A slick and clever thriller, with dynamic pacing, strong lensing and a particularly strong use of space” – Pierce Conran, TWITCH

Cold Eyes (2013) by Jo Ui-seok and Kim Byung-seo, will grab you by the throat from the very first minute you see Jung Woo-sung (The Divine Move) on the big screen. It is common for actors, who have portrayed heartthrobs in the past, to take on the role of a villain. There are two particular movie stars who are worth mentioning here; Byung Hun and his superb performance in The Good, The Bad, The Weird as well as sensational Kwon Sang-woo in Fate. Honestly speaking, I wasn’t astonished when Woo-sung accepted the supporting role of James in Cold Eyes. On the contrary, after portraying ‘a good guy’ for over a decade it was refreshing to see him playing a hard-hearted felon.

The film tells the story of James, a super-criminal, who specialises in robbing banks and other financial institutions. He always orchestrates heists from high vantage points and directs his subordinates to do the jobs. He also severely punishes those who do not obey his commands. Everything goes perfectly well until a group of detectives, from the surveillance team, discover his criminal activities. The team is lead by the Chief Detective Hwang (Sol Kyung-gu: Silmido) who takes care of infiltration and tracks offenders by using CCTV. He decides to employ a rookie detective, Ha Yoon-joo (Han Hyo-joo: Always), whose incredible photographic memory helps him deal with criminals. A complex and gripping chain of events gets under way with Yoon-joo desperately wanting to catch the untraceable and ever-elusive criminal.

cold eyes 4

Cold Eyes also revolves around the young Yoon-joo: “She’s your classic do-gooder heroine with a heart of gold and a nervous finger-tapping tic, with her only character flaw (in the eyes of her superiors) being her unwillingness to stand idly by while others are getting hurt”. She is an important asset to Hwang’s team. Like all of her teammates she is given an animal nickname, Piglet, which she becomes known as to the rest of the crew. At first, she is seen as a clumsy girl, who mainly makes mistakes on the job. Nevertheless, with the help of Hwang, she gets better in fulfilling her duties. The rookie becomes an expert and, with great precision, manages to locate James’ whereabouts. Han Hyo-joo’s portrayal of the young detective is flawless. The character is a fearless and stubborn lady captured in the tiny body of Han Hyo-joo. Jung Woo-sung was equally as good. His performance kept me on the edge of my seat and I have to admit, I did enjoy seeing him as a villain. The character had a number of impressive abilities, including stabbing someone with a pen, which definitely became his “signature method for murder throughout the film”.


Cold Eyes is a good thriller with an A-list cast. The entertaining car chases and fight scenes, without a doubt, made this film more interesting. Having said that, I don’t think there was enough character development when it came to the team of police officers. We didn’t get to know who they really were and they were only identified by their nicknames. I would have liked to have known more about their backgrounds and their relationships with one another.

With down to earth cinematography by Kim Byung-seo and Yeo Kyung-bo and immaculate editing by Shin Min-hyung Cold Eyes became one of the best Korean thrillers of last year and one of South Korea’s absolute blockbuster hits of 2013; a fast-paced, relentless roller-coaster ride into the high-stakes world of criminal surveillance. The film will definitely leave you breathless. I am glad it was shown at the 9th London Korean Film Festival.

Rating: 4-stars

Written by Maggie Gogler

All photos © Next Entertainment World

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Film, Film events and festivals, Foreign Films, Korean Cinema


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