Monday, March 22, 2010

The Private Eye (2009) (Geu-rim-ja sal-in)

I had picked this film up in Chinatown simply because the cover looked interesting. There was no English anywhere on the cover but I went with it anyway. (A general tip-if a DVD is from Korea of a Korean film, the chances are almost 100% that you'll have English subtitles on the DVD). When Harry Knowles at Ain't it Cool put it on his "Best of 2009" I recognized the cover art and dug it out and took a look. I really liked what I saw.

During the Japanese occupation of Korea a young med student desperate to work on a real human body stumbles upon a corpse and the woods and takes it home. Complications arise when he discovers whose body it is, namely the son of the Interior Minister. Unable to get rid of the body without drawing attention to himself he hires a private eye specializing in errant wives to solve the murder before he finds himself arrested. From there the story spins out as the private eye, his client (and stand in Doctor Watson), and a lady who is a scientific genius begin an investigation that grows more and more complicated as more bodies begin to turn up, the wrong people are arrested and the implications of events take a darker turn.

Its a story very much mired in class with all of the main characters are outsiders of a sort; The client not quite a doctor, the detective was once a guard in the Royal Court, who left for some unspecified reason; and the lady is upper class and chaffing at the limits of her station-she shouldn't be studying science and making the things she makes. None subscribe to the conventions of class and seem to act only with an innate sense of justice and fairness (things get tenser when the wrong people get arrested for the crimes). Operating on the outside of society they are free to walk among all of the classes, something that is required to solve the crime. The story at its core is very much the sort of thing that Sherlock Holmes might have handled had Arthur Conan Doyle allowed his stories to becomes several shades darker than they are (the story starts off as a simple murder mystery but things get very dark as the story progresses.)

The film is for much of its running time an excellent drama with a fine trio of detectives at its core. One watches the film because it's hard not to like the heroes trying to get to the bottom of the foul deeds. This is a good thing because the films plot begins to become unwieldy as events go on with a few side characters not as well drawn as the central trio and a couple of story complications (opium war?) that come across as not particularly well integrated. This last bit could have been straightened out by extending the running time by a few minutes.

In the end the film, and especially the characters, stays with you. I find that some weeks after seeing the film I like it better than when it just ended. To a large degree it's because of the characters. I want to see what happens next, something one can hope will happen since the film ends with the possibility of more adventures for out heroes.

Currently available as an import DVD.

A solid film. Recommended

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