Secret Investigation Record or Joseon X-Files: Secret Book or Gichalbirok or 기찰비록 (2010) episodes 1 to 6
Secret Investigation Record or Joseon X-Files: Secret Book or Gichalbirok or 기찰비록 (2010) starts us off in 1609. We’re watching the execution of the leader of the Malseju Sect (the End of the World Society) under the supervision of Gangwon Governor Lee Hyeongwook and this coincides with the apparent arrival of a flying saucer. Yes, this really is the Joseon version of the X-Files as a number of strange, unexplained phenomena, i.e. low-flying alien craft, put an already superstitious population into a state of dread. When news arrives in Hanyang, there’s natural scepticism and most prefer to believe mental illness in the Governor. So let’s take one step back to understand the politics. Under Confucianism as promoted by the yangban classes, i.e. the generals, nobles and scholars, society was to be ethical, civilised and ordered. The effect of imposing moderation and gentlemanly behaviour was actually to stifle criticism when the leaders did not show the appropriate levels of integrity, righteousness, loyalty, altruism and respect for the people. But that’s always the way power works. At the top of the tree was the Emperor who was said to have the Mandate of Heaven. Confucianism is not a religion as such and so this does not have the same force as the Christian equivalent Divine Right of Kings. But if there were unexplained lights in the sky and earth-shaking events followed, these could be interpreted as Heaven criticising the Emperor. Spreading news of such ill omens might undermine the stable relationship between ruler and subject, and would therefore be considered tantamount to treason unless you were a certified shaman and had the status to interpret supernatural or astronomical events in a politically acceptable way.
Meanwhile our hero, Kim Hyeong Do (Kim Ji-Hoon), is investigating corrupt gambling practices. When he gets the call to investigate, he and his assistant Jang (Jo Hie-Bong) find the Governor Lee Hyeongwook under torture, accused of perjury and even more serious matters alleging a conspiracy to undermine the respect for the King. However, there are those in government who have records of previous sightings. On the ground, however, other government officials pass the whole thing off as a meteor except they are torturing a villager who insists on trying to report the abduction of everyone else from his village. Those pesky aliens seem to have been rounding up a few humans for their evil purposes. When our hero finds the same location mentioned in the journal kept by the Governor and the leader of the Malseju Sect, he’s off to investigate, finds the empty village and a dog dead with unexplained injuries. There’s then an interesting alien intervention which moves our hero about an hour back in time. Fascinated he heads off for the mountain which seems to be the source of the problem, only to be arrested and warned off on peril of his life.
Naturally, he returns to the village and finds another survivor who dies when he touches one of the flying balls. As the sky fills with light, our hero is off to see whatever is to be seen. It’s a full encounter of the second kind with lights flashing, the ground trembling, and the alien craft in full view. Except, of course, no-one believes him and Jang tells everyone who will listen what they want to hear to escape punishment. With our hero tied to a chair for torture, Ji Seung (Kim Kap-Soo) appears. He’s the Left Royal Secretary and has been running the Government’s covert surveillance operation. This role makes him The Smoking Man (Joseon style means he has a pipe burning in most shots). Originally played by William B Davis, this character is part of the government’s attempt to suppress information about the alien colonisation. When it becomes clear to Kim Hyeong Do the only way he can save his life is to recant his testimony, he does so. This leads to a meeting with Heo Yoon-Yi (Lim Jung-Eun) (every Mulder deserves a Scully). Now he’s recruited into a history project. Everything unexplained is written down and sealed from public view in the hope, one day, that people will find the information useful.
So the first real case allocated to the pair concerns a broken tablet cast in gold. The carvings on it show people all looking at something in the sky. It probably dates from early Silla. Unfortunately, modern people coming into close contact with it over any period of time fall seriously ill. One has already died. A small bird rested in its surface dies in minutes. This looks like acute radiation poisoning. Needless to say, one piece of the tablet has been stolen on the way to the capital and, by devious means, one of the scholars gets hold of it. He has a theory the gold is only surface deep and, if he melts it off, he will find something “different”. Unfortunately when he tries it, it explodes killing him and the blacksmith. This leaves Ji Seung digging in the wreckage for clues while Kim Hyeong Do and Heo Yoon-Yi skirt around the issue of whether they are interested in each other romantically by agreeing to investigate her loss of memory.
The second case sees them pursuing a were “monster” who’s killing once a month in Jangju province. Someone is allowing prisoners to escape from jail as food for it. It could be the doctor who has a disabled son or it may be one of the officials. The daughter of the magistrate seems to hold the key. Then Kim Hyeong Do sees a humanoid creature with emerald eyes in the forest. Although it starts slowly and is initially little more than a slight atmosphere piece with lots of wandering around in the forest by day and night, the resolution is quite emotionally satisfying. I sincerely hope the officials quarantined off the pool in the forest and.or took samples of the water. Then we have a case of possession producing automatic writing as part of a more general precognitive ability. Our precog picks up the hero’s identity token and sees how the future will play out but loses the book of predictions he’s been carrying around. Some of the predictions affect the King so Kim Hyeong Do has to decide what to do. The resolution seems to be part of an emerging pattern. There’s a real emotional payoff which is rather unexpected. To that extent, the episode succeeds. But it’s another slim plot, barely more than a sketched idea blown up to a full length. The “Ghosts of Yidu” sees us playing with a haunted house that has just killed off a soothsayer trying to drive away the evil spirits. There’s lots of shaky camera work with shadows and out-of-focus dissolves while they search the empty building and find a shaman who explains the troubles began when they unearthed the top of a large metal spike while digging for a pond. So, of course, it starts to rain and night falls. With candles flaming, Heo Yoon-Yi and Jang find an explanation of the spikes (yes, there’s more than one) on a wall chart and they observe how the latest visitors died. But everything else is left inconclusive as it should be in an X-Files episode.
This is an excellent idea for a series because it would allow a proper study of the interaction between the pervasive beliefs and shamanic practices surrounding supernatural events, and a more scientific approach to the exploration of phenomena not currently understood. The idea of an emerging scientific curiosity being confronted by alien technology and more natural local beasties is intriguing. So I’m just about onside with Kim Hyeong Do’s apparent lack of fear when confronted by the unknown. He seems to have thrown off the shackles of superstition without the need for a pervasive Reformation. Alternatively we can just see him as a reckless idiot who has no sense of self-preservation. Heo Yoon-Yi seems a better fit although we’re meant to think she was one of the abductees and that explains her detachment and more cautious approach. So it’s a fair shot with thin plots blown up to fill time available. There’s lots of shaky camera work and spooky lighting to fill in the gaps. I suppose I will watch Secret Investigation Record or Joseon X-Files: Secret Book or Gichalbirok or 기찰비록 to the end but I’m less than enthralled.