J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Detective K: Secret of the Lost Island—the Next Case

Considering what debased currency did to the Roman Empire, the Joseon king is right to be concerned about an upsurge in counterfeit silver in circulation. However, it is highly debatable whether Kim Min, a.k.a. Detective K, and his shticky sidekick are the right people to investigate. They dive head-first into the case nonetheless in Kim Sok-yun’s Detective K: Secret of the Lost Island (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Queens.

Even in the Joseon era, no good deed goes unpunished. As a reward for his brilliant service, Detective K has been banished to the provincial coast. He understands it is just a temporary political thing, but it provides a handy excuse to rebuff young Da-hae. Desperate to find her missing sister Do-hae, she swims the channel every morning to cook and clean for the so-called detective, hoping he will take on the case. Eventually, she sets out to find Do-hae herself. Unfortunately, by the time Det. K grows alarmed by her prolonged absence, he is so deeply embedded on our hate-list, he will probably never redeem himself.

Of course, it is the counterfeit silver that really motivates Kim Min to sneak away from his exile. Naturally, this leads to trouble with the authorities, but at least one high-ranking official will cover for him. His investigation soon brings him to the wild and woolly Japanese port colony that processes most of Joseon’s silver imports. There Detective K encounters Hisako, the femme fatale courtesan, who is either a lethal villain or an alluring ally. Only time will tell. However, the pressure and guilt will quickly mount for Detective K when he realizes the disappearances of Da-hae, Do-hae, and hundreds of other young nobi slave girls are somehow related to the silver counterfeiting ring.

There is something a little off about Lee Nam-gyu and Kim Soo-jin’s screenplay when it makes us despise the franchise character. It is really not Kim Myung-min’s fault, but he never conveys any spark of life as Detective K. For his part, the rubber faced character actor Oh Dal-su continues to be Michael Caine-level busy. Despite a little mugging, he is likable enough as the put-upon sidekick, Seo Pil. On the other hand, Lee Chae-eun and Hwang Chae-won are unusually charismatic and painfully heartrending as Da-hae and Do-hae, respectively. At least for pure entertainment, Lee Yeon-hee scorches up the screen as Hisako.

Nobody respects Korean cinema more than we do here, but the not infrequent habit of putting tiny little girls in positions of horrifying peril has become a too familiar custom better honored in the breach than the observance. It makes it difficult to enjoy the action and mayhem. Nevertheless, Detective K has some impressively mounted set piece sequences and several highly effective supporting turns. Recommended for those who enjoy broad comedy mixed with intrigue, Detective K: Secret of the Lost Island opens this Friday (3/6) at the AMC Bay Terrace in Bayside, Queens.

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