Park Du-man (Song Kong-ho) isn’t a bad cop. Granted he regularly endorses planting evidence and torturing suspects, but it’s only in support of what his intuition tells him. Or does it? Du-man’s ability to tell if someone is guilty just by looking at them is put to the test when the body of a young woman is found by the side of the road in rural Korea. The problem is he’s never had to deal with a case of this severity and scope and the old tactics just don’t seem to be cutting it anymore. Big city detective Seo Tae-yun (Kim Sang-kyung) is called in with his refined methods of relying on facts and evidence to help out. Immediately there is tension between him and Park and one of the funnier moments in the film involves Tae-yun’s introduction to Du-man which involves Du-man flying at him feet first when he is mistaken for the murderer.
Never really warming to the college educated Tae-yun, Du-man instead continues his investigation with his sometimes partner Jo Yung-gu (Kim Roe-ha) who has a slip cover to put over his army boots when stomping a new suspect for “information”. One murder becomes a series and the limits of the rural police department, lacking the resources for things now considered as basic as DNA testing, start to wear on the warring detectives. With the help of female officer Gui-ok (Ko Seo-hie) they manage to track down three local suspects, but ultimately we end up learning more about the day to day pressure of solving violent crimes than anything about the motives behind the crimes.
Based on the true story of Korea’s first recognized serial killer case from 1986 – 1991, Joon-ho Bong’s second feature manages to transcend the popular and cliched genre by focusing on the emotional toll dealing with such crimes has on the detectives. Although the team of Du-man and Yung-gu seem at first a sort of “Tweedle-Dee” and “Tweedle-Dumber” comic relief act with their constant bumbling and hotheaded behaviour, their genuine dedication to finding the killer despite the lack of any substantial clues does endear them to the audience. This coupled with Tae-yun’s eventual unraveling add an important human dimension to the story that really sets the film apart. The film is also filled with dark humour and a genuine warmth towards the rural setting that provides some relief from the otherwise bleak tone.
A haunting score and beautifully atmospheric cinematography by Kim Hyung-gu round out the achievements of this unique and engaging Korean thriller.