Sunday, August 11, 2019

Detective K: Secret of the Living Dead – review

Director: Suk-Yoon Kim

Release date: 2018

Contains spoilers

I have to thank Leila for putting me onto this – the third Detective K film. This is a Korean series about an eighteenth-century Korean detective and so, like Rampant, this is a period set film. Also, like the zompire film this has a comedy element but, in terms of tone, this weaves it more delicately into the general film. You’ll also see that this has another textual element in common.

The film is set in 1789 and talks of blood-suckers appearing in the kingdom. As we are given a little background, we see a man digging up a grave and are told that vampires are strong, heal rapidly, can fly and the way to kill them is fire. The coffin contains a charred corpse and he drops blood on it but runs into the woods as soldiers start coming through the trees. He is mortally wounded as a thrown knife sinks into his throat. A woman (Kim Ji-won), the corpse revived, comes to him and he gives her a pouch before dying. She is caught at a cliff edge, shot, goes off the edge but then flies into the distance.

Detective Kim Min (Kim Myung-min) – K – and his “Watson”, Seo-pil (Oh Dal-su), are undercover at a travelling show, where they are posing as magician and assistant. K actually manages to wound Seo-pil during the swords through the box trick but their primary reason for being there is due to vampires – as suspicious deaths have followed the show. A child is kidnapped from the crowd and K intercepts but discovers that it is the show’s owner and son killing people but not because they are vampires. One of them suffers from porphyria and they are taking blood to treat that (it is, again, a mistaken view of porphyria and how it would have caused people to act).

Elsewhere a man staggers through the streets with a bite on his neck, he falls and turns, at which point a flaming arrow strikes him (from out of the night). The fire consumes him from inside out. K is approached by a woman to come and investigate the mysteriously burnt man (the second such death) – they are to host a royal lunar festival, the first in 30 years, and the King is to attend. K agrees but finds his lodgings are not as promised. He soon meets the revived woman – who has amnesia and whom he names Wol-Young. At first he doesn’t realise what she is (despite showing prodigious strength) as she can walk in the sun and the two work together to try and both solve the case and discover her story.

So, the reason she can walk in the sun is down to the fact that she hasn’t drunk any blood – if she does she will gain standard sunlight issues (though dying in sunlight leads to a tad of sparkling) but also regain her memories. The intertextual connection with Rampant that I mentioned is down to the source of the vampirism, which is a European ship that wrecked on shore with a vampire aboard. Likewise, Rampant’s zompires came from a European ship and this speaks of the monster coming from Europe – be that as a general commentary on Western colonialism, the pervasiveness of European culture generally, or a media commentary regarding the traditional folklore creatures being replaced by the Western hordes. This is not a new Asian trope – the Japanese film the Bloodthirsty Roses had the source of vampirism be a shipwrecked European, pushing the trope further by having him literally steal a succession of Japanese faces.

Wol-Young and K
That aside, this is a sumptuous film with some great comedy moments, including much in the way of slapstick – but that slapstick works really well. The three primary characters all work brilliantly. There are moments early on with a UFO abduction and zombies, told as events supposedly happening, that make a nice break from the less supernatural earlier instalments. The zombies make a more substantial appearance at the end – indicating the direction the series is likely to go in. The central narrative itself is, of course, a mystery, and I won’t spoil that. However, I will say it centres around murder, revenge and dynastic politics. 7.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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