VIFF 2016 | The Phantom Detective

Posted by Christine Kim & filed under VIFF.


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The Phantom Detective
Dir: Jo Sunghee | Gateway | Dragons & Tigers | South Korea | 2016 | 125 mins

This is a South Korean film directed by Jo Sunghee. Sunghee is a familiar face at the Vancouver International Film Festival as all three of his previous works were picked to do showings in years prior. This is particularly why I was excited to see The Phantom Detective. Not only was the premise of the story intriguing but the names associated with this film were also fairly well known.

Beyond the director, his cast includes Kim Sungkyun and Go Ara, both of whom are famous South Korean celebrities that have been featured in popular Korean TV series.

The Phantom Detective is based upon a Chinese folk tale about a mysterious vigilante that goes around the city solving crimes. In this rendition, the detective, Hong Gildong, played by Lee Jehoon, has finally located the man that killed his mother when he was a small boy. Excited to get his revenge, he takes to the road only to find that someone has kidnapped the man and left behind the man’s two granddaughters.

These two girls, played by Roh Jeongeui and Kim Hana, are simply the cutest duo I have ever seen on screen. Their innocence and blind trust in Hong Gildong slowly but surely start to melt the hardened heart of this violent phantom detective. In fact, there is this one scene where the detective pleads earnestly with one of the girls to trust him one last time in following his orders, and, in this scene, it is plainly evident that he does not want any hurt to befall on either one of them.


The initial reasoning behind taking the girls with him to find the kidnapped man was linked to his trauma as a child for seeing his mother shot at point blank in front of his eyes. He wanted the girls to feel the same sense of dread when he got his revenge, but, as luck would have it, his feelings took an unexpected turn for the better.

That being said, some parts of Hong Gildong were unrelenting throughout the entire film. For example, his tenacity to kill, rather than simply injure, his opponents stayed constant. However, this is was not just with our protagonist.

One of the things I noticed about the film was how really all of the “good guys” were ready to shoot, maim and basically fatally injure their enemies without much hesitation. Somehow this characteristic is absent in most Hollywood action films. Usually, our protagonist makes the effort to bring his enemies to court and lock up the “bad guys,” rather than eliminate them. As such, I actually found this feature of the movie quite refreshing.

I hope that did not read nearly as crazy as it sounds.

Over all, The Phantom Detective was an entertaining film, full of laughs and a pretty substantial dose of gore.

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