Movie Review: Cold Eyes

Some friends and I checked out the Korean Film Festival in Sydney on the weekend and saw this. I have no idea how or when it will resurface for viewing here, but keep an eye out for it.

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Starring:
Han Hyo-Ju, Jung Woo-San, Seol Kyung-Gu
Directors:
Kim Byung-Seo, Jo Ui-Seok (The World of Silence, Make it Big)
Rating: MA15+
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My experience with South Korean cinema is extremely limited – In fact before this film I had only seen the original Oldboy and managed to get through only one K-Drama (2009’s Iris) – but I’ve been told multiple times that a lot of cool things are happening nowadays in the world of celluloid south of the DMZ and I should supposedly be paying more attention to what comes out of it. Indeed I eagerly await news of a blu-ray release of the Chris Evans-led sci-fi hit Snowpiercer, which has been causing quite a stir overseas, and after my curiosity led me to check out Cold Eyes at this year’s Korean Film Festival in Sydney, best believe I’m going to track down a fair few more. Cold Eyes is a slick. intense and very entertaining crime thriller that I wish was easier to access.

The story is relatively straightforward, which is always handy from the perspective of a viewer who needs to read subtitles to get through a film. A 2013 remake of 2007 Hong Kong thriller Eye in the Sky, it follows the recruitment of an ambitious woman we come to know by the codename Piglet (Han Hyo-Ju), who is blessed with an eidetic memory and superb observation skills, to an intelligence agency within the South Korean police force led by a gruff man known as Falcon (Seol Kyung-Gu). After a perfectly executed bank heist goes down in a major metropolitan area in broad daylight, Falcon puts his highly skilled team of animal-codenamed operatives to work locating a mastermind deemed “The Shadow” (Jung Woo-San), a brutal killer without any apparent sense of empathy and wicked skills with a pen.

If the plot sounds like that of a by-the-numbers Hollywood action flick, your concerns are understandable. What makes Cold Eyes feel different is its fascination with the minutiae of undercover surveillance operations. The movie shows you a fair bit more than you might be expecting to see from a crime/spy thriller in terms of behind the scenes grunt work before any traditional “action” takes place, but it makes said work interesting by virtue of a highly effective focus on character interaction and team dynamics. There are quite a few laughs that come along with this approach, so much so that in parts Cold Eyes even resembles a full-blown comedy despite the inter-cut brutality of the Shadow’s activities. As a result its easy to root for each team member, particularly Squirrel, a charming disguise artist and saboteur played by Junho from K-Pop group 2PM. The stylistic choice also helps distract a little from the narrative’s heavy reliance on coincidences to move things along.

Cold Eyes is impeccably well-shot and very pretty to look at, with quite a few creative camera angles and CGI transitions adding a refreshing feel to an already very slick presentation. No one shot lingers for too long, which helps shake up the lengthy build-up preceding each explosive action beat rather nicely. While this rhythm does outstay its welcome slightly by returning to the same well of ‘mission reset’ scenes once or twice too often, at least each major surveillance op is laced with enough tension to sustain itself. A scene set in a cafe is particularly excellent, as is the film’s absolutely amazing pre-title sequence.

Cold Eyes is the kind of film I wish was more widely available for viewing. A foreign film with real mainstream appeal, it’s familiar yet refreshing, and made with real attention to detail. If you live in Brisbane, Perth, Melbourne or Adelaide. you can still catch it when the Korean Film Festival rolls over to you in the next few weeks (more info on screenings here). I certainly recommend you do, because it’s going to become a lot more difficult to watch it legally after that.

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THE VERDICT

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Good:
Cracking opening, stylishly shot, cool team dynamics, really funny in parts, great villain
Bad:
Coincidental plot movement, rinse-and-repeat rhythm
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515/110A M A Z I N G

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