Film Review: “Cold Eyes” (감시자들)

When a viewer is lured into a plot mere seconds from the start of the film, it’s a sign that an action movie is doing something right.  But when that viewer’s attention never wavers for an entire 118 minutes, it is an indication of why said movie, “Cold Eyes” (감시자들), was one of the top-grossing South Korean films in 2013. Co-directed by Kim Byung-seo and Cho Ui-seok, the remake of the Hong Kong film “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 group of dangerous criminals.

Character development is largely avoided – and it is not even needed – thanks to the contrasting appearances and demeanors of the three main characters.   Han Hyo-ju plays Yoon-joo, a rookie whose delicate appearance may make it seem like she is out of her league 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 from “Oasis”), a shaggy-haired and bespectacled veteran who has his own gruff attitude that plays off of Yoon-joo’s charming naïveté. They, and the rest of their surveillance squad, are after James (played by Jung Woo-sung, who goes against his usual character as a cold robotic killer for hire).

That chase pretty much comprises the sum of the film’s parts.  At times, the viewer is cajoled into thinking that a moment from a character’s past or that something more belies the knowing smiles between colleagues, but the ship steers itself and keeps moving.  Instead, the complexities of how to trace someone’s path while remaining hidden, combined with the value of camaraderie while attempting to accomplish a dangerous mission, reveal themselves through the various characters’ personalities.  Add that to a gripping soundtrack and a slickly polished tint that makes surveillance work seem more cool than gritty, and “Cold Eyes” delivers.