It’s a bit of a stretch to compare director Kim Sok-yun‘s “Detective K” series to Marvel’s “Iron Man” franchise. In both cases, the first movie was a pleasant surprise, the second was a disappointment, and the third was not bad, but leaves viewers scratching their heads.
The third installment “Detective K: Secret of the Living Dead” takes the audience on a ride to uncover a mystery surrounding a vampire legend and a strange serial murder case. There were no vampire lores in the Joseon Dynasty, but when has this series ever cared about historical accuracy?
As always the plot follows the brainy and somewhat goofy sleuth Kim Min and his faithful sidekick Seo-pil, reprised by Kim Myung-min and Oh dal-su. This time the pair investigate the case of a suspected vampire, when the easily distracted detective is sidetracked by a murder case brought to him by an attractive client.
Taking a rather different approach from the satirical comedy of the Joseon era that its predecessors took, the movie packs more of an action fantasy. More CG is used, as is the wire action, which does not bode completely well with the whole plot.
Action has never been director Kim‘s strong suit and it shows from the first sequence in the film. The CG is sub-par and looks to belong more in a TV drama than in a film.
Kim and Oh’s comedy pairing is as pleasant to watch as ever. Their very first scene together, posing as magicians in a circus, serves as a reminder of how the movie came to claim its place in the hearts of many. But they sadly share the screen with less-dependent co-stars.
Kim Ji-won, acting in her first period piece, started off as somewhat awkward as a woman with mystical powers and a hidden past. After the big reveal of who she is, however, she appears natural and fits her role. Considering that she carried the film’s strongest scenes in the third act, cringe-worthy moments could be chalked up to bad writing and the fact that it is her first time playing a character from the Joseon era.
The writing, when it comes to jokes, is not bad, although its attempt to be funny and moving seems a little clumsy. This is a funny movie that tries a little too hard to be a tear-jerker.
Lee Min-ki is no acting whiz but he manages a fair job of looking intimidating, although it may have been because he had very few words to say. The rest of the characters like the king, Kim Min‘s father Kim Shin all do an OK job of supporting the plot.
But it is clear that Kim Bum’s small appearance is merely a way to generate excitement. There was no reason at all to put him on the promotional images, other than that he looks badass and the fact that he is, well, Kim Bum. He was not bad, but frankly, he did not have enough screen time to be bad.
Some of the scenes were truly hilarious, though. The parody of the legendary “Old Boy” corridor scene was impressive in how detailed it was. But the tonal shifts are rather uncomfortable and the big twist is pretty obvious.
A part of what hurt the “Detective K” sequels is that the novelty factor that made the first movie so enjoyable is mostly gone.
Around the time “Secret of the Virtuous Widow Kim” opened in theaters, Kim was most well-known for his brilliant portrayal of the legendary war hero Yi Sun-shin and the charismatic doctor in “White Tower.” To see his solemn face wrinkle up as he cracks jokes, blunders, cowers and whimpers is worthy of at least a giggle.
Overall, the starring pair Kim and Oh are good, you do get a laugh out of them in some scenes, and the film is a pretty-looking, albeit inaccurate, depiction of Joseon era. (But really, who cares about history in a parody comedy series?) Between the upcoming holiday season, easy-to-follow settings and kid-friendly slapstick comedy, the film is likely to have success at least in the Korean box office, although it is unclear how well its comedy will fare in the international market.
I won’t say it’s a waste of time but seriously, do we really need three of these?
By Yoon Min-sik