Joseon Detective mixes wit and tradition
By Han Sang-hee
Detective mysteries can be compelling in any period, and the new film “Joseon Detective” (working title) hopes that adding a bit of “hanbok,” Korean dress, and a traditional flair from the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) will win the hearts of viewers.
Starring Kim Myung-min (“Beethoven Virus,” MBC, 2008) and Han Ji-min (“Lee San, Wind of the Palace,” MBC, 2008), the period piece brings to screen the smart yet wacky detective Tam-jeong, who is on a special mission for King Jeongjo. He befriends a dog seller played by the talented Oh Dal-su (“Thirst,” 2009) and starts to expose a plot that revolves around the beautiful femme fatale Gaek-ju, played by Han.
This is the first time a detective story has been depicted in the days of the Joseon Kingdom, and while it may be easy to imagine a stylish thriller with secrets and mysteries hidden under colorful hanbok and behind embroidered folding screens, this film is a comedy.
“I don’t think I was influenced by the fact that I worked on comedy shows on television. I simply wanted to make a film that could be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of them being a fan of period works. Personally, I’m not a big fan of period dramas but I thought it would add a more interesting dimension,” said Kim Seok-yun, director and former producer of comedy shows including “Gag Concert” (KBS).
Besides the storyline and the overall vibe of the movie, the transformations of the two actors Kim and Han will be something to look forward to. Kim, who started acting in 1996, made a name for himself for the role of Admiral Yi Sun-shin in the television series “Immortal Admiral Yi Sun-shin” (KBS, 2004) and continued acting serious and charismatic roles including a cold-hearted doctor in “Behind the White Tower” (MBC, 2007), a picky conductor from “Beethoven Virus” and a dying patient in “Closer to Heaven”(2008).
“I wanted to do something different,” the 38-year-old said when reporters asked if he was sick and tired of all the serious roles.
“I didn’t choose all those characters purposely. Actors have to know how to depict various images and I thought I was just doing my job. Viewers and fans tend to stick to an actor’s image they come across most recently, and for the last couple of years, most of my characters were pretty stern,” he added.
In the short preview, Tam-jeong is far from the cold, serious role Kim depicted for so long, and it seems he has successfully broken out from his shell.
“I set Robert Downey Jr. as my role model for this film. I decided that detectives have to talk fast because they know so much and are curious about everything. I also realized that unless my character is working on a case, he should be a bit weird and wacky. I wanted to portray two very different personalities in one single character so I spent a lot of time working on the tone and color of Tam-jeong,” he said.
Kim may have gotten his character under control, (“he’s such a control freak,” the director said), but whether Han will pull off her role is highly anticipated.
The 28-year-old is known for her sweet, innocent and fragile image, depicting pretty, good girls. From cosmetics commercials to drama roles, she’s far from the sexy, femme fatale image, but photos and scenes from the movie prove otherwise. In terms of looks, at least.
Han successfully transformed herself into the mysterious lady Gaek-ju, complete with revealing hanbok, dark cat-eye makeup and blood-red lips. Will she be able to bring the sexy and mean character to the big screen, regardless of makeup and costume?
“To be honest, I don’t consider myself as a very sexy person, so it was so difficult to rehearse and even practice at home. But interestingly enough, as soon as I put my makeup on and got dressed, I transformed into this very sexy woman. I guess clothes do make the man,” she said.
So the big question is will the film be able to offer a heartfelt comedy despite featuring actors who have had staple images for most of their acting careers? It seems “Detective” will have more than just a mission from a king to accomplish.
Viewers will get to find out in theaters from Jan. 27, 2011.