One of South Korea's biggest recent hits in movie theaters, "Detective K" is a slapdash mixture of comedy, mystery, action and historical drama that proves diverting in spots but mostly exhausts with its genre-jumping restlessness.
Set in the Joseon dynasty of the 18th century, director Kim Suk-yoon's epic yarn concerns the investigative efforts of a whip-smart, king-commissioned detective (Kim Myung-min) trying to solve a series of murders that might have something to do with embezzled taxes, a sultry female trade magnate (Han Ji-min) and the mysterious suicide of a wealthy minister's daughter-in-law.
Throw in abused plantation workers, persecuted Christians, the medicinal and weaponized properties of wolfsbane, the finer points of using paintings as bribes, and finally vicious, snarling attack dogs the size of horses, and you have what amounts to a pretty impenetrable piece of entertainment that rarely works as either pulse-pounding thriller or period romp.
The only real charm comes from star Kim's wry, deadpan exchanges with Oh Dal-soo, who plays a lowly dog thief tagging along as the detective's de facto sidekick. Their bickering — as long as it doesn't involve hashing out plot details — is the only recognizably translatable element in this otherwise noisy, crazy import.
"Detective K." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes. At CGV Cinemas, Los Angeles.