Thursday, February 22, 2018

Detective K: Secret of the Living Dead (2018)

Director: Kim Sok-yun
Notable Cast: Kim Myung-min, Oh Dal-su, Kim Ji-won, Kim Bum, Park Geun-hyung, Woo Hyun, Yoon Sang-hoon, Jang Yul, Kim Jung-hwa, Lee Min-ki, Ahn Nae-sang, Nam Seong-jin

There was a large part of me that didn’t even want to see Detective K: Secret of the Living Dead yet. I’ve been curious about the franchise for quite some time, thanks to my love of eclectic and historically set detective series like Sherlock Holmes or Detective Dee, but the first two films in the series have yet to get a US release and my budgets have not yet allowed me to import the first two films. That didn’t seem to stop Asian film distributor Well Go USA from throwing down some cash to get the third film a US release - and a theatrical one at that. In the end though, curiosity always kills the Matt, and I leapt into this film without seeing the first two...and I had a lot of fun. Granted, the film is obviously a film meant to appeal to a more mainstream audience with its bouncing humor and entertaining characters so don’t expect hard hitting thematic material, but for what it is the film is quite humorous and highly entertaining. Detective K: Secret of the Living Dead contains boundless energy and charm to spare. What more could someone want from a film like this?

Of course, not being able to compare this one to the previous two does have its disadvantages in analyzing it within that context, but on its own merits, the film holds up remarkably well. As mentioned above, Detective K: Secret of the Living Dead is frantically energetic and infectiously charming. A lot of this has to do with the cast, which at its core replicates the tried and true balance of the more brilliant detective, played with remarkably assured arrogance by Kim Myung-min, and his partner who attempts to help him out as much as possible. Their chemistry is strong and reliable throughout the film, particularly in smaller portions, but it’s obvious in some instances that this film is the third in the franchise and expects that its audience knows them. Their hijinks are fun and charming, but they are hardly the heart of the film.

Our colorful and semi-heroic characters. 
Secret of the Living Dead instead decidedly focuses on developing some of its secondary characters and develop a mystery around them. The first half of the film bounces between our detective hero and this young woman suffering from amnesia before getting their stories to wind together in the second half and introducing us to the eventual villains of the film. In many ways, the film has a subplot that focuses on a romantic element, but it’s weirdly shoveled to the side for the third act as the reveals of the mystery begin to unravel. Again, the performances are solid and their chemistry is in full bloom here and director Kim Sok-yun seemingly knows this as he focuses on many smaller moments within the larger mystery on hand. The emotional pay off, particularly in the third act, relies on these moments to sell some of the more outrageous elements of the plot.

Is romance dead? With a vampire it might be.
This focus, on those moments with the characters and in the chemistry they share, does act as a double bladed sword for Secret of the Living Dead too. That’s because, even within a single scene, the film can feel unfocused. Sometimes the humor is played as the reason for an entire scene and even when it works, like a sequence where Detective K’s assistant Seo-pil starts to believe he is turning into a vampire, it derails the narrative and muddles the momentum. The joke works in the moment, but in the overall scheme it generally knocks the flow off of course. This happens time and time again throughout the film, even beyond the humor, as the film attempts to blend genres like comedy, action, romance, and horror, so it’s something to be aware for more nit-picky fans.

The chase is on.
Beyond the film’s general tonal challenges and focus issues, it’s still a riot to watch. Detective K: Secret of the Living Dead is simply a charming and fun film. The performances are all spot on, the blending of genres is entertaining as much as anything else, and the humor can be very, very funny and occasionally unexpected (including a bit of an homage to Oldboy at one point.) How it holds up to the rest of the franchise is something I cannot speak to, but one its own I found the film to be a righteously amusing and energetic watch.  

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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