Prior to 2007 the statute of limitations for first-degree murder in South Korea was only 15 years. In 2007 it was extended to 25 years, and in 2015 it was eliminated completely, but this wasn’t retroactively applied to previous cases. This statute is central to Kim Tae-gyoon’s Dark Figure of Crime, an intriguing police procedural based on actual events.
Kim Yoon-seok (Chaser) plays Hyung-min, an altruistic detective who plays an instrumental role in the arrest of Tae-oh (Ju Ji-hoon), a man accused of murdering his girlfriend. Due to police negligence, Tae-oh only gets sentenced to 15 years in prison, after which he reveals to Hyung-min that he’s killed many times before.
Now it’s up to Hyung-min to partake in Tae-oh’s twisted game of false leads, lies and occasional truths in order to bring justice to the families of his other victims. Hyung-min is dedicated to a fault, putting his career on the line by humoring Tae-oh and his requests for money and items in prison on the off chance that there’s some truth to his claims.
Kim Yoon-seok is perfectly suited for the role of a cop who is pure of soul, doing things by the book and with a passion we rarely see from this type of character on screen. This dedication to the victims comes from a hit-and-run event that killed his wife years prior in which police couldn’t be bothered to dig deep enough for answers, leaving it an unsolved cold case. His stoic, calm demeanor acts as the perfect antithesis to Tae-oh’s radical, emotional outbursts during their meetings with one another, making for the constant battle of wits between the two all the more entertaining.
Comparisons can easily be made to Memories of Murder by Bong Joon-ho, the gold standard of South Korean crime dramas. Like Memories, Dark Figure of Crime is a brooding, character-driven film that contains a continuous drip-feed of intrigue, keeping the viewer always guessing as to what clues will surface while sprinkling in just enough comedic relief to keep things lively and not become bogged down by the dour subject matter.
As Hyung-min investigates the various leads that Tae-oh sporadically parcels out to him, the film occasionally flashes back to the murder scene but rarely shows the violence actually taking place, leaving the viewer to piece together the event along with Hyung-min. Tae-gyoon does deviate from this in one particular scene, an odd inconsistency in an otherwise tightly structured narrative.
Bolstered by its strong performances from Yoon-seok and Ji-hoon, Dark Figure of Crime is an enthralling and well crafted true-crime thriller that will keep audiences engaged until the end credits and certainly has made director Kim Tae-gyoon someone to watch.