Friday, February 16, 2018

Detective K: Secret of the Living Dead

Post-Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes has faced off against Dracula a number of times, so it is only fair Detective K[im Min] would get his own run-in with the living dead. However, he will be considerably more fortunate. Instead of a Transylvanian nobleman, he encounters a beautiful Joseon princess, who has lost her memories of her previous existence. For now, she is a gentle day-walker, but all bets are off when she remembers who did her wrong in Kim Suk-yoon’s Detective K: Secret of the Living Dead (trailer here), which opens today in Los Angeles.

Wol-young (as Kim will call her) was immolated into dormancy, but she wasn’t burned sufficiently to destroy her. As a result, a mystery fugitive manages to revive her, before sacrificing himself for her safety. Meanwhile, Kim is unmasking a Scooby-Doo-style fake vampire. His next case won’t be so easy. A ruthless full-on vampire has been turning and then immolating the grown sons of prominent villagers. Logically, Kim is dispatched to stop the macabre serial murders.

As their paths cross, Kim and Wol-young discover they are both interested in the shadowy perp, whom the lady vampire just feels she knows from someplace, but cannot recall how. An uneasy but flirtatious truce is forged as they work together tracking their quarry. As long as the freshly revived Wol-young refrains from tasting blood, she can control her vampiric nature, but she will still be denied her memories. Of course, avoiding blood will be difficult given the circumstances.

If the previous Secret of the Lost Island was a little too shticky for your taste, you might consider giving the franchise a second try with Living Dead. Kim Myung-min and Oh Dal-su still engage in plenty of rubber-faced broad comedy as Kim and his loyal but cowardly servant Seo Pil, but the vampire story is far darker and way more poignant than Lost Island viewers would expect. As emotionally engaging vampire movies go, it falls somewhere between Byzantium and Let the Right One In, but still with a goofy sense of humor, somewhat akin to Vampire Cleanup Department.

Without question, Kim Ji-won is a major reason why it works so well. As Wol-young, she is eloquently expressive and achingly vulnerable. There is no question she muscles poor Seo Pil off the screen, taking command of the picture. On paper, Living Dead would sound like an unlikely star-making vehicle, but she turns it.

Franchise helmer Kim Suk-yoon also deserves credit for staging some highly cinematic action scenes and running up a body count exponentially higher than the norm for historical comedy. Frankly, there might be more tragedy than comedy in Living Dead, but that plays to Korean cinema’s comparative advantage. Recommended surprisingly enthusiastically for vampire fans, Detective K: Secret of the Living Dead opens today (2/16) at the Los Angeles and Buena Park CGV Cinemas.