she doesn't feel the need to talk with him about anything anymore. Yet, the detective has to find out as soon as possible if his wife is actually the killer and what the real motive for her action was, because the brother of the victim is notorious gangster boss Jae-kal (Ryoo Seung-ryong), who wants to find the murderer first in order to exercise his own way of justice. When suddenly a CCTV video turns up, Sang-yeol has his hands full leading the police on another trail away from his wife. Especially his partner Choi (Park Won-sang), who still has a score to settle with him, gets closer and closer to his secret. To make things worse a mysterious man contacts him and blackmails him with evidence that he has against his wife. The case becomes more and more complex...

Review: Dark cop thrillers that can score with their atmosphere as well as with an appropriately high tension are sadly a rare sight coming out of Korea. Fortunately, "Secret" is just that kind of a rare gem. The thriller may be struggling with a few small issues, like its countless efforts to mislead the viewer, which in fact can become slightly annoying, but all in all it manages without much difficulty what so many other thrillers of recent years, for example "Blind" or "Countdown", didn't really manage to achieve: To get the viewer at the edge of his seat and even have some clever twists in store. This is mainly the effort of a well written screenplay.

Secret - Film Screenshot 11

For director Yoon Jae-goo this may be his debut behind the camera, but he had already composed the story to "Seven Days" as a scriptwriter. In "Secret" everything revolves around small puzzle pieces of which every involved party has another one in possession. Piecing this puzzle together isn't that easy though, since the audience doesn't have the information the several indivuals have, as they are making a secret of them. As things progress we are served with more and more answers, and since they are very well spread throughout the film and by activating the reward system of the audience you are at all times captivated by the story. Not least thanks to the ambivalently drawn characters, which nonetheless often deserve our sympathy.

Secret - Film Screenshot 12

The movie's protagonist is always going by the book so that he even gives testimony against one of his colleagues. Of all people it is he himself who has to work against his colleagues now in order to protect his wife. Partially this is motivated because of some kind of guilty conscience as he is responsible for the dead of their daughter. That we still have pity on him and cheer for him is also the result of the well achieved portrayal by Cha Seung-won ("Eye for an Eye"), who brings to bear the shades of grey that constitute his character quite well. Song Yoon-ah ("Wedding Dress") on the other hand is most of the time outright unbearable. Her contempt and her hatred towards her husband are understandable, but that she constantly refrains from answering any of his questions makes her simply a pain in the neck. Later on there might actually be an explanation for that, but it doesn't make her character less unbearable.

Moreover, the thriller gets improved by a few supporting characters, like the hot-tempered Detective Choi, of whom you would have liked to see more. More than anything else the search for the truth behind the murder is always captivating because of the fact that Kim has to work at three fronts. First, he needs to undermine the prpgress of his colleagues' investigation, then he wants to find out if his wife actually is the culprit and at the same time he also needs to protect his wife from gangster boss Jae-kal, fantastically viciously played by Ryoo Seung-ryong ("War of the Arrows"). Since everyone involved in the case has other goals than he purports to have this proves to be everything but easy. A few plot holes are still to be found, despite the otherwise well written screenplay. Is there no "undo"-function in the software in which Kim makes his wife's face irrecognizable? And what's with that scene involving the elevator?

Secret - Film Screenshot 13

The thriller is shot with fittingly dark pictures, yet it never gets too depressive, which is achieved thanks to the dynamics and the humor between the characters. On a very positive note there has to be mentioned the pacing which constantly remains pretty high but never gives the impression that the thrill factor is created in a forced manner. There are also a few action scenes, whereas the last one is almost a homage to "A Bittersweet Life". Thanks to the characters drawn in shades of grey the drama works out very well, too, which is why director Yoon most importantly deserves some words of praise for the fact that the individual parts gear into each other that well. A high-paced, well thought out thriller with numerous twists which stands as a small highlight of the genre.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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