The Detective K Films
Detective K: Secret of Virtuous Widow (2011) – 7/10
I had initially thought that this may have been inspired by the hit Hong
Kong film Detective Dee that came out in 2010 but it is actually based on
a Korean novel by Kim Tak-hwan (though perhaps the success of Dee helped
it get the green light). This period (1782 during the reign of King Jeong-jo
in the Joseon era) detective film is quite entertaining with a spiffy mix
of mystery, action, drama, religion and a fair amount of comedy. Just when
you think it is settling into being a comedy with moments that reminded me
of mid Stephen Chow, it turns on its heel into a serious dramatic conspiracy
mystery film with a decent amount of violence and dead bodies. It all somehow
works with an ending that is surprisingly touching.
Someone is looting the royal treasury and the King requests that his favorite
detective investigate. Detective K (Kim Myung-min) early on shows his Sherlockian
talents by saving a dog thief from the gallows by catching the real killer
by simply using his observational powers. The killer is involved in the corruption
of the missing funds, but before he is able to be questioned he is murdered
in his jail cell with a needle into the base of his skull. A clue though
leads Detective K to suspect that the trail goes to the region of Jeok-seong.
The King gives him a cover by asking him to go there and investigate the
suicide of a widow. The Dog Thief (Oh Dal-su ) decides to tag along and it
breaks into a partial Buddy film.
Everything is connected and nobody is who they seem to be other than Detective
K. A very sexy villainous woman (Han Ji-min) flaunts her cleavage like a
bear trap in the open and there is a sect of underground Christians thrown
into the plot. It gets a bit confusing at times as it moves along at the
speed of a 100 yard dash with a series of chases, captures, jokes, escapes,
rescues, more jokes and so on. It is a lot of fun. There have been two sequels
to this film - one in 2015 and the other in 2018. I look forward to watching
Detective K: Secret of the Lost Island (2015) – 6/10
Four years after Detective K: The Virtuous Widow was released came this sequel.
It very much follows the first film stylistically with the same tri-polar
mix of comedy, action and melodrama. This time there is a slightly more emphasis
on the goofy comedy which at times can be a bit jarring when one minute you
are talking about the death of children as well as pedophilia and then suddenly
a fart or a breast joke. It feels slower as well and takes too long before
it hits all cylinders, but when it does it gets quite good and emotional.
It is also has the same director, Kim Sook-yoon, as well as the same two
protagonists. Basically, why mess with a winning formula.
It is also four years later in the story and this time Detective K at the
direction of the King is investigating loads of counterfeit silver that is
damaging the economy. He gets to the bottom of it very quickly but ends up
in exile with his friend Seo-Pil (Oh Dai-su) on a small island. The interaction
between these two is all comedy and insults with an underlying sense of loyalty
to one another - Detective K is an aristocrat to Seo-Pil's lower class status.
Onto their island swims an adorable little girl who is also a math genius
and a peasant to plead with Detective K to look for her missing sister. He
refuses to do it because 1. he is in exile and leaving the island could get
him executed and 2. he expects that the sister was probably sold into slavery
by the parents. A very common practice at the time.
Eventually, when this girl goes missing as well he leaves the island and
finds himself in the middle of corruption, murder, kidnapping, assassins,
sex trafficking with everyone trying to kill him and Seo-Pil and with them
having to escape one time after another. There is also a lovely mysterious
kimono clad femme fatale (Lee Yeon-hee) whose motives are hidden behind a
Mona Lisa smile. Detective K is a regular Tom Edison - finding the tine to
invent a lighter, hand grenades and a glider.
Production values are fine as they are in nearly every Korean film - especially
ones produced by Showbox - but at times these production values all feel
too generic - smooth as silk but almost too smooth. I gave the first film
a 7 rating but lowered the rating a point for this one because it felt too
similar to the first film and the pace slower for the first half. Still quite
Detective K: Secret of the Living Dead (2018) – 7.5/10
This is the third and so far last film in the Detective K series. And I thought
it was the best of the lot. The film goes off on a different track than the
previous two films by introducing the supernatural into the plot. It may
seem silly on one hand but it works surprisingly well as there is a significant
layer of pathos laid over the story - in the way that Korean filmmakers do
Director Kim Suk-yoon once again handles those duties - and from his filmography
these three films are almost the only thing he has done other than TV. He
is very adept at mixing different genres into a whole cloth that is quite
enjoyable to watch with the comedy in this one cracking me up a number of
times. An indicator of this for me is that in all three films I began them
late at night with the intention of only getting started and finishing the
following day and instead watching them all the way through. At my age that
doesn't happen often!
Detective K (Kim Myung-min) as the best detective in Korea - as he boasts
- is asked by a woman to investigate the peculiar death of a man who was
burnt to death - and he agrees after it being confirmed that his room will
have an inside bathroom! So off he goes with his usual cohort (Oh Dai-su).
At the same time a dead but beautiful woman is brought back to life by pouring
blood over her corpse. But this suddenly reanimated woman - Woi-young (Kim
Ji-won) - has no memory of who she is - or what she is. She meets up with
Detective K and the two of them work together to solve the mystery of the
increasing number of men killed by fire and to find out her identity - and
it leads to a tragic story going back thirty years. The final thirty minutes
eschews comedy and gets really emotionally intense. That has been the formula
of all three films - begin with comedy - move to the mystery - throw in a
few action scenes - and finally whack you at the end with pure melodrama.
It worked for me.