Yeong-sil (played by Kang Ye-won) is a loser. She's in her mid-thirties yet has spent almost her entire adult life working weird part-time jobs in the desperate hope of being called up for a real interview for a full-time position one of these days. And once Yeong-sil finally manages to get oh-so-perilously close to success...she's forced to work overtime to take down a voice phishing scam, when this is obviously not in her job description. On the flip side, Jeong-an (played by Han Chae-ah) is a cop- and taking down voice phishing scams is in her job description.
The tone of the story in "Part-Time Spy" is rather unnaturally depressing. Voice phishing destroys lives, and "Part-Time Spy" forces us to watch normal people try to scam the socially obtuse out of their hard-earned savings. Even knowing that Yeong-sil and Jeong-an are working undercover, it just feels horribly wrong to watch them attend a party after having had a very "successful" day.
It's also very discomforting to watch "Part-Time Spy" and get the impression that voice phishing scams are apparently this difficult to take down. I would have thought that the main reason law enforcement has trouble cracking down on voice phishing scams was because of the difficulty finding their offices and the people running them, these being fly-by-night operations. When Yeong-sil and Jeong-an are able to gain access this easily, it begs the question of why the cops don't bust down the door within the movie's first half hour.
I will admit that an accurate documentarian explanation of voice phishing scams is probably not the main metric by which "Part-Time Spy" should be judged, considering that the movie is technically a comedy. The reason I go by this route is because "Part-Time Spy" itself seems to have far more interest in voice-phishing scams than anything more important like, say, jokes. A big point is made of Yeong-sil being a jill of all trades yet her abilities are only ever used to advance past minor plot obstacles.
Which is a real shame. Given how Jeong-an is just a standard action movie hero with little competence in regards to anything beyond violence or sex appeal, she and Yeong-sil definitely have the potential to work as an effective odd couple crime fighting duo. But it takes so long for Yeong-sil and Jeong-an to actually start working together that their potential as a comedy action team is wasted, and the overtures made toward their blossoming friendship come off as rather half-baked.
Even the political implications are left horribly underdeveloped, used only in a series of unfunny one-off jokes. No attempt is made to use those various story elements to make any kind of satirical statement. Namgoong Min is also a big factor in the wasted potential department- as the handsome yet obviously secretly evil manager at the voice phishing enterprise...how is it possible that we don't even get a funny romantic subplot out of his character? All of those ominously cute Namgoong Min smiles...all wasted...for nothing...
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Part-Time Spy""
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