The recent renaissance of Korean mystery thrillers continues with the cryptically titled “Rainbow Eyes” from director Yang Yun Ho, who previously gave viewers the melancholy “Holiday” and martial arts drama “Fighter In The Wind”. Here, he follows in the wake of genre hits such as “Seven Days”, “Voice of a Murderer” and others with a complex, twisted labyrinth of a film that deals with some surprisingly adult themes and which takes viewers to some pretty dark and disturbing places.
The plot centres upon weary homicide detective Jo Kyung Yoon (actor Kim Kang Woo, who recently impressed in “The Railroad” and “Le Grand Chef”), whose life is thrown into disarray by an investigation into a couple of particularly brutal murders at a sports complex. He and his feisty partner Park Eun Joo (Kim Min Sun, “A.F.R.I.K.A”, “For Eternal Hearts”) discover that the victims have a connection, sharing a shady past relating to their time in the army together when they were involved in the sexual assault of a young soldier called Lee Yun Seo. With the killing of another past offender certain to take place, the pressure on Jo piles up and he starts to show the strain, not least since Lee was a childhood friend with whom he shared a distressing secret. Thanks to his wild behaviour, his relationship with girlfriend Soo Jin (TV actress Lee Soo Kyung) begins to deteriorate, pushing him even further over the edge.
A good example of modern noir, with a tightly spun web of deception, plenty of tortured psyches, the obligatory moody soundtrack, and a cast of strong women and weak men, if anything, “Rainbow Eyes” is even more complex and convoluted than its recent peers, though thankfully in a reasonably clever manner. Director Lee just about manages to keep the narrative under control, wisely pacing out the various revelations and keeping the viewer gripped throughout, if perhaps a little exhausted by the relentless pace. As such, it works very well as a mystery thriller, and shows a certain cunning intelligence, at least until the rather ludicrous last act when all the cards are flung onto the table in a manner that seriously challenges credulity. Still, this in itself does make for some entertaining hysterics, and the bizarre final twist is guaranteed to please fans of the far out and wacky, whilst somehow turning the film into a strangely moving statement about how everyone in the world deserves love.
The film actually also works very well as a disturbing slice of character drama, delving deeply into issues of repression and sexuality. Jo makes for an interesting protagonist, a man who quite obviously has more than his fair share of secrets and skeletons in his closet, some of which are pleasingly unpredictable. His various relationships with the other characters in the film are well thought out and fascinating, particularly those with his partner Park, an interesting masculine-feminine figure in her own right, and the far more traditionally girly Soo Jin. Through this, Lee touches on some pretty adult ground, examining societal attitudes towards homosexuality and the pain arising from gender confusion. As might be expected, it features some fairly frank sex scenes and some shockingly vicious murders, though none of these come across as being gratuitous, serving to underline the film’s themes and in the case of the violence helping to illustrate the frustration and terrible anger of the killer.
Visually, the film is a boldly modern and striking affair, again very much in the noir fashion, with Lee employing a great deal of fancy trickery, shaky camera work and fast editing. This actually works surprisingly well for the most part, suiting the film’s fast pace and edgy plotting, though there are certainly times when viewers may be forgiven for feeling a touch of motion sickness with all the bouncing around. He shows an interesting use of colour, painting the film with a lurid and contrasting mixture of washed out yellows, greens and pinks, at times to quite startling effect. This too works quite well given the context, and the off-kilter look fits well with the undercurrent of psychological trauma.
Although perhaps not as immediately accessible as other mystery thrillers, thanks to its complexity and more adult themes, “Rainbow Eyes” is arguably amongst the best examples of the form in recent years. Just about managing to fall the right side of believable whilst working in some decidedly left field twists and turns, it engages and entertains throughout. Lee directs with flair and challenges viewers by covering some uncomfortable ground, though at the same time still giving the proceedings a winning air of innocence and naivety despite all the flesh and blood.
Yun-ho Yang (director) / Jeung-ae Han, Han Jeung-Ae, Jeong-seob Lee, Yun-ho Yang (screenplay)
CAST: Kang-woo Kim … Detective Jo Kyeong-yoon
Min-sun Kim … Detective Park Eun-joo
Su-kyeong Lee … Cha Soo-jin
Duek-mun Choi … Detective Lee
Chang-geol Jeon … Chief
Min-seon Kim … Eun-joo PARK
Seong-ryeong Kim … Lee Hye-seo