Secret (2009) Movie Review

Korean mystery yarn “Secret” marks the directorial debut of Yoon Jae Goo, screenwriter of the superb Kim Yoon Jin starring kidnap thriller “Seven Days”. Unsurprisingly, Yoon aims again for taut suspense and a labyrinth plot filled with deception and murky motives. The neo noir stars actor Cha Seung Won (recently in “Eye for an Eye”) as a tortured detective, with Song Yoon Ah (“Arang”) as his possibly murderous spouse and support from Roo Seung Ryong (“Best Seller”) and Kim In Kwon (“Haeundae”).

The film gets off to an appropriately enigmatic beginning, as homicide detective Sung Yeol (Cha Seung Won) is whispered a mysterious message by a hitman badly injured in a traffic accident. Sung Yeol is a troubled man, still reeling from the death of his young daughter in a car crash for which he was responsible, being drunk behind the wheel after a date with his mistress. His life is thrown into disarray when he finds evidence implicating his wife Ji Yeon (Song Yoon Ah) at the murder scene of a vicious gangster and loan shark. Disposing of the clues, the poor man tries to get the truth from his wife as to what she was doing there, while fending off the police investigation and the attentions of the dead man’s even more psychotic brother. Making matters worse, he starts receiving calls from a blackmailer, who claims to have evidence of his wife’s guilt, that will be passed to either his colleagues or the gang unless he complies.

“Secret” is a film which certainly doesn’t waste any time, throwing the viewer headlong into a tense and initially confusing situation. Yoon Jae Goo again shows himself to be an expert at generating and relentlessly notching up tension, and the film is basically one long exercise in sustained suspense. Although perhaps inevitably he does take things a little far, and the film is blatantly misleading and manipulative in places, it grips throughout, more so than other more timid and less ambitiously ambiguous mystery thrillers. The film is pleasantly unpredictable and has a number of clever twists, mainly since it has a distinctly wacky streak, with some decidedly off the wall developments. This actually works quite well, and rather than undermining the drama makes it all the more entertaining for being fun despite the potentially dark subject matter. Yoon certainly heaps on the revelations in at times hysterical fashion, especially during the last act, though he keeps things under control and the film never stretches belief quite to breaking point.

To a large extent this is due to the film’s compelling emotional and moral core, playing heavily upon Sung Yeol’s internal conflicts between his own failings and guilt, his desire to protect his wife, and his need to perform his duty as a upright cop – not least since he has in the past been known for ratting out other officers who have crossed the line. This does make for a great deal of dramatic irony, and the film offers an interesting spin on the usual good cop, bad cop shenanigans. Cha Seung Won does a good job as the protagonist, making him sympathetic in spite of his flaws, and his increasingly desperate efforts at investigating and deflecting do keep the viewer rooting for him.

Yoon’s direction is very much in the modern noir style, being full of seedy colours and deliberate use of low key lighting. Shadows and rain play a large part in the film’s visual makeup, with most of the action happening at night or in poorly lit alleyways and grimy buildings. This fits the mood well, and at the same time he has the good sense to include a good few set pieces, mostly chase sequences, which though perhaps superfluous do help to keep things moving along. The film does get violent, and though again this is at times a touch gratuitous, in particular during a mass, “A Bittersweet Life” style brawl which occurs in the later stages, such scenes stop things from ever getting too overwrought and deflect from some of the less convincing aspects of the plot.

As such, “Secret” works both as a tightly wound mystery and as a straight thriller, and is certainly one of the more entertaining examples of its type from the last year or so. With this and his “Seven Days” script, Yoon Jae Goo has proven himself to be a skilled genre practitioner, and his next outing will be awaited with interest.

Jae-gu Yoon (director) / Jae-gu Yoon (screenplay)
CAST: Joon-seo Bang, Seung-won Cha, Tae-goo Eom, Hye-rin Joo, Ji-hyeon Kim, Hee-jeong Lee, Jong-woo Lee , Sang-hee Lee

Buy Secret on DVD