I got interested in this movie thanks to Dramabean’s intro of Detective K: Labourer’s Daughter — the sequel. I normally don’t watch sagueks, but since this is a detective thriller, it should be (slightly) more fun than the usual politically charged sagueks.
- Kim Myung-min (in A New Leaf) as Detective K. Brilliant but bumbling. His entrance says it all — he tries to fly stylishly in for a capture, but lands face flat instead. Nevertheless, he surprises everyone by naming the governer as the thief, and has evidence to back it up. Throughout the movie, he devises clever mechanisms and ploys to capture felons, or escape from the baddies’ clutches.
- Oh Dal-soo (in Paparotti) as Han Seo-pil. On the surface, a dog thief (he claims to save dogs from the pots), but is the chief of a prosperous trading group. He hides his identity in order to help Detective K solve crimes in his city, thereby uncovering a ploy of embezzlement by government officials.
- Han Ji-min (in Rooftop Prince) as Han Kaek-ju/ Lee Ah-young. She plays 2 roles in the movie. Lee Ah-young is a widow of Minister Im‘s nephew, who supposedly committed suicide out of grief. She doesn’t die though and is rescued by Han Seo-pil, who tells her to impersonate him in the role as chief trader, in order to bait her corrupted uncle-in-law, Minister Im. She takes on the name of Han Kaek-ju, and from a virtuous widow, transforms into a charismatic, seductive chief.
- Lee Jae-young as Minister Im. The baddie in the show, he pretends to be concerned with the death of his nephew’s wife and sends Detective K to investigate. His motive though, is to use Detective K to obtain the incriminating ledger which is in Han Kaek-ju’s hands.
The movie is set during the reign of King Jeongjo, who sets up an independent investigative arm to suss out corruption within the government. A series of murders occur, and King Jeongjo sends Detective K to investigate, since he believes the murders to be related to the cover up of high ranking officials who are embezzeling funds. Detective K almost solves the case, when he arrests the local governer…but his captive dies suddenly. Due to a misunderstanding, the constables think Detective K murdered the prisoner. (who won’t, when you are holding up a large needle and standing over the body?!)
The King pardons Detective K, but sends him (supposedly) on “punishment” to another town which “juz happened” to produce the Wolfbane’s poison found on the needle that struck the governer dead. Minister Im also secretly gives Detective K another errand, to investigate his nephew wife’s death.
With Seo-pil, the dog fancier, Detective K investigates both cases. And finds both to be related to the town’s trade chief, Han Kaek-ju. However, investigations (and many adventures later) reveal that Han Kaek-ju is not the source of corruption. She is holding onto a vital piece of information though — the ledger which records Minister Im’s embezzlement of rare paintings. Detective K manages to retrieve the ledger, only to have it snatched out of his hands by Minister Im.
With no evidence on hand, Detective K resorts to a devious ploy to get Minister Im to verbally admit his guilt. The King, who has been “invited” by Detective K, overhears the admission and sentences Minister Im to death.
I am not a big fan of political intrigue, and unlike kooriyuki, my understanding of Korea’s imperial history is foggy at best. (kooriyuki: may i add that if my memory never serve me wrong, Detective K was inspired by Jung Yak-yong, a trusted aide and confidante of King Jeongjo. sab: see? she’s a mine of saguek-knowledge)
But what struck me in the show (besides the sleuthing) are two contrasting themes — equality among classes and the rejection of the non-conformists. Weaved into Detective K is the suppression of alternative religions — particularly Christianity — which is highly active during Jeongjo’s reign. And it is interesting to note that it is also during this period that imperial Korea undergoes a Renaissance, cos there are loads of new ideas and progress in Science — embodied by Detective K’s ingenious mechanical contraptions, and Ah-young’s idea of equality between the classes.
However, the ruling class (as usual) views such progress as threats to their power. So it’s not surprising that they try to repress it as much as they can. Ah-young is forced to jump off a cliff when she is pursued by Minister Im’s henchmen for promoting her ideas of equality and providing new tools for the slave labourers to work the fields more efficiently. Detective K too, nearly loses his head, when Minister Im uses his Christian baptism as a knife against his throat. Luckily, King Jeongjo portrayed in the movie appears to be a man who understands the struggles of both factions, but secretly sides with the non-conformists. He hides the name list of those who have been baptised and spares Detective K’s life. (i won’t know if he is THAT broadminded historically though)
Political strife and serious themes aside, Kim Myung-min and Oh Dal-soo are both seasoned actors, who are able to deliver the idiosyncronisms of Detective K and the Seo-pil with finesse. Detective K is both a genius and an idiot. Despite being adroitly observant when it comes to solving cases and having razor sharp instinct at playing court intrigue, he is a dolt when it comes to dealing with women and absolutely of no use when it comes to combat. (his running away skill is good though)
Similarly, Seo-pil appears to be the soft-in-the-brain dog thief, but is actually juz as cunning as Detective K when it comes to plotting. After all, he is the one who set the whole plot in motion when he realises he has to deal with the threat posed by Minister Im, and goes off in disguise to lure Detective K into his town. I like the movie’s blatant reference of Seo-pil’s affinity with canine friends with that of Cesar Milan’s. He basically uses the same moves and actions Cesar uses when training naughty, disobedient dogs.
Generally, the movie is pretty fast paced, and thankfully, not bogged by court intrigues and political strifes that are so within the saguek domains. Thus, even a saguek-avoider like me can enjoy it.