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Private Eye
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by Jay Seaver

"A nifty case to crack."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: You know why we don't see as many private investigator stories as we used to? The rise in divorce rates. Sure, there are other reasons - it's almost impossible to do anything without leaving a data trail in the 21sst Century, for instance - but ever more people know what a PI's real bread and butter is now: Tailing unfaithful spouses to get pictures. Even in 1910 Korea. That's Hong Jin-ho's game in "Private Eye", and he tends to add insult to injury by selling the pictures to the newspapers afterward.

No, the dangerous jobs are best left to cops like Oh Young-dal (Oh Dal-soo), just called to investigate the bloody murder of Min Soo-hyun, son of the Interior Minister. There's a snag, though - the body dumped in the woods was scavenged by medical student Kwang-su (Ryu Deok-hwan). When he realizes what he has, he also sees that there's no way he can report his find without suspicion falling upon himself. So, Hong Jin-ho (Hwang Jeong-min) it is - even if he likes to avoid danger, the reward money is more than enough to book him passage to America and a new start.

Despite the obvious similarities - a doctor sidekick, an early 20th Century milieu, and the use of forensic science and detection to crack cases long before they became standard police procedure - Jin-ho is not just Sherlock Holmes transplanted to Korea. He's far too cheerful and exuberant - imagine Holmes asking a confused Watson to give him a high five when they find an important clue! Hwang makes Jin-ho work not just as a genius, but as a bit of a hustler, unprepared for his first really big case but also up for the challenge.

His assistants also differentiate him from the world's greatest consulting detective. Where Watson was a steadfast war veteran, Kwang-su is in his early twenties, a brilliant medical student but skittish. Ryu has him always ready to jump one way or another, whether it be away from some danger or into a situation where he might be able to help. The Sherlockian canon also has nothing like Eom Ji-won as Park Soon-deok, an upper-class lady who aids Jin-ho by creating the various devices he uses in his investigations and lending a hand when scientific analysis is needed. She's a welcome part of the cast, sophisticated compared to the guys but also one of them in how she clearly finds great joy in invention and detection.

The story they're involved in is not a fair-play mystery, but a classic pulp sotry, one that starts in the upper classes but quickly gets involved in thoroughly disreputable areas. It's fairly straightforward, most of the time, although it gets a bit tangled toward the end with the question of just which character did what. The filmmakers also do a nice job of including many details about Korea in that era, when the twin influences of Japanese occupation and westernization were starting to take hold, creating a city where anything can be around the corner.

The realization of that city is pretty eye-popping, too, a jumble of western suits and traditional robes, with scenes in circuses and crowded marketplaces. There's a number of entertaining action set-pieces, including a fairly amazing rooftoop chase, though they are occasionally hampered by shaky camerawork. The pacing everywhere else is snappy, though, even when it's just Jin-ho looking over a scene and pondering what it means.

My biggest complaint with mystery films is that if I like them, I want to see more of the characters again. That's certainly the case with "Private Eye"; here's hoping that the filmmakers have more planned for Jin-ho, Kwang-su, and company.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=19329&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/26/09 11:56:13
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2009 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2009 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2009 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Newport Beach Film Festival For more in the 2010 Newport Beach Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/04/13 bellsnoel I have watched many asian films and Private Eye is my favorite. the characters are awesome. 5 stars
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