‘Detective K: Secret of the Lost Island’: Film Review
Kim Seok-yoon’s period adventure-comedy follows a pair of amateur sleuths on the trail of a ruthless counterfeiting ring
Following up 2011’s Detective K: Secret of the Virtuous Widow, director Kim Seok-yoon launches the 18th Century Korean sleuth on a new mission to foil a plot intended to wreck the flourishing economy of the Joseon dynasty. Already a hit in South Korea where it opened over February’s Lunar New Year holiday, the sequel’s sometimes awkward blend of adventure and comedy isn’t likely to add much to the movie’s global box office in US release, however.
Not to be confused with Tsui Hark’s Chinese “Detective Dee” films, Detective Kim (Kim Myung-min) is a brainiac nobleman whose penchant for constant inquiry makes him a crack amateur sleuth; Korea’s first private investigator in fact, fictional as he may be. In Secret of the Virtuous Widow, Kim and his loyal assistant Seo-pil (Oh Dal-su) solved a series of mysterious murders that proved to be only a cover-up for a more sinister conspiracy. The sequel finds them pursuing a plot of much broader proportions with the potential to entirely undermine the stability of the nation.
With an economy dependent of the import of silver from Japan to support the national currency, Kim is tasked by the king to investigate a smuggling ring responsible for a threatening influx of fake silver bars that could destabilize domestic trade. Working undercover, Kim obtains his leads from a trusted government minister and begins investigating the Japanese trade settlement near Seoul. Along with Seo-pil, Detective K infiltrates a geisha house frequented by the Korean naval detail stationed on the island where the Japanese silver shipments are transferred, who quickly fall under suspicion.
Also implicated is Hisako (Lee Yeon-hee), a Korean expat geisha with mysterious and potentially suspect motives for returning to Seoul from Japan. Kim doesn’t mention to his high-ranking handler that he’s also pursuing the disappearance of a young village girl after her sister tearfully implores him for help. As Detective K and Seo-pil close in on some tantalizing leads that draw unwanted attention from a rival group of outlaws seeking to corner the counterfeiting trade, their investigation reveals that Hisako may hold the key to solving the mystery of the relationship between the counterfeit silver trade and the missing girls, but her split loyalties provide scant assurance of cooperation.
Like Secret of the Virtuous Widow, Kim and screenwriters Lee Nam-kyu and Kim Su-jin structure Secret of the Lost Island as a comedic adventure, although the quest for laughs quickly leads the plot astray in the first reel, as Detective K and his assistant are sidelined by their pursuit of the bandit gang. Similar comedic tendencies barely rise above the level of half-hearted slapstick, although Kim and Seo-pil rarely find themselves in dire straits, and a further attempt at ribald humor involving an aggressively amorous geisha’s affection for Seo-pil becomes a too-frequently repeated gag. Similarly unsavory aspersions cast upon Japanese characters appear to be aimed more at contemporary cultural norms than an attempt at historical accuracy.
The film’s period details stand out though, with the costumes and production design contributing especially persuasively. Some of Kim’s more creative directorial flourishes jar as a result, drawing attention to themselves when more classic techniques might better serve the historically focused narrative.
Production company: Generation Blue Films
Cast: Kim Myung-min, Oh Dal-su, Lee Yeon-hee
Director: Kim Sok-yun
Screenwriters: Lee Nam-kyu, Kim Su-jin
Producers: Kim Jho Gwang-soo, Lee Sun-mi
Executive producer: You Jeong-hun
Director of photography: Jang Nam-cheol
Production designer: Jang Chun-sub
Costume designers: Kwon Yoo-jin, Rim Chung-hee
Editor: Im Sun-kyong
Music: Kim Han-jo
No rating, 125 minutes