Cha Seung-won stars in Yoon Jae-gu's thriller ``Secret'' as a detective who tries to conceal, rather than uncover, clues when he finds traces of his wife at a crime scene. / Courtesy of CJ Entertainment
By Lee Hyo-won
There's no such thing as a secret, especially a big bad one, that's bound to come out in the end and slap you in the face. Mix in some Agatha Christie-style suspense, and you get an unconventional whodunit film where the detective is trying to cover-up clues rather than find them.
Yoon Jae-gu, who penned the script for Won Shin-yeon's 2007 hit thriller ``Seven Days'' starring ``Lost'' actress Kim Yun-jin, grabbed the megaphone this time for his second thriller ``Secret.''
The writer-director humbly said he would be happy if ``Secret'' does as well as ``Seven Days,'' which was sold to American buyers for a record price at the time among local thrillers. And he's right.
The new film also offers heart-thumping thrills and a shockingly unexpected finale; though it is not as uniquely visionary as ``Seven Days,'' and at times pays more attention to cinematography. But it still manages to provide an edge-of-the-seat experience with fine details and intriguing characters.
The movie absorbs the viewer like a mystery novel from the opening scene, intensifying the intrigue by confounding facts and figures.
Detective Seong-ryeol (Cha Seung-won) finds himself in a great predicament when he spots traces of his wife Ji-yeon (Song Yun-a) at a homicide scene. But he immediately starts covering up the evidence, despite being someone who does things by the book; he had his good buddy-and-colleague Choi suspended from duty for two years by reporting a pretty understandable misdemeanor. (To add to the thrills of Seong-ryeol's quest to furtively hide evidence such as his wife's blouse button, Choi, recently back on the job, is naturally out for revenge.)
To complicate matters, the murder victim turns out to be none other than the brother of a powerful gang boss by the name of Jackal (Ryu Seung-ryong), who is more eager than the police to catch the killer. Seok-jun (Kim In-kwon) emerges as a suspect but Seong-ryeol still has his doubts about his wife. And it doesn't help that Ji-yeon refuses to tell him anything.
Seong-ryeol and Ji-yeon, a musician, seem like a glamorous yuppie couple with their good looks, expensive wardrobe and marble-floored flat. (Here however, you may become rather sidetracked as the 1.88-meter-tall former model plays the highly atypical detective ― perhaps Seung-ryol has inherited a sizable trust fund because, unlike the other disheveled workaholic types toiling on a puny salary, he looks like he has stepped out of a fashion magazine).
``Secret'' is essentially about an estranged couple dealing with the loss of their child. The distance between them can also be traced back to the fact that Seong-ryeol had an affair with Ji-yeon's best friend, but our protagonist still clearly loves his wife enough to compromise his professional integrity.
At work there's cause for more migraines, though Seong-ryeol never seems to lose his sense of style on the brink of a meltdown, as the charismatic Jackal comes in to give him a lesson about knifing people to explain why Seok-jun isn't the prime suspect.
Meanwhile, footage from a security camera is about to give away the fact that Ji-yeon had been at the crime scene, and an anonymous caller who seems to know a big secret starts blackmailing Seong-ryeol.
The film can be relished in full by appreciating the details, such as the colorful characters.
Cha, despite his unnaturally perfect coif, is compelling, while Song plays her role with crafty restraint. The fiercely talented Ryu as Jackal perfects anything that goes amiss in the movie. Korean cinema has seen its fair share of idiosyncratic gangster personas but Ryu's grip on his character suggests that there's always room for more.
In theaters Dec. 3. Distributed by CJ Entertainment.