Sunday, July 02, 2023

Shadow Detective, on Hulu

Detective Kim Taek-rok is old, but he is still a little intimidating to his colleagues, for good reason. He always pursues the criminals the rest of the force is too scared to take on. He also knows where a lot of the bodies the crooked police chief had buried, because he did some of the burying. He is still only mildly bent compared to some of his old comrades. However, that makes him vulnerable to the schemes of “The Friend,” a blackmailing mastermind, who frames him for murder in the eight-episode Shadow Detective, which premieres Wednesday on Hulu.

Det. Kim is getting too old for this…stuff. Frankly, his slightly fuzzy memory is almost a blessing. He has done things he is not proud of, but what really troubles him is the price his family had to pay. Ironically, it was because of honest police work that a brutal criminal targeted his now grown daughter, when she was a young child.

Regardless, he never went on the take, unlike Chief Seo Gwang-su or Woo Hyun-seok, who became the Chief’s liaison and fixer for Geumo City’s elite special interests. Kim always regretted not talking Woo back to the straight-and-narrow. That is why he agrees to meet his old chum on what will be Woo’s final night. Unfortunately, their heated meeting makes it too easy for the friend to frame-up Kim for his murder.

Even though he is already under suspicion, the Friend forces Kim to re-investigate cases that will potentially reflect discredit on the Geumo police. The first few are easier, because he was partly culpable, but they get trickier when he doesn’t know which corners were cut.

The mystery/thriller business in
Shadow Detective maybe isn’t quite as insidiously clever as writer Im Chang-se might hope, but it is a terrific showcase for character-actor Lee Sung-min (who has been in a ton of films, like The Witness and The Spy Gone North). Det. Kim is a great character and Lee brings out all his prickly eccentricities, to their fullest. He ages up a bit to portray him, but he does so completely convincingly.

It is also jolly good fun to watch him curmudgeonly jawing with Det. Lee Sung-A, the closest thing Kim has to a protégé. She is quite a down-to-business butt-kicker, thanks to Kyung Soo-jin’s massively deadpan performance. Jin Goo is appropriately slippery as Kook Jin-han, the hard-charging new major crimes detective, who is determined to bust Kim. Kim Hong-fa is also entertainingly sleazy as Chief Seo, just like he was in
Chief of Staff (playing the sleazy mentor of the Squid Game star’s girlfriend).

Shadow Detective
has a wealth of colorful (but decidedly darkly hued) characters. Director Han Dong-hwa keeps the suspense crackling. The noir vibe is just as effective as any recent film. The editing is nakedly manipulative, but it is lethally effective.

Just as Korean cinema has knack for thrillers, the same is true for Korean television. Season one doesn’t give viewers a heck of a lot of closure, but it premieres with the first two episodes of season two (not covered in this review). Regardless, it is always nice to see an older guy like Det. Kim taking care of business, even if he has lost a step or so. Highly recommended for fans of hardboiled cop thrillers,
Shadow Detective premieres this Wednesday (7/5) on Hulu.