On the red carpet: Han Hyo-joo (“Cold Eyes”) – 2014 AFA

Korean actress Han Hyo-joo, wearing a bright pink, breezy frock in Macau, walked the red carpet at the 8th Asian Film Awards, where she was nominated for Best Actress for her performance in “Cold Eyes.”

 

Although she lost the category to Zhang Ziyi (“The Grandmaster”), Han’s performance as one of three leads in the action thriller was notable.  When a viewer is engrossed in a plot mere seconds into a film, it’s a sign that an action movie is doing something right.  But when that attention never wavers for an entire 118 minutes, it is an indication of why said movie, “Cold Eyes,” was one of the top-grossing South Korean action films of 2013.

 

Co-directed by Jo Ui-seok and Kim Byung-seo, the remake of Johnnie To’s “Eye in the Sky” eschews gimmicks and unnecessary side plots to focus on one thing and one thing only: an intelligence squad’s chase of a lethal, robotic killer for hire (played against character type by Jung Woo-sung – while absent in Macau, he did appear at the concurrent Hong Kong International Film Festival to support his directorial debut, “The Killer Behind, The Old Man,” a short film as part of the trilogy “Three Charmed Lives” with fellow first-time actor-turned-directors Chang Chen and Francis Ng).

 

In “Cold Eyes,” character development is even avoided – and it is not even needed – thanks to the contrasting traits of the three main characters.   Han plays Ha Yoon-joo, whose delicate appearance may make it seem like she is not cut out for her rookie assignment as an intelligence agent but who holds more than her own with her fierce determination combined with some amusing idiosyncrasies.  Serving as her supervisor and her mentor is Chief Hwang (Sol Kyung-gu of films such as “Oasis” and “Troubleshooter”), a shaggy-haired and bespectacled veteran whose own gruff attitude and quirks play off of Ha’s charming naïveté. They, and the rest of their squad, are after James (Jung, nominated for Best Supporting Actor honors, which went to Huang Bo of “No Man’s Land”).

While “Cold Eyes” came away with just one award – Shin Min-kyung for Best Editing – it is easy to see why it is yet another work continuing to push the action genre in Korea.  The complexities of how to trace someone’s path while remaining hidden, combined with the value of camaraderie while attempting to accomplish an increasingly dangerous mission, reveal themselves through the various characters’ personalities, even in an ensemble cast as large as this one.  Add that to a slickly polished tint that makes surveillance work seem more cool than gritty, a gripping soundtrack and, of course, tight editing, and “Cold Eyes” delivers a gripping roller coaster.

Video: Han Hyo-joo – 2014 Asian Film Awards red carpet
video by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine

Video: 2014 Asian Film Awards red carpet highlights
video courtesy of the Asian Film Awards