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The Insadong Scandal
Uhm Jung-Hwa in The Insadong Scandal

Uhm Jung-Hwa as the villain in The Insadong Scandal.
Korean: 인사동 스캔들
Year: 2009  
Director: Park Hee-Gon  

Park Hee-Gon

  Cast: Kim Rae-Won, Uhm Jung-Hwa, Hong Soo-Hyeon, Im Ha-Ryong, Kim Jeong-Tae, Kim Byung-Ok, Ma Dong-Seok, Oh Jeong-Se, Choi Song-Hyeon, Hakuryu
  The Skinny: This heist movie about the dangers of the art world is entertaining and moves at a swift pace. However, a tired series of twists and the cast of one-dimensional characters fail to elevate the film beyond its genre.  
Kevin Ma:
Beyond some technical talk about painting restoration and art history, writer-director Park Jee Gon's directorial debut The Insadong Scandal is just another heist film with more twists and reversals than anyone would care to count. Park attempts to inject danger and intrigue into the not-so-dangerous world of art dealing, but his skills with cinematic flair don't apply to his formulaic script and one-dimensional characters. Nevertheless, with a delicious performance by Uhm Jung-Hwa as the villain, and snappy editing by Nam Na-Yeong (The Good, The Bad, The Weird), it's easy to see why this well-paced thriller achieved moderate success at the Korean box office.

After snatching the legendary Byeokando painting from the hands of another dealer, ruthless art dealer Bae Tae-Jin (Uhm) hires famous art restorer Lee Kang-Joon (Kim Rae-Won) to restore the painting before a well-publicized unveiling. But Bae, the shark that she is, has other plans for the painting, including forging it so she can sell the original to her wealthy Japanese client. In another suspense-less and not-so-surprising reveal, Lee heads up his own gang of art thieves, and he also has his eyes on the Byeokando - though Park is keen on hiding Lee's true, honorable reasons from his audience until the end. Also out to stir things up is the tough Cultural Asset Squad detective Choi (Hong Soo-Hyeon, not very convincing here), who is sure that Lee (who has a prior history with forging paintings) and Bae are up to no good.

Considering all the double-crossing and hidden agendas, The Insadong Scandal isn't really that unpredictable or clever. Park puts the audiences at a distance as he guides them through his labyrinth plot and large cast of characters, only revealing things when he deems it necessary. With everyone hiding something from the beginning, the film lacks a true central character to latch onto, making The Insadong Scandal a somewhat alienating experience. Kim Rae-Won's Lee isn't particularly worth following, as his arrogance and hidden agendas make him a hard protagonist to connect with until his complete backstory is revealed. If Park wasn't working so hard to show how clever his script is, he could have revealed the full extend of Lee's motivations - which would've in turn made him a character worth identifying with.

Kim doesn't help much. The actor dresses and acts like the coolest art restorer in the world, making Lee a rather unconvincing character to begin with. On the other hand, despite only having to act really angry or really seductive, Uhm Jung-Hwa seems to be having tons of fun as the evil Bae. Her character is understandably one-dimensional, but Uhm works well with what she has and leaves a memorable impression. If she ever needs to audition for a femme fatale role, this film should be at the beginning of her show reel.

Even though Park's script is ridden with flaws, he does manage to show his skills as a director. With a combination of stylish handheld camera work and precise pacing, The Insadong Scandal moves at a swift pace, rarely slowing down once the heist begins. Park seems to know the weaknesses of his script, moving the plot along so quickly that the audience won't have time to reflect on them until the film is over. The tactic may be as manipulative as the characters themselves, but Park's sleight-of-hand also speaks volumes about his talent as a director.

The script does work as pure entertainment for the masses. Whenever the exposition about ancient painting technique begins to overwhelm, Park pulls back, making the techniques understandable enough such that one can see how they apply to the greater scheme of things. Park's intention is to take this seemingly boring world of traditional art and spice it up for the general audience, and even though he may not be so successful as a storyteller, he succeeds on a purely commercial level by being thoroughly entertaining and mostly comprehensible. The Insadong Scandal doesn't completely succeed at making art restoration and the dangers of forgery into a thrilling film topic, but at least it's mildly fun while it lasts. (Kevin Ma, 2009)


DVD (Korea)
Region 3 NTSC
Sssamzie Ivision
2-Disc Special Edition
16 x 9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Korean Subtitles
Various Extras

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image credit: Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen