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It’s remake time again, as the 2007 Milkyway outing “Eye in the Sky” from director Yau Nai Hoi and producers Johnnie To and Tsui Siu Ming gets a Korean makeover in “Cold Eyes”. The film was directed by duo Jo Eui Seok (“The World of Silence”) and Kim Byung Seo (a noted cinematographer who recently worked on the likes of “Dangerous Liaisons” and “Hindsight”), and stars Sol Kyung Gu (“Public Enemy”), Jung Woo Sung (“Reign of Assassins”), and Han Hyo Ju (“Masquerade”) in the roles originally played by Simon Yam, Tony Leung Ka Fai and Kate Tsui. Pulling in more than five million admissions at the local box office, the film was one of the biggest Korean hits of 2013, and also proved popular with the critics, Han Hyo Ju winning Best Actress at the Blue Dragon Awards – all of which is no mean feat for a remake.
The film kicks off in similar fashion to the original, with police surveillance team new recruit Yoon Joo (Han Hyo Ju) being put through a test on the streets of Seoul by veteran Detective Hwang (Sol Kyung Gu). Earning the codename ‘Piglet’, Yoon Joo joins the team in tracking and gathering information on suspects, while sticking to the shadows and never getting involved in arrests themselves. Things change when they are assigned to identify and stalk a gang of ruthless bank robbers, led by the methodical and vicious James (Jung Woo Sung), a mastermind who watches over his henchmen from the rooftops. As Yoon Joo and Hwang close in on the criminals, James becomes aware of their presence, and a deadly test of wits ensues.
Although “Eye in the Sky” is perhaps not one of the more famous Milkyway productions, it has its fair share of fans and is an interesting choice for a Korean remake, even though the very notion is probably enough to make some wince. Thankfully, this is one of the rare instances of a remake getting pretty much everything right, Jo Eui Seok and Kim Byung Seo managing to stay faithful to the original while successfully adapting it to a new setting. Certainly, just as “Eye”, like most Milkyway productions, was very much imbued with the character of Hong Kong, “Cold Eyes” has a similarly strong sense of place, making great use of its Seoul setting.
The films both have the same strong depth of character, and though the Korean version is perhaps slightly more driven by events, it features some very impressive and substantial writing, and there’s a very pleasing feeling that real work went into the script and into fleshing out the various relationships between the team members. The teacher-pupil bond between Hwang and Yoon Joo is very much at its heart, and is compelling and believable, with Sol Kyung Gu and Han Hyo Ju on great form. The film’s most obvious change comes with James, who is this time working for sinister fence Kim Byung Ok rather than for himself, though this works well and adds to the karmic undertones that are suggested throughout.
There’s also a bit more action thrown into the mix, though thankfully this has been done in a thoughtful and considered manner, and the extra chase scenes and violence fit very well, partly since Jo and Kim do a great job of orchestrating their set pieces. At the same time, the action never gets in the way of the focus on procedural details, the film going to some lengths to depict even the smallest nuances of the surveillance work, and this makes things even more fascinating and convincing. The sense of realism helps ensure that the film is tense right from the start, getting maximum mileage from its cat and mouse scheming, and with it being made clear that James is a particularly brutal and controlled villain, it’s never too clear whether or not the protagonists will make it out alive, even for those who have seen the original. The film looks fantastic too, with some superb cinematography and great production values, and this gives it the air of a slick, classy blockbuster, the money spent all being up there on screen.
“Cold Eyes” is a minor triumph as a result, emerging not only as a very worthy and accomplished new version of an already excellent film, but as a top notch thriller in its own right and one of the best Korean genre offerings of the year. Jo Eui Seok and Kim Byung Seo have done a great job here, and with a delightful cameo at the end providing the icing on the cake, it really does demand to be seen.
Ui-seok Jo, Byung-seo Kim (director) / Kin-Yee Au, Ui-seok Jo, Nai-Hoi Yau (screenplay)
CAST: Hyo-ju Han … Ha Yoon-joo
Woo-sung Jung … James
Jun-Ho Lee … Squirrel
Kyung-gu Sol … Chief Hwang