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In the end, exciting and beautifully rendered as they are, I cannot help wonder if the movie really needed these head-spinning action set pieces.
All in all, The Berlin File is a flawed but terrific and gutsy espionage film.
Neither do, despite the crowd-pleasing presence of Han Suk-kyu, Southern agents play a significant role in The Berlin File.
(Written on April 11) Reviewed below: The Berlin File (Jan 30) -- How to Use Guys with Secret Tips (Feb 14) -- New World (Feb 21) -- Nobody's Daughter Haewon (Feb 28) -- Jiseul (Mar 21) -- Very Ordinary Couple (Mar 21) -- Horror Stories 2 (Jun 5) -- Cold Eyes (Jul 3) -- The Terror Live (Jul 31) -- The Face Reader (Sep 11) -- Our Sunhi (Sep 12) -- The Russian Novel (Sep 19) -- Hwayi: A Monster Boy (Oct 9) -- City: Hall (Oct 24) -- Blood and Ties (Oct 24) -- The Commitment (Nov 6) -- Steel Cold Winter (Nov 7) -- The Fake (Nov 21). Ryoo, who also penned the film's unusually (for him) taut screenplay, again seems to have achieved what he does arguably better than almost any other Korean filmmaker: to come up with a film firmly grounded in the Euro-American genre conventions and at the same time in the unique features of the Korean historical experience-in this case, a bona fide Cold War espionage film entirely bereft of nostalgia, for the simple reason that for North and South Koreans of today the Cold War still remains an unassailable "reality." I initially approached The Berlin File with some trepidation, since what I had heard through grapevine about the film made me anticipate something on the order of a commercialized hybrid between The City of Violence (2006) and Park Chan-wook's Joint Security Area (2000), in which the North-South relations, perhaps in the form of a macho male-bonding between Northern and Southern agents, would be at the center stage.
Although shot mostly in English with an international cast, it was produced in Korea, and is the source of much anticipation. The Berlin File was one of 2013's biggest domestic hits (7.4 million tickets sold), not to mention the most financially successful film directed by the perennially under-appreciated Ryoo Seung-wan (The Unjust).
Other upcoming films include The Face Reader by Han Jae-rim who previously directed The Show Must Go On; Hwayi by Save the Green Planet director Jang Jun-hwan; and a big-budget 3-D baseball movie Mr. Although apparently beset by a series of production difficulties, it is an impressively mounted thriller: efficient, dry-eyed and intelligent.
Rather than paying lip services to the "Northerners are human beings too" rhetoric of ethnic reconciliation, the film addresses the fact that the Cold War ideology still survives in North Korea precisely because it serves the interests of the top-of-the-food-chain jackals like Dong (and his clan, the paterfamilias of which is played by Myung Gye-nam in an amusing cameo), who continued to fatten themselves at the expense of ordinary working stiffs like Pyo and Ryeon.
As Dong sneers at one point, "People always change," even if the ideology remains unchanged.