Secretly Greatly

은밀하게 위대하게 (Korea, 2013)
123 minutes, DCP, in Korean with English subtitles
Directed by: Jang Cheol-Soo
Starring: Kim Soo-Hyun, Lee Hyun-Woo, Park Ki-Woong

In 2010, Jang Cheol-Soo thrilled NYAFF audiences with his intense female revenge movie, Bedevilled. Now he’s back with this North Korean spy action comedy based on a wildly popular webcomic, featuring three of Korea’s hot young stars, Kim Soo-Hyun (The Thieves), Lee Hyun-Woo (15 TV dramas), and Park Ki-Woong (War of the Arrows). Ryu-Hwa (Kim Soo-Hyun) is an elite North Korean spy sent into the decadent and corrupt capitalist hell of South Korea as a sleeper agent. His cover identity? Village idiot. For two years he stays undercover, a simpleton living in a small town, until two other brand new sleeper agents join him. One is undercover as a wannabe rock star, Hae-Rang (Park Ki-Woong), and the other is an adult pretending to be Hae-Jin, a high school student (Lee Hyun-Woo). He helps them adjust to life in the South and then, after a power struggle back home, they finally get their first mission: commit suicide.

Weirdly enough, this movie is based on a true story. In 1999 there was a run-in at sea on the North Korean/South Korean border known as the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong. As part of the peace settlement, South Korea had one demand: they wanted a list of the names of 30 North Korean spies in South Korea. To prevent the names of their agents from falling into South Korean hands, North Korea sent an order out that all their comrades in the South should kill themselves.

The film turns this into a comedy when our three North Korean spies are seriously depressed that their first mission is to kill themselves and so they decide they don’t want to die. It’s all very life affirming except for one small problem: the man who trained them in the black arts is dispatched undercover to South Korea with the mission to “assist” the suicides of any spies who are reluctant to off themselves. And what happens next is that this knockabout comedy morphs into an intense action film as the old comrade from the North goes up against his three westernized, young comrades hiding in the South.

Thursday July 11, 8:40PM Walter Reade Theater Buy Tickets