3rd London East Asia Film Festival: Dark Figure of Crime Review

Why are there so many unsolved/ghost murder cases out there in the world? Experts might work on as many as they can take on, yet they still cannot solve the crimes that go unnoticed. To the victims’ families, the agony of not knowing what happened to their loved ones is beyond one’s comprehension. But how do the undiscovered or unresolved homicides impact the police detectives trying to find the missing victims or to catch their killers?

In South Korean’s capital Seoul, hundreds of brutal offenses, including murders, go unreported every year, with perpetrators escaping the punishment; such crimes are called the dark figure of crime, and they put a question mark on the effectiveness and efficiency of the police. Busan, the second largest South Korean city after Seoul, has been no stranger to such cases.


Busan, 2010. Tae-oh (Ju Ji-hoon), a murderer who is serving a 15-year prison sentence, unexpectedly calls a local detective Hyung-min (Kim Yoon-seok), confessing that there are a few unpunished homicides that he committed – there is not one, but six more victims scattered around the city and its surroundings. The tense interaction between the two – mainly shot in a visiting room of a prison – begins with Tae-oh sending the detective on a wild goose chase. However, with time, persuasion and patience, Hyung-min meticulously gathers the clues and uncovers a previously buried case of a missing woman. He becomes obsessed with not only putting Tae-oh behind the bars for life but also with finding the missing woman’s remains.


Tae-oh is a temperamental, dangerous, unscrupulous yet intelligent young man, whose teenage life was filled with physical and emotional abuse, which makes the viewer question whether that was the reason why he became a murderer. His character not only provokes but also makes the audience empathize with him to a certain level. On the other hand, Hyung-min is a strong-willed, stubborn and dedicated man; while everyone tells him to give up, he – along with detective Jo (an impressive performance by Jin Seon-kyu) – pursues Tae-oh’s leads. The two protagonists, portrayed by Kim Yoon-seok, one of the legends of the Korean cinema, and Ji Ju-hoon, an outstanding actor of his generation, make for truly powerful characters. With the extraordinary performances from both actors, the film turned out to be a credible and gripping thriller.


Dark Figure of Crime, directed by Kim Tae-kyun, is an exquisite production that instantly grasps the viewer by the throat; the filmmaker tackled the fairly new subject of unreported crimes and perfectly depicted the relationship between the detective and the criminal. The film itself was inspired by the 869th episode of Unanswered, a South Korean investigative TV programme, and took six years for Kim Tae-kyun to complete; without any notable weaknesses, the end result is flawless. Dark Figure of Crime also has a gloomy dimension, due to the reality of the subject matter – the countless victims that got lost in the course of time; victims that might never be found.

The pace of the film, together with smartly written narrative and dialogue, and with well-executed editing, will keep the audience hooked to their seats. Ultimately, Dark Figure of Crime tells a riveting story with great conviction that should not go unnoticed.

Rating: 4-stars

Written by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Sanja Struna
All photos © Showbox




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