[Review] Cold Eyes, and the art of casting by Darcy Paquet

Cold Eyes, and the art of casting

Quite often our first impression of a film, before we watch it or know anything about the story, is of the cast. We see 2-4 names on a film poster, or in the title of a news article, and we form an initial impression. Some names, or combinations of names, fill us with anticipation, while others do not. 

At its most basic level, casting is the process of choosing which names will go on the poster. But good casting is a more complex art than it first appears to be. Both from an artistic point of view, and from a commercial point of view, effective casting is not just about convincing popular actors to appear in your film. It requires creativity, and a willingness to go against commonly accepted opinion. 

The new crime procedural Cold Eyes 감시자들 is a good example of effective casting. By this I don’t mean that the names on the poster are the only reason behind the film’s commercial success. I mean that the images that these actors project in the film make for an interesting contrast with their previously established star images. In other words, Cold Eyes brings out something new in the stars.

Up until now, Seol Gyeong-gu has been a leading actor in 24 films, Jung Woo-sung has been the lead in 19, and Han Hyo-joo has been the lead in 7 films. Moviegoers have become quite familiar with seeing them up on the big screen, not to mention in television and advertisements. Then why is it that their appearance in this film feels so fresh? 

Seol Gyung-gu is an actor who is known for his intensity. There is a fierce quality to his expression that has helped bring life to characters like the psychologically disturbed Yong-ho in Peppermint Candy, and the likable but flawed everyman Man-shik in Haeundae. But one also senses an emotional coldness in his acting, even in romantic roles like I Wish I Had a Wife and Lost in Love. This brings an interesting complexity to his characters. The role of Chief Hwang in Cold Eyes has a different quality. On the outside, he is highly professional and calculating, but in his interactions with Han Hyo-joo’s character an inner warmth and sympathy is revealed. Ultimately, this warmth is the heart of his character, which is why it’s so much more interesting to have a ‘cold’ actor like Seol Gyeong-gu play this role.

5As for Jung Woo-sung, this is an actor who throughout his career has been cast in ‘good’ roles. This is not simply because he is good looking, but because he exudes warmth in his performances. It was no surprise to see him cast as ‘The Good’ in Kim Jee-woon’s The Good, the Bad, the Weird, and he was also well suited to play the caring and supportive partner in A Moment to Remember. But the character of James in Cold Eyes has ice in his heart. There is not a hint of warmth about him, and never once does Jung Woo-sung flash the smile which made him into a star. In the end, his acting skills proved to be up to the challenge of playing a very different sort of character, and the role has given new depth to his star image.


Good casting, of course, is also about the combination of different actors in a film. In this case, it makes for a nice symmetry to have a ‘cold’ actor playing a warm character, and a ‘warm’ actor playing a cold character. And then there is Han Hyo-joo, who in some ways is the most interesting casting choice of all. 

It’s not that it was a big surprise to see her take on the role of a police detective. Less than a year ago, she played another highly trained professional (a paramedic) in Love 911. Nonetheless, there is a world of difference between the characters she played in those two films. Han Hyo-joo has almost always been cast in romantic roles, and the primary focus of those roles has been her charm and engaging personality. In Always, and also in Love 911, her characters ultimately pursue happiness and fulfillment through romantic relationships. 

But in Cold Eyes there is never even a hint of romance, even with 2PM’s Junho. Her character’s strengths are her abilities: her concentration, her phenomenal memory, her ability to remain calm under pressure, and also her fighting skills. Furthermore, her character’s personality is not projected outward, as in her previous films. Instead, she is slightly reserved and self-contained. The ironic thing is that she ends up being much more charming playing this kind of reserved personality, than she does in films where the screenplay is designed to make her as charming as possible. (This is one of the timeless truths about star power: stars are much more attractive when they are not trying to be attractive) 

At 119 minutes Cold Eyes is not short, but it kept me fascinated all the way to the end credits. This was partly because of the well structured plot (based on the Hong Kong film Eye In the Sky) and the overall quality of the direction, but it was mostly because the characters were so engaging. After watching the film, it may seem like the casting choices would be obvious. But when it was at the screenplay stage, the choices wouldn’t have been so clear. Fortunately, the filmmakers exhibited some creativity in casting, and the result is a very entertaining film. 

Darcy Paquet

cr : magazine moviedaum


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