ContactSales: United Pictures, Seoul ([email protected])
Theatrical release: South Korea, 3 Jul 2013.
Presented by Opus Pictures (SK), Next Entertainment World (SK). Produced by Zip Cinema (SK), in association with Sundream Motion Pictures. Executive producers: Lee Tae-hun, Kim U-taek, Stephen Ng. Producer: Eugene Lee.
Script: Cho Ui-seok. Film: Eye in the Sky (dir. Yau Nai-hoi, scr. Yau Nai-hoi, Au Kin-yee, 2007). Photography: Kim Byung-seo, Yeo Gyeong-bo. Editing: Shin Min-gyeong. Music: Gang Hye-yeong, Go Gwang-hyeon, Dalparan. Art direction: Jo Hwa-seong. Costumes: Jo Sang-gyeong. Sound: Choi Tae-yeong. Action: Heo Myeong-haeng. Special effects: Lee Ni-gyeong. Visual effects: Baek Sang-hun (CJ Powercast).
Cast: Seol Gyeong-gu (Captain Hwang Sang-jun, "Falcon"), Jeong U-seong (James), Han Hyo-ju (Ha Yun-ju, "Piglet"), Kim Byeong-ok (the cobbler), Jin Gyeong (Lee, department head), Lee Jun-ho ("Squirrel"), Son Min-seok ("Monkey"), Kim Dae-jin ("Viper"), Lee Tae-hyeong ("Mole"), Simon Yam (quarry at end).
Cold Eyes 감시자들
Contemporary crime thriller
2013, colour, 2.35:1, 118 mins
Directed by Cho Ui-seok (조의석), Kim Byung-seo (김병서)
By Derek Elley
Sat, 09 November 2013, 01:00 AM (HKT)
Splashy remake of surveillance thriller Eye in the Sky is gripping but a tad mechanical. Asian and genre events, plus some ancillary.
Seoul, 6 Nov 2012. A gang, remotely directed from a skyscraper's rooftop by ruthless mastermind James (Jeong U-seong), robs the security vault of Shinseong Bank. At the same time, Hwang Sang-jun (Seol Gyeong-gu), head of the police force's elite Special Crimes Unit surveillance squad, is auditioning a new recruit, Ha Yun-ju (Han Hyo-ju), without her knowledge as she makes her way to their offices. (Unwittingly, they actually crossed paths with James in the metro.) Yun-ju passes Sang-jun's observation tests and is hired, with the codename "Piglet". Later that day, as a warning to his gang, James kills one of them for a minor departure from the plan that almost scuppered the robbery. The SCU team hits the streets to find one of the gang caught on surveillance cameras whom they codename "Thirsty Hippo". James accepts another job from his former teacher (Kim Byeong-ok), who now works as a backstreet cobbler: his assignment is to steal some incriminating documents from Sama Accounting before the authorities seize them as part of a malpractice investigation into the company. The job goes okay but James then says he's decided to leave the country. He's persuaded with difficulty to accept one final job - to infiltrate Seoul's stock exchange and implant some software in the computer server room. Meanwhile, Yun-ju is carpeted by Sang-jun for disobeying basic orders when she rescues a woman from some thugs. But she redeems herself by coming up with an idea to trace Thirsty Hippo - which leads the surveillance team to the gang's briefing session just prior to the stock-exchange job.
Another South Korean remake of a Hong Kong thriller — following the okay but over-long A Better Tomorrow 무적자 (2010) — Cold Eyes 감시자들 is a crackerjack exercise in sustained tension as an elite police surveillance team tries to find the ruthless mastermind behind a series of daring robberies in Seoul. In every respect it's bigger, splashier and technically slicker than the original film — Eye in the Sky 跟蹤 (2007), directed and co-scripted by YAU Nai-hoi 游乃海, one of Johnnie TO 杜琪峯's in-house writers — and makes striking use in action sequences of Seoul's straighter, broader thoroughfares and the city's much larger dimensions. But what it gains in spectacle, it loses in characterisation: like US re-workings of Asian fare, Cold Eyes, for all its high-octane content, has a rather soulless, mechanical feel.
This won't be so much of a problem for viewers who haven't seen the Hong Kong original — and certainly didn't prevent it becoming a big hit in South Korea — as there's hardly a dull moment in the whole movie, with the action and emotional level ramped up to the max and the plot contrivances masked by sheer technique. But at two hours (30 minutes longer than Eye), and with the main set-piece (a gripping 20-minute chase by car and foot) coming just after the halfway point, the strain does begin to show as the film has to crank up again for a finale. In the event, this proves to be something of an anti-climax, with no showdown between hero and villain to match all the build-up, and the thinness of the characterisation becoming more and more obvious.
The screenplay by co-director CHO Ui-seok 조의석, who previously made the action-comedy Make It Big 일단뛰어 (2002) and mind-reading thriller World of Silence 조용한 세상 (2006), adheres pretty closely, especially during the first half, to the essentials of the original script by Yau and AU Kin-yee 歐健兒, even down to some of the characters' names. It's at its weakest where it either deviates or expands: a sequence where the rookie female recruit breaks a fundamental tenet of undercover surveillance by going to the rescue of a woman doesn't ring true, and two other sequences, in which the mastermind kills a gang member and later takes on a whole group of thugs sent to kill him, are violent distractions for their own sake. In general, the script strays farther and farther from the basic concept of a surveillance thriller: this is beautifully laid out in the edgy first half, where the team's extra-ordinary powers of observation and memory are put to the test, but is progressively abandoned in favour of splashy action and high technology.
Performances are good to very good, with SEOL Gyeong-gu 설경구 | 薛景求 (Public Enemy 공공의 적 (2002), Oasis 오아시스 (2002), Haeundae 해운대 (2009)) pin-sharp as the scruffy but clever team leader, HAN Hyo-ju 한효주 | 韓孝珠 (the blind girl in Always 오직 그대만 (2011), the queen in Masquerade 광해 왕이 되 남자 (2012)) suitably perky as the rookie eager to prove herself, and older actress JIN Gyeong 진경 | 陳慶 providing some memorable moments as the department head who takes out her frustrations on the office equipment. The main dramatic weakness is the decision to make the mastermind, played by JEONG U-seong 정우성 | 鄭雨盛 (Beat 비트 (1997), The Good The Bad The Weird 좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈 (2008), Reign of Assassins 劍雨 (2010)), into a cold-blooded enigma. Played in the original by veteran Tony LEUNG Ka-fai 梁家輝, he was a fully characterised villain; here, he's just a control-freak killing machine, and Jeong, through no fault of his own, is consistently outclassed by veteran KIM Byeong-ok 김병옥 | 金秉玉 as his low-key mentor.
Widescreen visuals by KIM Byung-seo 김병서 | 金丙書 (Castaway on the Moon 김씨표류기 (2009), Dangerous Liaisons 危險關係 (2012)) have an atmospheric street flavour without being grittily realistic, and the d.p. gets his first directing credit alongside Cho. Hong Kong actor Simon YAM 任達華, who played Seol's role in the original, pops up in a jokey cameo at the end. The Korean title literally means The Watchers.