Cold Eyes (감시자들)

Cold Eyes (감시자들) – ★★★★☆

Cold Eyes (감시자들)

Cold Eyes (감시자들)

A slick and pulse-pounding thriller, Cold Eyes (감시자들) is a consistently engaging cat-and-mouse cop drama by co-directors Jo Eui-seok (조의석) and Kim Byeong-seo (김병서). Gaining an impressive 5.5+ million admissions during its run, Cold Eyes has remade the 2007 Hong Kong thriller Eye in the Sky in a distinctly Korean fashion, eschewing the hard boiled noir in favour of highly polished Seoul landscapes and state of the art technology.

The strengths of the film lie in the kinetic sequences and exhilarating pacing, as well as the performances by the lead actors who have been wonderfully cast-against-type. Cold Eyes is not without flaws however, largely involving fleshing out the supporting cast and a third act that isn’t quite sure how to resolve everything. Yet such issues are easy to overlook when a genre film such as this is so engaging and enjoyable, and is quite the thrill ride throughout.

Rookie Yoon-jo must learn to observe and recall everything on a mission

Rookie Yoon-joo must learn to observe and recall everything on a mission

Trained in the skills of surveillance and endowed with an incredible photographic memory, rookie Yoon-joo (Han Hyo-joo (한효주) works hard to join an elite government agency under the watchful eyes of Chief Hwang (Seol Kyeong-gu (설경구). Yoon-joo’s arrival is timely, as a group of expert criminals have been stealing from notably high profile targets, constantly getting away without leaving a shred of evidence. Yet during their latest crime a small but significant clue has been discovered. Joining Chief Hwang’s unit, recruit Yoon-joo – now code-named ‘piglet’ – must put her skills to the test and follow the trail of breadcrumbs to the mastermind behind the operations, the cold and calculating ‘Shadow’ (Jeong Woo-seong (정우성).

Immediately upon opening, Cold Eyes establishes itself as a cool and slick thriller. The futuristic metallic surfaces of the subway and high rise commerce zone in Seoul are highly impressive as Yoon-joo follows her target, turning the capital into a character in itself. The sequence is also exemplary in the construction of Yoon-joo as a rookie surveillance operative, as she works hard to notice and remember every minute detail no matter how insignificant, yet still makes enough mistakes to be believable and sympathetic. Not content with such a compelling opening, directors Jo and Kim follow it up shortly after with an engaging bank heist by uber-criminal Shadow. Clearly the co-directors have been influenced by the Joker’s bank job in The Dark Knight, and while Cold Eyes never reaches those heights, it is still thoroughly entertaining. The manner in which the criminals orchestrate their robberies is also quite thrilling, as Shadow watches from the rooftops to ensure a clean getaway while his henchmen busy themselves with the mission at hand, allowing for a duel perspective on events as well as providing even more polished cinematography of the Seoul skyline.

The Shadow observes his meticulous plans in action from the rooftops of Seoul

The Shadow observes his meticulous plans in action from the rooftops of Seoul

Another great strength of the film is undoubtedly the A-list cast who have been brilliantly cast against type. This is acutely the case for Han Hyo-joo who has been consistently cast as the love interest in several mediocre melodramas. In Cold Eyes the actress shines as an intelligent, skilled, and powerful operative, and it is a genuine delight to see a woman occupying such a role in a Korean film. Han Hyo-joo’s famed attractiveness is refreshingly never focused upon throughout the film with attention instead bestowed on her prowess, and the actress clearly relishes the role. Meanwhile Sol Kyeong-gu also excels as disheveled mentor Chief Hwang. Sol initially portrays the team leader with a commanding stoicism and intellectual fortitude, yet as story progresses it is primarily due to him that comedy enters the film thanks to his eccentricities. Naming every member of his team rather unflattering animal code-names is genuinely funny – particularly when designating their rotund target ‘thirsty hippo’ – yet such unorthodox methods are also crucial as he carves and maneuvers animal chess pieces on missions. As the ruthless and manipulative ‘Shadow’, Jeong Woo-seong is great. Typically cast as a romantic lead and/or inherently ‘good’, Jeong is surprisingly adept at playing the role of a cold-hearted villain with a penchant for murdering with a fountain pen. While he has the least to do of the three performers, every scene he is in is constantly engrossing and it’s a tribute to the actor that more screen time is desired.

For much of the running time Cold Eyes is an incredibly engaging cat-and-mouse thriller, and the entertainment derived from both sides attempting to outsmart each other is consistently high. Yet there are moments, most notably in the final act, that somewhat undermine all the great character work with silly coincidences in the attempt to tie up the story neatly. This is quite a shame considering what came before. Cold Eyes also fall into the trap of having too many underdeveloped secondary characters, with the belated attempts to flesh them out falling short. That said, the speedy pace of the film combined with the compelling story means that such concerns are never dwelt upon for long, with the open ended nature of the finale guaranteed to raise a smile.

Chief Hwang and Yoon-jo must piece together clues before the Shadow disappears

Chief Hwang and Yoon-jo must piece together clues before the Shadow disappears

Verdict:

Cold Eyes is a slick and riveting thriller from co-directors Jo Eui-seok and Kim Byeong-seo. A remake of hard boiled Hong Kong noir Eye in the Sky, Cold Eyes is a quite different film due to the focus on a seemingly futuristic Seoul and state of the art technology. The A-list cast, who have all been superbly cast against type, excel in their roles, particularly Han Hyo-joo as a highly intelligent and skilled rookie operative. With a highly engaging story and rapid pacing the film is consistently entertaining and, while some silly coincidences and over-abundance of secondary characters detract somewhat, Cold Eyes is a wonderfully compelling cat-and-mouse thrill-ride.

★★★★☆

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Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013 Reviews
Sistar performed some of their hits and dance routines to an adoring crowd

The 17th Busan International Film Festival

BIFF 2012 at Haeundae (해운대) Beach

BIFF 2012 at Haeundae (해운대) Beach

While most film festivals promote themselves as bigger and better every year, the 17th installment of the Busan International Film Festival is certainly living up to the hype. With the first non-Korean hosting the opening ceremony in the form of Chinese actress Tang Wei, with the festival spread out across 10 days (as opposed to 9 in 2011), and with 132 world and international premieres, BIFF 2012 has done an incredible job in cementing itself as one of the key film festivals throughout Asia. The popularity of this years installment is acutely visible, as online tickets sold out rapidly whilst the 20% allocation at the event disappeared by mid-morning.

There were a lot of events to be had during the opening weekend of BIFF 2012. While Haeundae Beach was the host for several interviews and performances, the screenings themselves also often sported Q & A sessions with directors, producers and/or the stars themselves to an unprecedented degree in BIFF’s history. It was also common to walk into or past coffee shops and see film-makers meeting and conversing, creating a very relaxed atmosphere with their approachable demeanor.

On Friday the 5th, a private party was held for those that work within the film industry as well as journalists, while the cast of Kim Ki-duk‘s latest feature, the incredibly successful Pieta (피에타), were also in attendance.

Actress Jo Yeo-jeong co-hosts the Lotte Red Secret Party

Actress Jo Yeo-jeong co-hosts the Lotte Red Secret Party

Saturday the 6th saw two events take place. The Lotte Night Party – Red Secret was hosted by The Servant (방자전) actress Jo Yeo-Jeong and gave awards to those who had contributed significantly over the past year. Among those receiving awards were notable screenwriters and actors, including host Jo Yeo-Jeong and A Muse (은교) actress Kim Go-eun (김고은). Also in attendance were actor/director Yoo Ji-tae (유지태) and his wife, as well as Ahn Seong-gi (안성기), and former BIFF director Kim Dong-ho (김동호). Yet the most memorable event at the Red Secret party was the arrival of now-global-megastar Psy, who performed several of his hits as well as the groundbreaking Gangnam Style to a rapturous crowd.

Psy performs for the emphatic crowd

Psy performs for the emphatic crowd

The second party of the night was held by CJ Entertainment, and the style was markedly different.

Sistar performed some of their hits and dance routines to an adoring crowd

Sistar performed some of their hits and dance routines to an adoring crowd

In terms of performers parody group The Wonderboys were amazing fun as well as providing some great music to warm up the crowd for the main act – Kpop superstars Sistar. The quartet sang some of their most famous hits accompanied by their signature dance moves that had the crowd chanting their names. In attendance were a variety of people involved in the film industry including REALies president Kim Ho-seong and renowned editor Lee Sang-min. There were also a whole host of film and television stars, including the cast of period drama-comedy Masquerade (광해, 왕이 된 남자) – Lee Byeong-heon (이병헌), Ryoo Seung-ryong (류승룡) and Jang Gwang (장광) – as well as TV star Kim Min-jong (김민종) and As One (코리아 ) actor Lee Jong-suk (이종석).

Actress Go A-ra was a delight

Actress Go A-ra was a delight

However a genuine highlight of the night was actress Go Ah-ra (고아라) (star of Pacemaker (페이스메이커) and Papa (파파)), who was incredibly kind, courteous and humble, giving genuine insight into the differences in working in the Korean film and television industries.

Sunday night saw the Korean Film Council (KOFIC) event, which saw fellow The Good, The Bad, The Weird (좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈) actors Song Kang-ho (송강호) and Jeong Woo-seong (정우성) attending, in addition to a myriad of other stars and members of the film industry.

And so ended the first weekend of the 2012 Busan International Film Festival. With the incredible selection of films, variety of events in which the public could have access to members of the film industry, and unprecedented popularity, it is difficult to imagine how BIFF will grow and improve in with future installments but one thing is for certain – the BIFF team will undoubtedly find a way.

Festival News Festivals 2012