×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Toronto Film Review: ‘Cold Eyes’

Already a major hit in Asia, this high-octane South Korean remake of 'Eye in the Sky' sustains its nervy tension all the way.

With:

Sol Kyung-gu, Jung Woo-sung, Han Hyo-joo, Lee Joon-ho, Kim Byung-ok, Jin Kyung, Simon Yam.

A high-octane South Korean remake of the 2007 Hong Kong crime thriller “Eye in the Sky,” “Cold Eyes” sustains its nervy tension all the way. For a work that hews so close to its source in dramatizing a police surveillance operation against a sophisticated robbery ring, it’s to the credit of co-helmers Cho Ui-seok and Kim Byung-seo that the film has forged its own identity, rooted in the seamy Seoul cityscape and a sterling cast that rivals “Eye’s” thesps for dynamism. Already sold to a handful of territories, the pic deserves a serious look from genre fans at its Toronto preem.

Helmed and co-written (with Au Kin-yee) by Yau Nai-hoi and produced by Johnnie To, “Eye in the Sky” (2007) was so seamlessly plotted and nimbly orchestrated that it was a smart move not to tinker with it. Instead, Cho and Kim have upped their game in action and special effects, particularly the car stunts and explosions that Korean crews excel in. With its healthy budget on proud display, the production is less hard-boiled and quirky than “Eye,” but what it loses in the original’s inimitable stylistic tics, it makes up for in a high-end tech package with enhanced international appeal. Like “The Thieves” (2012), another blockbuster that references Hong Kong crimers, “Cold Eyes” has drawn more than 5 million admissions, making it one of South Korea’s biggest hits of this year.

The film hits its stride immediately from its opening sequence, shifting from the original’s retro tram to a speeding subway car. Stirring up maximum intrigue, the camera sprints to and fro among the three main protags, all covertly eyeing each other: tomboyish Ha Yoon-joo (Han Hyo-joo), bedraggled, middle-aged Hwang (Sol Kyung-gu) and stone-faced James (Jung Woo-sung). It eventually transpires that Ha is a police cadet on her way to an interview to join a special surveillance unit, while Hwang is the unit’s section chief, assessing her skills incognito. She gets the job, but not before she’s thoroughly humbled by Hwang, who gives a live demo of how minutely observant a surveillance officer needs to be.

While this is going on, James is leading a precision-tooled bank heist, getting the adrenaline going with some pulverizing car crashes staged amid downtown traffic. After quelling his cohorts’ squabbling over how to divide the loot, James confers with his mentor/broker (Kim Byung-ok), a cobbler who gives him one last job: to infiltrate the server room of the stock exchange to implant some data.

The helmers try to beef up the film with a succession of vicious hand-to-hand combat scenes, but other than enhancing James’ image as an unstoppable killing machine, these sometimes come off as redundant. While transactions with his Hong Kong counterpart (Tony Leung Ka-fai) and his broker offer insight into the cash-strapped realities of his profession, James’ relationship with the cobbler, who oozes malevolence for no good reason, is nebulous in a pretentious way.

Much more engaging are the procedural details of how the surveillance unit operates as a team, how they not only tail or eavesdrop on suspects, but also deploy nifty methods to get into their targets’ heads. The alternately playful and emotionally wrenching process by which Ha learns the ropes from Hwang grants the meticulous screenplay its warm, mushy heart.

Even when many episodes faithfully follow “Eye in the Sky’s” plot development, the astutely chosen outdoor locations create an ambience distinct from Hong Kong street scenery. A mid-film stakeout achieves a tremendous level of tension, set as it is in a neighborhood that gives Mongkok a run for its money in seediness. The grand finale is a propulsive sequence that moves across Jong-no, the upscale downtown area, to the subterranean depths of a hidden subway platform.

As the sloppy-looking but actually sharp-as-a-tack Hwang, Sol gives the character a more butch and authoritative spin than Simon Yam did in the original. About as warm as an icicle and sporting an aggressively asymmetrical haircut, Jung brings his usual reserve to a role that’s the very embodiment of cold efficiency. As Ha, Han offsets her greenhorn goofiness with flashes of ingenuity, making one especially root for her in the climactic puzzle-solving scenes. The rest of the ensemble cast gels, but not in a hugely animated way; Yam makes a cameo appearance that reps a playful nod to the film’s source while also upping the star wattage.

Tech credits are aces. Lensing is particularly good at capturing great heights and re-creating each protagonist’s perspective using visual effects and virtuosic camera movements. The Korean title simply means “The Surveillants.”

Toronto Film Review: 'Cold Eyes'

Reviewed at Korean Film Council screening room, Seoul, Aug. 16, 2013. (In Toronto Film Festival — Gala Presentations.) Running time: 118 MIN. Original title: "Gamshijadeul"

Production:

(South Korea) A Next Entertainment World release of a Next Entertainment World, Opus Pictures presentation of a Zip Cinema production, in association with Sun Dream Motion Pictures. (International sales: Opus Pictures, Seoul.) Produced by Eugene Lee. Executive producers, Lee Tae-hun, Kim Woo-taek, Stephen Ng. Co-producer, Song Dae-chan.

Crew:

Directed by Cho Ui-seok, Kim Byung-seo. Screenplay, Cho, based on the film "Eye in the Sky." Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Kim Byung-seo, Yeo Kyung-bo; editor, Shin Min-kyung; music, Dalpalan, Jang Young-gyu;. production designer, Cho Hwa-sung; costume designer, Cho Sang-kyung; sound (Dolby Digital), Choi Tae-young; supervising re-recording mixer, Choi Tae-young; special effects, Demolition; special effects supervisor, Lee Nee-kyoung; visual effects supervisor, Baek Sang-hoon; visual effects, CJ Powercast Art & Technology; action director/stunt coordinator, Heo Myeong-haeng.

With:

Sol Kyung-gu, Jung Woo-sung, Han Hyo-joo, Lee Joon-ho, Kim Byung-ok, Jin Kyung, Simon Yam.

More Film

  • PLAYA VISTA, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 24:

    Shorts Encourage Women to STEAM Careers

    Straight Up Films created the anthology “Power/On” of five shorts focused on encouraging girls in STEAM (science, technology, engineering and math with the arts thrown in) directed by actresses Rosario Dawson, Julie Bowen, Ana Brenda Contreras, Lisa Edelstein, and Nikki Reed. With support from YouTube, the shorts premiered Wednesday at the Google campus in Playa [...]

  • Stefanie Sherk obit

    Stefanie Sherk, Actress and Wife to Demian Bichir, Dies at 43

    Canadian actress and model Stefanie Sherk died on April 20 of an apparent suicide by drowning. She was 43. The Los Angeles Medical Examiner-Coroner confirmed the ruling and cause of death. Sherk appeared in the TV show “CSI: Cyber” and the movie “Valentine’s Day.” She also starred in the show “The Bridge” alongside her husband [...]

  • Ron HowardBreakthrough Prize, Arrivals, NASA Ames

    Ron Howard Talks New Luciano Pavarotti Documentary

    If one is an anomaly, two are a coincidence and three are a trend, then Ron Howard might strictly become a music documentarian after “Pavarotti” hits theaters. The documentary about the world-famous Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti comes on the heels of Howard’s “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week” and “Made in America,” a look at [...]

  • Mary Elizabeth Winstead

    Mary Elizabeth Winstead to Star in Netflix Assassin Thriller 'Kate' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Mary Elizabeth Winstead is set to star in the Netflix actioner “Kate,” sources tell Variety. “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan is helming from a script by Umair Aleem. The story revolves around a female assassin, who, after being poisoned and given less than 24 hours to live, must go on a manhunt through [...]

  • Shannon Hoon

    Blind Melon Frontman's Home Movies Captivate in Tribeca Doc 'All I Can Say'

    For a period of five years, Blind Melon frontman Shannon Hoon diligently chronicled his own life, videotaping himself with a Hi-8 video camera through every step of his musical journey — starting out in Indiana, through his meteoric rise to alt-rock icon, up to the day of his death in 1995. These captivating moments finally [...]

  • 'The Edge of Democracy' Review: A

    Film Review: 'The Edge of Democracy'

    How the hell did we get here? It’s a question that political liberals are asking themselves in many parts of the world, reeling as they are from a global tilt to the right that has yielded the tumultuous Trump presidency, the ceaseless, squabbling chaos of Brexit and, albeit less prominently in international headlines, Brazil’s submission [...]

  • Brie Larson

    Brie Larson on Diversity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: 'We Gotta Move Faster'

    While Brie Larson is thrilled over the success of the female-led “Captain Marvel,” the actress wants more diversity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Larson sat down with Variety’s Marc Malkin for the first episode of Variety and iHeartMedia’s new film podcast, “The Big Ticket.” “I’m happy to be on the forefront of the normalization of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content