Also called Shadow Murder in Korean, Private Eye takes place in South Korea, 1910. A young medical student discovers a dead body, which he decides to use for his research. When he finds out it is the body of the son of a government official, fearing he may be accused of murder, he hires Hong Jin-ho, a detective who only specializes in snooping on unfaithful spouses, to find the real killer.
The two main characters, Hong Jin-ho and Kwang-su, could be considered somewhat like Sherlock Holmes and Watson. Only real similarities are that Hong Jin-ho is the detective, and Kwang-su plays a sidekick role as a doctor, who happens to be into forensics. Personality-wise, Hong Jin-ho is quite unusual for a detective. Often driven by money, he is kind of a hustler, not particularly sharp nor heroic, yet clever than he appears. He is often seen wearing a white fedora and smoking a cigarette. Kwang-su, on the other hand, appears to be in his early 20's, somewhat childlike, and despite his medical knowledge, tend to be rather skittish. The third main character is a sophisticated upper-class inventor-lady Park Soon-deok (Eom Ji-won), who seem to share a certain kinship with the detective. The style of the film is a mix of broad humor, action, and a bit of drama.
The film sets reflect the times of that period, when Japan-Korean tensions were quite high, as Korea was forcefully annexed under Japanese rule at the time. There are mixes of Western, Japanese, and Korean influences in the clothes, as well as language and sets. As expected, undertones of political tensions can be felt in the story.
Overall, I enjoyed the film, despite some nitpicks. According to IMDb, the film appears to be Park Dae-Min's directorial debut (I could be wrong). Admittedly, the film seems to be missing a bit of the subtleties I tend to expect from Korean films, and some of the acting feels a bit hammy. Some of the side characters feel two-dimensional, especially the government officials. Pacing sometimes felt uneven and some of the editing was confusing, particularly certain close-quartered action scenes involving shaky camera. With that said, the story kept the film in place and I was surprised at occasional clever turns. Hong Jin-ho is a very likable detective, helped much by Jeong-Min Hwang's swaggering performance.
While not groundbreaking, the story is solid enough. Although mostly straightforward, the plot does get a bit tangled up in places, especially near the end, and I had to think a bit afterwards. Ultimately, though, it is the main characters that made this film work. When the detective makes headway into the investigation, it's hard not to cheer him on. You want him to win--you want him to get the bad guy. It's not all fun and games, however, as the story does have an unsettling side. Near the end, one can see an opening for a sequel (which, surprisingly, I would LOVE to see). I liked this film, even if I thought it could've been better--I liked the characters enough that I would love to see them come back. It's a great start and I wouldn't be surprised if the sequel turns out to be spectacular. Overall, despite pacing issues, I give this film *** out of **** stars.
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