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(Yonhap Interview) 'The Spy Gone North' is about a spy undergoing identity change, says director

All Headlines 10:34 May 14, 2018

CANNES, France, May 14 (Yonhap) -- Director Yoon Jong-bin has said his new, Cannes-invited film, "The Spy Gone North," could be misunderstood as a Hollywood-style action film, but it actually focuses on a fraught covert operation with little action.

"The movie ultimately is about the identity change of a spy," Yoon said during an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Saturday at the 71st Cannes Film Festival. "I wanted to tell the kind of a story where a perceived enemy becomes a friend and an ally becomes an enemy."

In this photo provided by CJ E&M, director Yoon Jong-in poses for the camera at the 71st Cannes Film Festival. (Yonhap)

In the film, South Korean spy Park Seok-yeong, played by Hwang Jung-min, goes undercover as a businessman in North Korea to infiltrate its nuclear facilities using the codename "Black Venus." He approaches Ri Myung-un (Lee Sung-min), a high-ranking North Korean official in charge of earning foreign currency for his country in China, and succeeds in obtaining personal meetings with the North's supreme leader after years of maneuvering.

But Park is plagued by an inner conflict after observing the two Koreas' leaders making a secret deal to prevent liberal candidate Kim Dae-jung winning the 1997 presidential election.

The film is based on an autobiography of real-life ex-spy Park Chae-seo, who operated as "Black Venus." The director said he decided to fictionalize the story after reading it.

Actors Ju Ji-hoon (L), Hwang Jung-min (2nd from R) and Lee Sung-min (R) and director Yoon Jong-bin arrive for the screening of "The Spy Gone North" at the 71st Cannes Film Festival, in Cannes, France, on May 11, 2018. (Yonhap)

"The autobiography itself was very dramatic. After reading it, I learned that spies negotiate and act for national interests. So I wanted to focus on what spies do in their real lives, rather than making a Hollywood-style spy action movie."

The movie covers more than a decade from the mid-1990s, when the North Korean nuclear crisis was escalating, until the mood for inter-Korean reconciliation began. Its running time is 140 minutes.

"It was such a huge story that I pondered a lot about where to start and where to end. Since the movie deals with the political situation between the two Koreas, I had to build it up one step after another to bring about the conclusion."

The movie was premiered to a standing ovation in the Midnight Screenings section of the Cannes Film Festival on Friday night.

Yoon said he was pleased with the favorable response from both critics and audiences at Cannes, especially from Thierry Fremaux, executive director of the festival.

"He said he wants to invite me to a competition section next time and made a complimentary remark that the film is well made," the director said. "I thought he said so just to be polite at first but later learned that he meant it," Yoon said with a big smile.

An English poster for "The Spy Gone North," released by CJ E&M (Yonhap)
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