I remember when my parents asked a Buddhist monk to tell my fortunes in the future. I do not remember well what he told me and my parents after he checked some book and then did some sort of calculation on paper, and I remember that he assured my parents that I would be all right and successful in the following years. My parents seemed satisfied, but I was skeptical for the reasons many of you can understand.
And that was why I did not have much expectation on South Korean movie “The Classified”, a police procedural about a cop and a fortuneteller who happen to work together in a very urgent investigation. This is indeed an odd buddy movie combination which could have been pretty ridiculous, but the movie believes in its story and characters as steadily pushing its thriller plot, and I could put aside my skepticism for a while as enjoying its good moments.
On one summer day of July 1978 in Busan, a young girl is suddenly disappeared not long after she leaves her school, and it is apparent that she is kidnapped for ransom. Her parents wants to get their daughter returned as soon as possible, but the kidnapper in question has not yet attempted any contact for some reason, and they become more desperate as days goes by without any news on their missing daughter. The police assure the parents that they will do anything necessary for finding the girl, but they have no progress in their sloppy investigation while not getting any valuable clue on the kidnapper’s identity or where the girl is being kept.
Eventually, the girl’s parents, who are rich and well-connected enough to influence local authorities, decide to pull some strings for getting a right guy for the investigation, and that is how Detective Gong Gil-young (Kim Yoon-seok) comes into the picture. Despite his successes with many big cases, Gil-young was recently relegated to a riot control unit mainly because he brought the ire of some of his superiors, and he is reluctant to take the case, for he knows too well that he will probably get all the blame if that is deemed necessary by his superiors.
However, as a family man, he cannot ignore the pain and desperation he sees from the missing girl’s parents, and he soon begins to work on the case with their full support. As waiting for the kidnapper’s contact, Gil-young insists on keeping the investigation hidden from the public for increasing the chance of the girl’s survival, and that makes him pretty unpopular among the cops assigned to work with him. To them, catching a bad guy is more important than saving a girl who might not return forever, and they and Gil-young constantly clash with each other over the direction of their investigation.
Meanwhile, the girl’s mother and aunt go to Kim Joong-san (Yoo Hae-jin), a local fortuneteller who might give them the answer on whether their dear girl will be returned alive. He does not have a definite answer for that, but he tells them that there is still hope considering the girl’s fortunes – and he also predicts that the kidnapper will soon attempt a contact on a certain day.
When Gil-young hears about Joong-san’s prediction, he does not believe it much like most people, but the kidnapper really calls the girl’s parents on the very day predicted by Joong-san. Joong-san also makes another correct prediction not long after the focus of the investigation happens to be moved from Busan to Seoul, and it seems he is not a fraud at all. There is a scene in which he clears his mind to get any information to help the investigation, and he does get several possible clues during his trance state.
How is this possible? While the movie does not go deep into details, Joong-san comes to us as a decent ordinary guy willing to help the investigation as much as he can through the ability he sincerely believes in. He and Gil-young naturally do not get along well with each other due to their different approaches, but we come to see that they are not so different from each other in many ways. While not appreciated enough by others, they do not stop trying their best as professionals in their respective positions, and they eventually become unlikely partners when it is clear to both of them that they must work together before it is too late for the girl they really want to save.
The director/co-writer Kwak Gyeong-taek, who recently directed the sequel to his previous film “Friend” (2001), keeps the narrative momentum intact as gradually building tension along his story. The telephone conversation scenes between the kidnapper and the girl’s parents feel both tense and frustrating as the camera looks at their distraught faces, and what is at stake for them is always palpable to us. Gil-young gets a fair share of his own frustration due to his uncooperative and ineffectual colleagues, and there is a suspenseful sequence where he happens to act alone in a very tricky situation which may lead to an irreversible outcome if he is not very cautious.
The movie also gives us a vivid look into Busan and Seoul during the late 1970s, and I enjoyed a number of nice period details my parents will instantly recognize. The actors in the movie look convincing as the people inhabiting in that era; Kim Yoon-seok and Yoo Hae-jin, dependable South Korean actors who previously appeared together in “Tazza: The High Roller” (2006), ably carry the film with their engaging lead performances, and the other performers in the movie nicely fill their functional roles as required.
I am still skeptical about fortunetelling, but “The Classified File” entertained me enough with its efficient thriller plot and good performances. Believe or not, the movie is actually inspired by a real-life case, and you will be more amazed or amused by another unbelievable thing told to you during the epilogue part. The ending is a bit overlong, and I still do not understand well the logic of Joong-san’s fortunetelling (my parents probably know better than me in this case), but the movie is better than I expected as a solid crime mystery drama.