Film Review: Cold Eyes

Seol Kyung-gu receiving NYAFF Star Asia Award

Article by Kevin Young/Pui See Tsang
Photo credit Niko

Cold Eyes, directed by Cho Ui-seok and Kim Byung-seo, is a Korean remake of the 2007 Hong Kong thriller Eye in the Sky. The film begins when a young cop named Ha Yoon-joo (Han Hyo-joo) aces a test and is recruited into an elite group of surveillance investigators in the heart of Seoul, led by Detective Hwang (Seol Kyung-gu). The crack team comes up against a tough opponent named James (Jung Woo-sung), a vicious criminal who stages big heists as he oversees operations from high vantage points with the aid of a phone and a binocular. The field team is small and close-knit, held together by a wise team leader who works closely with an action team and a tech team. They have access to every CCTV camera and state-of-the-art body and motion recognition software in the city, which surprisingly are not enough to stop their incredibly cunning opponent.

Inspired by Hollywood cinema, the creators of Cold Eyes have researched popular films extensively and discovered a way to incorporate their findings into their own film. It borrows stylistic ideas from blockbuster hits like Heat (1995), The Dark Knight (2011), and the HK thriller Eye in the Sky (2007).

The presentation is mechanical and serious, but the result will leave viewers feeling stimulated. The camerawork and editing are superbly done, and probably groundbreaking. Cold Eyes became the tenth highest-grossing film in 2013 and also managed to put its leading actress, Han Hyo-joo, in the position to land a couple of best actress accolades, with the most prestigious award coming from the 34th Blue Dragon Film Awards. This film is definitely worth watching. Although the storyline may be a bit generic, the film makes up for it with its unique cinematographic style. It also provides a different cultural perspective from its source material, Eye in the Sky.

Cold Eyes, is an extraordinary thrill ride following the team of an elite police unit that specializes in the surveillance of suspects. The team led by Chief Hwang (Sol Kyung-gu, winner of NYAFF’s celebrity award), are pursuing the arrest of James, (Jung Woo-sung) the leader of a band of criminal renegades who pull off high profile heists.

The film opens with the young and hopeful Ha Yoon-joo (Han Hyo-joo) on her trek to a job interview riding the subway. She’s unaware that Chief Hwang and his team are stealthily spying on Ha Yoon-joo. Hwang later inquires Ha Yoon-joo about details of her trip, testing her observation and incognito skills. Hwang humiliates HaYoon-joo for missing key diminutive details such as the face of the man who picked up Hwang’s paper after he dropped it on the subway. Yet despite his harsh demeanor, he sees potential in Ha Yoon-joo and she is recruited, given the codename Flowerhog.

Simultaneously as Flowerhog is being tested, James pulls off a high profile bank robbery using advanced surveillance technology. Luckily for the team one of James’ henchmen was caught on screen by a city surveillance camera. This prompts the investigation of finding this suspect.

Seol Kyung-gu receiving NYAFF Star Asia Award

Chief Hwang deploys all of his agents in different spots around where the suspect was seen on camera yet keeps the rebellious and arrogant Flowerhog in the van so she can learn from him. Flowerhog has a passion for crime solving and being a surveillance cop yet she starts to question if she can really fit in with the team. To keep Flowerhog from leaving the team, fellow agent Squirrel (2pm’s Junho) comforts and befriends Flowerhog throughout her hazing and learning process.

Flowerhog isn’t the only one receiving advice from a mentor. James consults with his own mentor before enacting out these high profile crimes from robbing a bank to stealing stock exchange information. Yet, James having grown irked with his mentor decides to put an end to him and go solo. James cements himself as a killing machine who is just as deceptive as Chief Hwang as he cleverly avoids confrontations.

The film veers viewers into the lucrative world of police monitoring. It explores the idea that anyone can be an undercover agent from the street vendor to the couple walking down the street. Squirrel in fact changes his undercover identity multiple times from posing as a traffic cop to a shop owner and even an ordinary subway pedestrian. The film is reminiscent of the American television drama, Person of Interest spying on people from afar, carefully trying not to expose your cover.

Seol Kyung-gu receiving NYAFF Star Asia Award

This movie doesn’t disappoint keeping viewers on their toes the whole ride, from the suspense of James murdering one of the agents to Flowerhog nearly having her cover blown. This film forces you to be meticulous when observing.

To please fans of this Sherlock Holmes mystery thriller genre it includes the special cameo of Simon Yam, who starred in the original Hong Kong movie, Eye in the Sky, the movie Cold Eyes is a remake of. Given the inconclusive ending of the movie, perhaps a sequel is in the works?

Seol Kyung-gu receiving NYAFF Star Asia Award

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