The film was inspired from the classic Korean folk hero Hong Gil-dong, with the main hero of the film sharing his name.
A definite noir
Hong Gil-dong is a cocky detective who runs an agency of sorts with President Hwang. His analytical abilities and his memory are extraordinary and he has an almost uncanny ability of tracking people down. However, as he states, his two biggest traits are lying and detecting lies. Nevertheless, there is one man whom he has not manage to find for over 20 years, Kim Byeong-duk, the murderer of his mother. Furthermore, he is tortured by nightmares and seems to suffer from memory loss regarding his childhood.
As the film starts, he is finally able to discover the whereabouts of Kim Byeong-duk. It seems, though, that he is not the only one after him. Subsequently, a series of events is unleashed that leave him having to take care of Kim’s two granddaughters, and in the middle of a conspiracy that reaches the highest orders of society, and is connected to his past.
“Sin City” style + some comedy
Jo Sung-hee directs a film that looks and functions very much like “Sin City,” particularly in terms of its comic aesthetics. In that fashion, almost every character is slick or funny, with the sole exception of Kim Byeong-duk. Hong Gil-dong, Kang Sung-il (the central evil character) and President Wang fall under the first category, while the children and an innkeeper that plays a crucial role, under the second. Furthermore, the hyperbole usually associated with comics is also evident, in the various action scenes and the story in general, particularly during the end sequence.
This trait also applies to the technical department, with Byun Bong-sun’s cinematography presenting images that look as if they have been taken out of the pages of a comic. This sense is even more heightened by the impressive special effects and CGI, with a scene that involves a shootout in the mist and the final sequence exemplifying their prowess. Lastly, the editing lets the film flow in a relentless pace.
In terms of comedy, there are a number of hilarious scenes that mostly involve Kim Ha-na, the younger of the two children, who seems to be the only one that can make the protagonist lose his cool. The fact that Hong Gil-dong is very smart but not particularly good at fighting with his arms, also adds to the comedy, as he is beaten quite a lot. However, as the story progresses, drama takes over.
The acting moves in the same, comic-like direction. Lee Je-hoon is the almost always cool Hong Gil-dong, Kim Sung-kyun the smooth criminal Kang Sung-il, and Park Geung-hyung manages to look helpless and sinister, at the same time, as Kim Byeong-duk. The one who steals the show though, is little Kim Ha-na as the youngest granddaughter, who manages to act much above her age, both in the comedic and the dramatic scenes.
The “Phantom Detective” is a very entertaining film, that definitely deserves to be watched in theatres, due its general style. A sequel is bound to be produced in the near future.
“Phantom Detective” will screen as part of the London Korean Film Festival taking place between 3rd November til 27th November 2016.
Phatom Detective will be shown at the Odeon Cinema in London on the 13th November 2016 as part of the festival.