[Korean movie] Countdown to Lee Je Hoon’s “Phantom Detective” (Updated 9 May)

Looks like I became a Lee Je Hoon fan at the right time. Just after completing “Signal”, I looked up Lee Je Hoon’s filmography and noticed he had a movie that has yet to be released. The media seemed to read my mind, as it was soon announced that the movie in question, “Detective Hong Gil Dong: The Missing Village” (also known by its official English title as “Phantom Detective”), would be released this May! 

No fear, no affections, no memories, no friends.

But Detective Hong Gil Dong boasts a 99% success rate at solving cases. While investigating a case that he was unable to solve for 20 years, he uncovers a shocking secret of a large organisation called Gwang Eun Society. Although he only intended to take revenge and return quietly, the scale of the case keeps getting bigger…

And that is the synopsis of the movie as listed on Daum. The movie boasts some impressive credentials, being helmed by director Jo Sung Hee who directed the award-winning movie “Werewolf Boy” that greatly boosted Song Joong Ki’s career. This movie is being produced by CJ Entertainment and Bi Dan Gil Pictures (or “Silk Road” in English), which also collaborated for “Werewolf Boy”. Some familiar names among the cast besides Lee Je Hoon (Signal, Architecture 101) are Go Ara (Reply 1994, Joseon Magician), Kim Sung Kyun (Reply 1994, Reply 1988) and Park Geun Hyung (Angry Mum, Marrying the Mafia). Surely, many people will be anticipating to see if PD Jo Sung Hee can replicate his success in “Werewolf Boy”, and he’s got big shoes to fill.

Lee Je Hoon with PD Jo Sung Hee

Lee Je Hoon with PD Jo Sung Hee

At first glance, one would expect the movie to be a sageuk, since Hong Gil Dong is a famous character from Korean folklore who robs the rich to help the poor — pretty much like the Joseon dynasty’s version of Robin Hood.

Kang Ji Hwan as Hong Gil Dong in the 2008 drama.

Kang Ji Hwan as Hong Gil Dong in the 2008 drama.

Mention Hong Gil Dong and the first image that comes to mind is Kang Ji Hwan, who played this very character in a drama back in 2008. How time flies! I saw a few episodes of that drama, but I couldn’t bring myself to finish it somehow. Maybe because the wackiness and a sunglass-wearing folk hero didn’t sit well with me.

So it comes with much surprise that this movie is set in a more recent era. In this movie, Lee Je Hoon plays the role of Hong Gil Dong. Hwal Bin Dang (활빈당), as his gang of bandits is known as in the folk tale, is now the name of an illegal detective agency owned by Hong Gil Dong himself. He is known to be adept at solving cases and finding people within a day, but little else is made known to us about his character, hence the caption “Are you curious about who I am?” in the movie poster above.

Lee Je Hoon as Hong Gil Dong in the movie

The movie was first filmed back in 2014, so I’ve no idea why it took them so long to release it. I actually wondered if production had stalled. I’d like to think that the director spent a lot of time on post-production to achieve the best results. But choosing to release in 2016 might probably be a good move, since Lee Je Hoon is now receiving greater interest from the public and overseas due to the success of his drama “Signal”. I’m sure many fans of the drama who haven’t gotten enough of profiler Park Hae Young will be streaming in to the cinemas to catch this movie.

First trailer – 1. The Detective’s Entrance:

This trailer is clearly intended as an introduction to our hero. Just like the caption in the movie poster, we hear many different people asking about his real identity in the trailer. A lady (possibly Go Ara) says he’s “a person that’s difficult to like”, though it’s not clear if she means this in a romantic context, or because he simply has an awful personality. The lady goes on to say that “there’s a well that’s pitch-black inside” (in where?). And with a disarmingly handsome smile, Hong Gil Dong says he has been late in introducing himself, and a little girl called Mal Sun whispers that “this ahjusshi is weird”. He then introduces himself as the detective that established the illegal agency Hwal Bin Dang, and whispers menacingly at the end, “This is your punishment for going up against Hong Gil Dong without any fear.”

Looking at the dressing (detective trench coats!) and the fantasy-like landscapes in the first stills and trailer, this looks like a cross between Sherlock and Van Helsing. The opening scene of the trailer has a Marvel comic feel while the colours of the ending scene with the car driving into the distance is reminiscent of Hollywood movies about the Wild West. Totally not the kind of concept I was expecting!

While Kang Ji Hwan’s version was a fusion sageuk with his own brand of humour, “Phantom Detective” seems to be going in the direction of a cool, mysterious investigator with a clumsy/cheeky/awkward side (too hard to tell which based on the trailer) to bring in the laughs. I’m already liking this fresh take on the popular character! But while the movie’s style and concept look interesting for now, I hope it doesn’t end up as too cartoonish or campy such that it becomes a B-grade flick. Fingers crossed!

On a side note, the addition of “The Missing Village” to the main Korean title of the movie seems to suggest that there are plans for a series of Detective Hong Gil Dong movies, and this is just the first. I’m sure the fate of this series will depend on critical reception and how well this movie performs at the box office.

If you didn’t watch the trailer above (and I don’t see why you shouldn’t), here’s an adorable Lee Je Hoon pleading you (with lots of aegyo) to watch it. How old is this guy again?

He’s having a live broadcast on Vapp on 29 March at 7pm KST, where hopefully more goodies will be revealed about the movie. Bring it on!


28 March update:

Hoho! Just a day after publishing this post, a new trailer is released!

Second trailer – 2. The Detective’s Profile

More light is shed on Hong Gil Dong’s background, but it seems like…our hero might be amnesiac? At the start of the trailer, Hong Gil Dong breathes (I’m starting to think this is how Lee Je Hoon speaks all the time), “No one knows me. The only thing I remember is my name” — No memories.

He also seems to have no qualms of using violence as he tells some thugs, “You guys are now going to slice off your own fingers” — No mercy.

Go Ara then explains that the hippocampus in his left brain that induces fear has been damaged, so “he is not able to fear” — No fear.

Little girl tells him cheekily, “Ahjusshi has no friends right?” — No friends.

But then we see him holding on to her hand like he’s her brother (or maybe he is, just that he can’t remember?). Once he realises what he has done, he immediately takes his hand away in disgust — No affections.

And there, we have a profile of our hero! I like how the trailers are all titled appropriately. Not sure if I’ll like the use of amnesia here since it’s such a typical K-drama trope. But if there is a great mystery to tell, please let it be a good one.


Lee Je Hoon gave a really fun and entertaining Vapp broadcast last night. I’m going to be shallow and say that he was literally oozing with cuteness throughout. I shan’t go into details as to what he did during the broadcast since the whole video can be watched on Vapp with English subtitles, but he did share some interesting facts about the show during the Q&A session with fans.

A fan asked if one of his eyes in the movie is blue. I did notice Hong Gil Dong having blue eyes in one scene in the trailer, which made me wonder if he is a demon or vampire. Thankfully, he said that there’s no such thing, and it was probably due to CG work done in the trailer.

As to why Hong Gil Dong isn’t able to sense fear, he gave the same answer as shown in the trailer about the hippocampus being damaged when he was a kid. Okay, so it is now clear that the amnesia is part of the story setup and not an attempt to mislead us with the trailer.

I’m also very thankful that someone actually thought to ask him to clarify the time period that the story is set in. He wasn’t able to give a proper year, but he pointed towards the late 1980s or early 1990s. Ooh, somehow it seems more recent that what I was expecting.

Is there a love line in the movie? “Although there’s a very pretty actress called Go Ara, there is no love line.” LOL, do I sense some disappointment in him? I’m not upset about the lack of romance, since it only means that the movie will be more focused on the mystery at hand.

Interestingly (or should I say hilariously?), a fan asked how much assets does Hong Gil Dong possess. LOL, hoping he would be a mean chaebol? He says Hong Gil Dong doesn’t own a lot, but Go Ara’s character in Hwal Bin Dang is very wealthy. Ah ha, so now we know something about Go Ara’s character! She is on the same side as our hero and not the villain! Provided there’s no twist in the story, of course.

(Click on images to enlarge)


New teaser! This time with more information about the characters.

Seems like we now know who Hong Gil Dong might be searching for in the movie. The trailer begins with what I think is Hong Gil Dong whispering (because Lee Je Hoon always whispers), “I told you not to touch the old man”. We also see the two little girls — Dong Yi and Mal Sun — mention about their grandpa, so it’s likely that Hong Gil Dong is searching for their grandfather and ends up having to enlist their help, or in other words, babysit them.

We also have some inkling on the bad guy’s motive now (his name is Kang Sung Il by the way), as he says “A new world will come once this is over”. He also seems to have the old man captive. The baddie also seems to know about Hong Gil Dong’s identity as he tells our hero, “How do I know you? Give it some thought if you make it out of here alive. About who you really are.” Hmm, I have a feeling that Hong Gil Dong may have a dark past.

Go Ara plays the character Hwang Gyesook, chairman of the Hwal Bin Corporation (I think this might be the more modern-sounding name for the original “Hwal Bin Dang”) who also runs many charity organisations. In contrast to Hong Gil Dong who is lacking in so many things, she has “money, the looks and ability”.

Now, I’m actually wondering if too much information is being revealed in the teasers. Hmm…


I wasn’t able to update for a week as I was busy travelling overseas, and now there’s a whole bunch of new updates to plough through.

First off, we have the behind-the-scenes video of the movie.

BTS trailer – The Birth of Hong Gil Dong World

The three leads are asked the reason why they agreed to star in this film, and they all said it was because of the director. Understandably so, since he was so successful with “Werewolf Boy”.

The director sheds more light on the plot — it’s about a man (Hong Gil Dong) who witnesses the murder of his mother and goes on to pursue his enemy, but ends up discovering a greater evil behind all these. This is also a story about him discovering his own identity.

Lee Je Hoon describes his character as being very different from the usual Hong Gil Dong, as he is a bad guy who catches bad guys, believing that they should bear a price that is even heavier than the crimes they commit — meaning he’s a bad guy who’s more evil than the bad guys themselves. The director says he’s not a likeable character since he has no beliefs nor sense of justice, and he can’t imagine anyone else playing this character besides Lee Je Hoon.

I’m also surprised to hear that the cute little girl who plays Malsoon has no acting experience at all. She must be really talented! Even Lee Je Hoon finds her too adorable for him to act properly.

It’s also interesting to see all the special effects used to create the fantasy-like scenes in the film. In order to create a world that is somewhat different from reality, the team used pastel colours and green screen to make the scenes resemble oil paintings and to create a comic-book feel. They also used lighting and smoke to create silhouettes and contrasts to make the characters stand out. I like the amount of effort put into giving the film a unique aesthetic quality.

Main trailer

There’s also a main teaser just released today that contains a few more new scenes.


Preview screenings of the movie have already started in Korea, and I’m glad to see mostly good reviews! The cast are also busy promoting the movie with appearances on radio and TV. I won’t be sharing updates on all these promotional activities since the purpose of this post is just to introduce the story.

You can find MORE new footage from the movie in the following video aired on MBC:

Hong Gil Dong drives towards the home of Kim Byung Deok, his mother’s killer, and meets another car in the opposite direction. Upon reaching the empty house, he realised that Kim Byung Deok had been kidnapped, and the old man was in that very car he saw earlier. Hong Gil Dong meets the old man’s grandchildren in the house and expresses instant dislike for them. The younger girl rightly guesses that he is a bad guy since they haven’t had the chance to call the police, but he lies to them that he is indeed a police, so that he can make use of them to find their grandpa. He goes searching for clues while keeping up his pretence as a police, and the two innocent kids turn out to be pretty useful in making others believe his lie. He finally traces the bad cop Kim Sung Il who kidnapped the old man, but is shocked that the cop knows his real identity. After the confrontation, he rightly deduces the location where the old man might be held, only to find the place empty. When he goes back to the hotel, Hong Gil Dong is ambushed by Kim Sung Il’s men, but he takes them down easily. Holding one of the men at gunpoint, he gets them to lead him to Kim Sung Il’s lair. They supposedly have a showdown there, but the video doesn’t reveal the scene and ends.

That’s a whole lot of information revealed from just teasers alone. This might probably be the last time I’m updating this post as there’s unlikely to be any more new content about the movie being released except for spoilers.

9 May Update:

I was so, so wrong about not having any more updates. CJ Entertainment released yet another teaser, this time with more focus on the two kids. Maybe because of these cuties are winning the hearts of movie-goers in Korea.

Trailer – Unexpected Partners

The trailer covers from the time where the kids first meet Hong Gil Dong in an “Unexpected meeting”, to how they ended up following him (“Unexpected company”), and how they assisted him in his search (“Unexpected partnership”).

Movie stills (click on the images to enlarge, they are all huge enough to be wallpapers!):


Credit: CJ Entertainment; Daum movies; Naver movies


7 thoughts on “[Korean movie] Countdown to Lee Je Hoon’s “Phantom Detective” (Updated 9 May)

  1. Ah, i too was eyeing this movie with a whole new interest after Signal! The more when i read that it is from the director of Werewolf Boy. It’s interesting to note there’s a ‘twist’ to the “no memories, no fear” premise.

    1. Yes, I won’t deny that my expectations for the movie shot upwards after learning who the director was. That twist in the second trailer also caught me by surprise. To think that twists could exist in just the trailer alone! haha

      1. I wonder if there’s a deeper mystery/meaning behind his name though, since Hong Gil-dong isn’t just any name and it seems to be the character’s real name right?

  2. I watched the movie already. 🙂 3 times and met jehoon at the movie stage greeting.

    I dun understand Korean but its still so entertaining to watch. Honggildong is very cool, funny and sexy!! Haha

    Very beautiful screenplay.

    Love hgd and the kids, especially the litle one.

    Do u remmember me? I am jcw fan. We met once.

    I think we have the same taste.

    Real jehoon is sooooo adorable, nice, and cheerful. He looks like a school boy haha.


    1. Yes! I do remember you 🙂
      Wow, so lucky you got to see the movie and even meet him! Good to hear that the movie was good. Did you travel to Korea just to see him? I went a few weeks earlier so I didn’t get to watch the movie 😦

      1. Yeah i went here ( am still in Seoul until wed.) to watch movie and see him😊 he is such a cheerful and friendly boy. I went to 4 stage greetings. Haha how crazy i am. But its worth. I have a chance to give him some thai snacks and tell him i am his fan from Thailand. He looked a bit surprised ( i think he never met foreign fan). He smiled to me and said thank you.

        Do u have IG account? U can check some of my clips of his stage greeting @pommepompadour.

        Nice to talk to u again. And really glad that u also love lee je hoon. He is superb actor! I watched almost all of his works. Very talented.!

      2. He does look like a nice, friendly person indeed. I think it was only recently that he started to get so popular (even among koreans), so I can see why he’s surprised to see a foreign fan! I saw some videos of him at stage greetings. He looks so cute trying to dance on stage. ^__^

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