Hong Gil-dong (LEE Je-hoon, from Architure 101 and Bleak Night) is the head, and apparently only field operative, of HBD, a private detective agency. The agency is owned by Hwang Gye-sook (actress GO A-ra) who also uses her vast wealth for philanthropic work. Her father had taken in Hong as a young orphan; because he wished for justice in this world, Madame Hwang started the PI agency and put Hong in charge.
Hong really has only one goal in life: namely, to find the one-eyed man who murdered his mother and exact revenge on him. Having learned that person is Kim Byung-duk (PARK Keun-hyung), Hong sets out for him but arrives two late, as Kim has been taken by two other individuals. Hong uses Kim's two grandaughter, fifth grader Kim Dong-yi (ROH Jung-eui) and first grader Mal-soon (KIM Ha-na) to help locate the old man. His efforts are frequently thwarted by Mal-soon, who has a knack for revealing the lies and deceptions Hong employs to gain information.
Many of the settings and environments are digitally rendered, sometimes giving the film an artificial look. This is not meant as a criticism: I happen to really like this approach, It reminded me of Sin City, another film noir that I love, although Phantom Detective is in color and of course has Korean actors.
There are some very fine twists and turns in the plot. The acting is uniformly good. Special mention must be made about the two child actresses. ROH Jung-eui is both lovely and talented; this is particularly evident in one touching scene near the end of the film. As for Kim H-na as Mal-soon, well, she practically steals the movie every time she upsets Hong's plans by revealing the truth.
AsianCineFest Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars; very highly recommended
Phantom Detective had its East Coast Premiere at Korea Cultural Center's Korean Movie Night New York on May 18th and opened theatrically two days later, on Friday, May 20th.
Phantom Detective official website