The Queen of Crime (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): Here comes Detective Mom

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As a mystery thriller, South Korean film “The Queen of Crime” is pretty simple on the whole, but it is equipped with a brash, colorful heroine to remember. She may not be very smart as the detective character of the story, and she often annoys others around her as your typical meddler mom, but we come to root for this plucky, resourceful lady as she becomes determined to get to the bottom of a matter which may be a lot riskier than it seemed initially.

Park Ji-yeong, who previously appeared in “The Advocate: A Missing Body” (2015), plays Mi-kyeong, a middle-aged woman who runs a shabby beauty shop in her rural town where she often operates illegal facial operations for extra income. She has an adult son who is currently preparing for the state law examination in Seoul, and we see her boasting of her son Ik-soo (Kim Dae-hyeon) in front of her neighbors although he has not passed the examination yet.

When there are only a few days left before the examination day, her son calls. He has been living in a seedy building which houses many others preparing for the examination just like him, and he recently received a notice which says that he has to pay a water bill amounting to 1.2 million won (around $ 1,000). This is surely outrageous, but Ik-soo just wants to get rid of this distracting trouble as soon as possible, and he wants his mother to pay the bill instead of him.

However, Mi-kyeong decides to search for any possible way for avoiding this hefty payment. She instantly goes to Seoul, and she soon begins to snoop around the building as staying at her son’s room, although that is the last thing Ik-soo wants now. Like many of his fellow residents, he has been quite edgy and nervous as taking the final step toward the examination, and he cannot help but be exasperated by the overbearing presence of his busybody mom.

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As Mi-kyeong delves more into the matter, she starts to notice suspicious things inside the building. Looking rusty and dilapidated at its every corner as if it were an ideal background for horror or noir thriller movie, this unspeakable low-rent building is managed by two hoods who do not care a lot about the maintenance of their building as long as they get paid by their tenants, and we also meet Gae-tae (Jo Bok-rae), a dim lackey who is often abused and disregarded by these goons. It looks like these three guys are hiding something behind their back, and Mi-kyeong’s suspicion is increased especially when she happens to glimpse their shady night business in the building.

And there is an odd guy living right next to Ik-soo’s room. After learning that this guy’s room and Ik-soo’s room share the same water pipe, Mi-kyeong tries to contact that man, but he is usually absent, and nobody in the building knows anything about him except that he is one of those pathetic guys stuck in their limbo-like state as trying to pass the state law examination again and again for many years. These miserable guys can just give it up and try other ways for living their life, but, after all, it is not so easy for them to walk away from all the hard efforts they have put into those mind-boggling law books packed with myriad articles – and that slight but precious opportunity of social success represented by the examination.

Trying to reach to this mysterious guy in question, Mi-kyeong finds two tenants who may help her on that. Deok-goo (Baek Soo-jang), a nerdy guy who does not have much hope about what will probably be his last chance for passing the examination, gives her some useful tips for finding the guy, and Mi-kyeong promptly searches the neighborhood along with Gae-tae, who becomes a sort of assistant for her not long after their rather unpleasant encounter.

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In case of Jin-sook (Esom), this young reclusive woman lives near to Ik-soo’s room and his elusive neighbor’s, and she tells Mi-kyeong what she witnessed during one night when she was occupied with her own business as usual in her room. Is it possible that whatever happened during that night is connected with that baffling water bill?

Although you can easily discern the answer for yourself after a certain plot point, the movie has other things to engage and entertain us along the narrative, and the director/writer Yee Yo-sup deftly goes back and forth between comedy and thriller as his heroine approaches closer to the answer. There is an amusing moment involved with a popular energy drink among people preparing for the examination, and then there comes a suspenseful sequence where Mi-kyeong attempts her own Nancy Drew adventure and then faces far more peril than expected.

As an indomitable lady who cannot be easily stopped at all in her bumpy pursuit of truth, Park Ji-yeong gives a lovable performance for which she will be remembered for a long time. Mi-kyeong is pesky and annoying at times, but we come to accept her and then like her as watching Mi-kyeong trying her best for what she thinks should be done. The supporting performers in the movie hold each own place around Park, and Jo Bok-rae and Baek Soo-jang especially have a lot fun with their broad but colorful characters.

While its third act goes into a darker area as predicted, “The Queen of Crime” still keeps its lightweight spirit intact, and I and other audiences including my parents had good laughs during the screening. To be frank with you, I recognized several traits shared between Mi-kyeong and my mother, who often does not leave me alone while I work or write movie reviews at our home. Did she see herself from Mi-kyeong, I wonder?

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