The Phantom Detective
Tamjung Hong Gildong: Sarajin Ma-eul
Gateway | Dragons & Tigers
Weird and rather wonderful, Jo Sunghee’s take on gumshoe mysteries, hard-boiled noir and vast conspiracy thrillers is every bit as idiosyncratic as you might expect from his previous films—all of which have played in VIFF. It’s set in a retro world without mobile phones and modern tech, and stylised in ways that bring memories of the Hollywood studio heyday rushing in. But at the same time it’s as Korean as kimchi (the underlying paranoid fantasies about a power-elite have a lot to do with Korea’s authoritarian past), and it has a gentle streak running through it which offsets the cruelty and violence. In short, it’s a typical Jo Sunhee movie.
Hong Gildong (played by new star Lee Jehoon, from indie hit Bleak Night) is a hyper-intuitive gumshoe, financed by a wealthy heiress/femme fatale; he’s been haunted all his life by the murder of his mother. Finally closing in on the one-eyed killer, he finds himself with two irritating young girls in tow and constantly outsmarted by a much worse villain, the figurehead of a ruthless, power-hungry cult. And there’s a deadline for solving the case: something cataclysmic will happen on the 24th of the month. The zippy end-credits suggest that we should take it as a live-action cartoon, but it’s more nuanced than that: the wham-bam action has a hinterland of pain, regrets and emotional wounds.
— Tony Rayns