One of the most accomplished and stand-out features at Toronto International Film festival this year is the slick, fierce, and ingenious Korean thriller Cold Eyes.
A bank robbery and the induction of a fresh faced operative to a shadowy police surveillance team, I’m a sucker for a concise, fast-paced opening and Cold Eyes has a great one in the vein of Heat and The Dark Knight… Actually Cold Eyes emulates a hundred films like these in its consistently thrilling flow of events, its use of characters who are at the top of their game, and its beautifully shot sprawling urban space. The film flits from point to point pulling at the quickly unravelling thread of a ensemble of bank robbers until things explode with dangerous enthusiasm.
This is a crime film with a difference though, it’s all told from the point of view of an elite surveillance squad whose sole purpose is to track and remain covert. Considering the film’s head villain is just as desperate to remain behind the scenes, this makes for tense viewing.
One of the most striking features of the film is the Holmes/Moriarty relationship that plays out between Sol Kyung-gu’s seasoned Chief Detective Wang and Jung Woo-sung’s James, the shadowy leader of the criminal gang. Whilst Wang’s powers of deduction set him in a race against time to halt the next theft, James’ meticulous planning and dangerously efficient lack of empathy keep him a step ahead of the police. Its’ a pleasure to watch two fantastic actors settle so well into two wonderfully written parts. Woo-sung makes an absorbing and unstoppable force of nature in his turn as a genuinely fantastic villain; cold, calculating, and highly dangerous- as he proves on many occasions. On the other hand, Kyung-gu displays perfect comic timing, a fierce and fascinating intellect, and a fatherly kind of support for his group of young surveillance experts, ensuring that the good guys don’t become an irritating distraction from those blessed scenes where we see the inner workings of James’ plans.
Not an out –and- out action film, Cold Eyes favours use of action only when it is required, directors Jo Ui-seok and Kim Byung-seo are as apt at relaying fight sequences as they are with the often complex workings of criminal gangs and police squads. A lesson could be learnt here in regards to action in thrillers: less is more. A Bourne-type brutality surprises and shocks in its pace and edge, ensuring violence doesn’t become filler.
With an impeccable control over pace and action, Cold Eyes is a highly impressive thriller from its explosive start to epic finale. Here is gipping viewing that’s entirely worth your time.
Dir. Jo Ui-seok, Kim Byung-seo
Stars. Sol Kyung-Gu, Jung Woo-Sung, Han Hyo-joo, Lee Jun-ho