[Review] Detective Hong Gil Dong: Disappeared Village/Phantom Detective – 탐정 홍길동: 사라진 마을


Detective Hong Gil Dong (Lee Je Hoon) works at an illegal detective agency with his foster sister, President Hwang (Go Ah Ra).  Following the legacy of their late father, they work to take down the evil, corrupt people fo the world.  However, Hong Gil Dong has his own mystery that he wants to solve: find the killer who murdered mother and exact revenge on him.

It’s been 20 years since he witnessed Kim Byung Duk (Park Geun Hyung) kill his mother and he tracks him down to a small hut in the countryside.  Instead of finding Kim Byung Duk, he discovers that several men have kidnapped him and left behind his two young granddaughters, Kim Dong Yi (Noh Jung Eui) and Kim Mal Soon (Kim Ha Na).  He offers to help them find their grandfather not disclosing his own motives for the search but the two girls end up becoming his unlikeliest sidekicks.

I was quite pleased by the casting starting with Lee Je Hoon as the surly, hardboiled detective.  While Hong Gil Dong is also the name of a folk hero, it is typically used an assumed name in Korean culture like the way John Smith is used in Western cultures.  As Hong Gil Dong was adopted by President Hwang’s father and is unable to remember details from his youth, I assume he was given the name of Hong Gil Dong.  And yet, Hong Gil Dong is a dark character and becomes a bit unhinged when he crosses paths with criminals.

Initially, it was a bit unclear to me how Lee Je Hoon’s chemistry would work with his two, young co-stars, Noh Jung Eui and Kim Ha Na.  At times, as I watched these impressionable youngsters, the film felt like a children’s movie with curious kids exploring a mysterious world.  And yet, I relished in Lee Je Hoon’s chemistry with them, especially Kim Ha Na who plays the sassy Mal Soon, ready with a quip in response to Gil Dong’s immoral behavior.  It’s easy to see how their warmth and honesty breaks down Gil Dong’s hard exterior.

We follow Gil Dong and the young girls on their search for their grandfather and discover a seedy world filled with corrupt officials and a massive cover-up.  The massive cover-up turns out to be this “Disappeared Village” and we come across various townspeople and villains with their own secrets and quirks.

One such character is Kang Sung Il (Kim Sung Kyun) whose glaring glint off the lens of his glasses makes him appear inhuman and all the more lethal.  The most impressive action sequence in the film appears fairly early on when Gil Dong encounters him.  The editing is swiftly paced and violent but it shows the vast difference between how Gil Dong encounters an enemy like Sung Il versus the grandkids of the man who killed his mother.  Kim Sung Kyun is chilling with his quick movements and silence.

Adding to the cool factor of this noir film, the movie incorporates animated graphics over the filmed sequences giving the locations a life their own.  The cinematography and the graphics are works of art that is ripped from graphic novels.  It paints the dichotomy of these two worlds with beautiful brushstrokes.  In the city, it is dark and grimy with only the neon lights illuminating the streets.  In the village, it is stark and barren with a washed out background.

The movie does wrap up the case with a cheeky, here how I beat you at your own game twist which is incredibly satisfying.  I do wish President Hwang had more of an active role rather than being a background, off-camera player for most of the film.

Perhaps, that’s something that will happen in the next film as I could easily see this turning into a trilogy franchise with new cases, as the movie clearly leaves you wanting more by the end.  The question is how to bring back Dong Yi and Mal Soon as the thematic balance of their wide-eyed, child-like view of the world juxtaposed against the hardboiled detective story is what I loved most about this movie.



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