Phantom Detective has been detected, watched, and now it’s time to be reviewed! First off, I’m so excited I was able to get out and see this movie! My plans feel through to see it in Edgewater, so I took the jeans out of the freezer, put on some makeup and hotfooted it to the 42nd street theater. It was me, 4 other paying customers and 2 people who snuck in halfway through. I’m glad I got in when I did because something tells me it wasn’t going to be there for very long.
But I made it I saw it, so let’s begin!
First off, I was chatting with Jacqueline after the movie and she asked if it was good. My response?
“It was….beautiful — like pretty?” And it was. When I watched the movie, I was thinking it was like every frame of the film was put through
an instagram the Line App Fairy Tale filter. It gave the whole thing an other-wordly feel to it. It suited well with the overall tone of the film. Who is Hong Gil Dong? We don’t know. What year is it? I don’t know. There are some Zach Morris-esq cell phones happening, but with the styling I’d say even earlier than that. Or it’s no time at all. A completely made up story in a completely made up universe.
The filmmakers used the filters and visual effects to also highlight the otherworldlyness of our anti–hero. The way they’d light up his face to make him look almost comic book villan-y or to go from villain to hapless hero (he can turn that charm on and off like a…well a charm.) This is the main thing that I came away with after watching the movie. just how pretty it was.
But that doesn’t really answer the question. Was it good? ……Yes? There were things that I liked about the movie. The acting was amazing. Let’s just say the bloom is not off the Lee Je Hoon worship rose here. He was so good at playing the different layers of the Phantom Detective. I think that if his acting hadn’t been as layered, hadn’t been as skilled, with his timing just right, this movie wouldn’t have been nearly as effective as it was. It’s made me realize I really do need to go out and watch or rewatch everything that he’s been in and put him on the top of my ‘please come back soon’ list.
There were other people in the movie (I keep wanting to type drama, which just shows you how rooted in habit I am) and they are just as effective. The two girls? While I was annoyed with them at first (gah! Stop getting in his way!) throughout the movie as the detective comes to like them, so do I. I really had to give props to the little girl who played the youngest sister Mal-soon. She was what, five? With dirt and snot covering her face for the entire movie, she really sold the whole character. When she was going after the gun and she fell, got up and dusted off her knees? It was those little details which made me sit back and think ‘she is good’.
Then the villain? I’m sure we got a name, but lord if I can remember it. While one note (written, not acted) the actor, Kim Sung Kyun, sold the crap out of it. Every time I saw him on screen being all evil, powerful, beating the crap out of our hero, it astounded me that this was the same guy who played one of the dopey almost husbands in Answer Me 1994. Looking at his filmography, he is in a lot of movies, making quite the name for himself as a solid character actor.
Also one note but skillfully done is Go Ara’s detective boss. She played the CEO of a huge detective agency (more like a conglomerate). She was only in the movie a few times, but she had so much style, so much panache, she was cool. She was a female character who is the leader of her own company where all the men around her listen to unconditionally. (Except, of course, our hero. But he’s a rogue detective hero, if he did listen to her it would be an entirely different sort of movie.) In a typical movie of the genre, she would just be the femme-fatale, the girl who’s just there to lure in the hero and trip him up. I kept waiting for it to happen — for her to be brought in as a bigger part of the plot, but this movie didn’t go there. By the time she does come back in it’s just to prove she’s boss for a reason, to execute the detectives surprisingly well made plans.
SO IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Okay, okay, okay. Jeesh. Stop shouting at me. I had some issues with the plot. For those of you who are looking to skip spoilers, may want to skip this part. Overall. I get it. Guy witnesses his mother’s murder. All he can remember about who he is and his past is his mother’s plea for him to run away and then come back and avenge her. Boy is saved by a very wealthy man, brought up with future boss-lady. When man dies he leaves all his money to his daughter and asks her to keep fighting for justice — like he apparently did. She opens up the detective agency and puts Hong Gil Dong in charge. A few days before the plot begins the hero apparently remembers the one eyed man was the one who offed his mom and is on the hunt to find him. That seems, for a movie, pretty straight forward, right? Then right before he finds the old (and now infirmed) guy some other bad guys pick him up, leaving his two young grandchildren behind in hiding. When Hong Gil Dong gets there he finds the girls and takes them with him…we are fairly certain for his own revenge seeking purposes. Again… cool. We get it. If the story had just stayed about that if the big bad hadn’t been quite so big, maybe the story would have worked better for me?
So the ultimate big, big baddie, is a group that started out as a cult? Enslaved some people? Then became a big conglomerate looking to…take over something? Achieve something? And to do this they have to kill everyone in the town? Why? Damned if I know. I think it’s to cover up their past, but by this time, even the towns people don’t seem to remember how they started. The original commune where everyone lived is abandoned and empty. Which is weird because it’s what, 25 years later? In the scheme of things, that is not a really long time. That’s like fresh past. So Hong Gil Dong has to stop the evil plan (which he seems to forget about most of the time) avenge his mother, and possibly keep the girls alive. The bad-bad guys are looking for the grandfather because he has a ledger of the bad guys misdeeds.
See, there are pieces here, but without fleshing out, it just doesn’t make sense. Why are the bad guys going to kill everyone? We don’t know. And we never find out. Why does the main bad guy keep going “You need to remember who you are.” and “You are the key.” Uhh…Hong Gil Dong is the key to shit. It’s true he saves the town, but not because of any behind the scenes knowledge he has. He’s no oracle. It’s not that sort of movie. (For all the styling and swift moving of the detective, there is no supernatural elements to the movie.) Plus, he pretty much leaves town with the exact same knowledge he had when he came in. His mom was killed by the one eyed man. Now he knows why. But not because of some big appiphany.
For a story to have such an overarching big bad, I think that this part of the story needed to be focused on more. While it had good acting, was pretty, the whole thing left me a little cold. There was no real emotional investment.
I do like that the grandfather died at the end. I may be a bloodthirsty minx, but I think he needed to. He needed to die, but it couldn’t be from Hong Gil Dong’s hands, not with his relationship with those kids. His one bit of humanity. But if Hong Gil Dong had walked away without him being dead at the end, I think he would have been upset with himself for his entire life. Yes, he knows why the old man did what he did, but despite what the girl said, he didn’t regret it and he’d do it again. The man needed to pay for his sins and it needed to be tied to Hong Gil Dong — however indirectly.
Now what’s going to happen to the girls? I think the girls are going to be okay. Part of me wants them to go with the lady CEO, for them and Hong Gil Dong to all be one happy dysfunctional family. However, again, this isn’t that sort of story and Hong Gil Dong isn’t that sort of character. Will he never see them again like he said? Well, we all know he’s a liar. No though, I think this time he was telling the truth, he’s going to go off and live his life exactly as he had before, finding and killing bad guys, until one day he’s not so trixie and fast and— you know — bites it.
In my head I know that it’s going to be that town that takes care of those girls. Throughout the story we see again and again that his town is filled with caring people who are willing to put themselves into danger in order to help. (When the grumpy restaurant owner gave them a free plate of food because he could see the girls wanting it?) That’s why, to me, it was so important to save the town in the end. Not just because it was that sort of movie and it needed something to save, but because the town proved itself worthy of being saved.
That’s why the ending was ultimately so satisfying for me. With the big reveal showing just what the CEO was doing behind the scenes, seeing the big bad get theirs, all the murder and mayhem raining down in a over saturated highly stylized way? It was a bit of a nerdgasm. Before the ending if you’d asked me if I’d watch it again? I’d say no. There was no real need. But after that? Hellz yeah, I need to see it again! I may even need to own it. Though a bit over-simplified and leading to its own set of uhhhh…what? How? Huh? It was so cool and the look on Lee Je Hoon’s face was so perfect, I definitely need to see that again.
Should you see it? Heck yeah. Watch it. Tell me what you think!