SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It's been a while since I've seen "Eye in the Sky", long enough that when I looked up my original review, I was surprised how lukewarm I was toward it at the time. Maybe the folks who were talking about this South Korean remake being better than the original had something.It's still built on a nifty idea for a cop movie or series, following a squad whose specialty is maintaining surveillance by means both high and low tech. Both versions also start out with a memorable sequence, where what seems like one big game of cat-and-mouse separates into two threads, with potential surveillance squad member Ha Yoon-ju (Han Hyo-ju) trailing team leader Hwang-sou (Sol Kyung-gu) as an audition to join the squad while a mastermind later called "Shadow" (Jung Woo-sing) watches his own crew's crime play out from his own all-seeing vantage point. It has the makings of a potentially fantastic game of cat-and-mouse as Shadow starts taking on even larger jobs.
As with the Hong Kong version, there's a sense that this idea might work better as the pilot to a TV series - there's even a mysterious group of villains pulling Shadow's strings who may be gangs or North Korean spies for all audience knows to serve as recurring threats - than as a movie. That squad room full of characters who barely get names here would certainly appreciate it. Happily, it mostly serves to give the movie some texture when it could have wound up a very dry game of cops and robbers with the main emotion being whether Yoon-ju is cut out for a job where following a potential subject means passing by an actual crime in progress. Itâ€™s a fairly self-contained story, but doesn't feel small.
It's got some scale to it, including a couple of fantastically co-ordinated getaways. Directors Jo Ui-seok and Kim Byung-seo also have the tailing scenes work at a snappy pace, giving us a clear look at how this sort of fieldwork is accomplished without getting bogged down in specifics. They also amp up nicely for bigger action, with a couple of big-time shootouts that pick up right where the previous chases leave off. There is, perhaps, a bit of a sense that the action peaks a bit before the movie ends, but the getting there has been pretty good.
While some of the cast seems a bit underused - I liked Jin Kyung's Director Lee enough to wish she took a more active role - Han Hyo-ju stands out as the new recruit to the team. She does all the nervous tics and memory-searching bits that you might expect from a gifted natural for the job, but also never makes her into the half-autistic case that she could easily become; we buy her as tough and driven but with a streak of idealism underneath. Sol Kyung-gu makes for an enjoyably gruff mentor, while Jung Woo-sung makes Shadow a charismatic but volatile adversary.Fans of the original movie will appreciate a bit at the very end that makes a fun callback without necessarily needing any prior knowledge to appreciate it, which figures - "Cold Eyes" has been a fine police thriller up until that point regardless of where it came from, so why would it start disappointing then?
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2014 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.