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(Movie Review) 'The Berlin File' entertains with spectacular action scenes

All Headlines 14:46 January 22, 2013

By Shim Sun-ah

SEOUL, Jan. 22 (Yonhap) -- For fans of action films, the new Korean movie "The Berlin File" should be a real treat. The film is directed by Ryu Seung-wan, known for his unique style of action films, and stars top actors such as Ha Jung-woo, Han Suk-kyu, Ryu Seung-bum and Jun Ji-hyun.

The movie clearly stands out from other homegrown films with its spectacular and breathtaking fight and action scenes. Its secretive and gloomy atmosphere set in Berlin, where legacies from the Cold War era linger, is another high point of the movie.

But that's about it.

For its star-studded cast and huge production cost of nearly 10 billion won (US$9.3 million), the movie fails to meet expectations with a plot that is somewhat hard to understand. The movie's tempo is too fast for its audience to identify who is who. Too many characters come and go throughout the movie, including spies from the two Koreas, the United States and Israel in addition to German informants and arms dealers from Russia and the Middle East.

There is nothing fresh about its story of conspiracy and betrayal between spies since it has been a beloved subject in other spy flicks and TV drama series.

Jeong Jin-su (played by Han Suk-kyu), a South Korean spy, observes an illegal arms deal at a hotel restaurant in Berlin. During a subsequent raid, he encounters Pyo Jong-song (played by Ha Jung-woo), a North Korean spy known by the alias "ghost," and chases him. But Jeong fails to catch him after an intense fight.

Meanwhile, Lee Hak-su (played by Lee Kyung-young), the North Korean ambassador to Berlin, asks Pyo to be careful since Dong Myeong-su (played by Ryu Seung-bum), a North Korean security official whose father is a high-ranking figure in the communist state, is on his way to visit Pyo.

Upon arriving in Berlin, Dong tortures a waitress at the restaurant who is an informant for the South Korean spy to find out that Pyo's wife, translator Ryon Jeong-hee (played by Jun Ji-hyun), provided the South Korean side information on the arms deal. Pyo then follows his wife, suspecting she is a traitor. Sensing that it is a set-up by Dong and his father to gain favor with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Pyo strives to protect his wife.

Ha is again superb as the cool-headed North Korean spy. He fights off his pursuers with quick and powerful strikes and delivers a believable, genuinely entertaining performance that is full of character. Ha's portrayal of the elusive and lonely North Korean spy who lives in the shadows conjures up empathy from the audience while the character of the South Korean spy does not.

Unfortunately, the director Ryu seems to have no sense of the complex feelings that the spies from the two Koreas might feel toward each other as humans -- as both an enemy and a partner of cross-border cooperation. The two cooperate in the latter part of the movie just because they have the same enemy to fight, not because they are from the same Korean tribe.

The movie opens in local theaters on Jan. 31.


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