The Berlin File

THE BERLIN FILE 베를린 (Korea, 2013)
120 minutes, DCP, in Korean with English subtitles
Directed by: Ryoo Seung-Wan
Starring: Ha Jung-Woo, Han Suk-Kyu, Ryoo Seung-Beom
Star Ryoo Seung-Beom will be in attendance.

A sleek, slick surge of kinetic action, THE BERLIN FILE is a bibimbap Bourne, a Cold War thriller where the US/Soviet jockeying for dominance has been replaced by North Korean/South Korean espionage. Now that the Cold War is over, spy thrillers are so 80’s, but not when you’re Korean. North Korea and South Korea have been at each other’s throats for decades, and their secret war continues at embassies and consulates around the world, full of poisonings, assassinations that look like accidents, and constant, constant, constant surveillance. With its Robert Ludlum title and twisty Len Deighton plotting, THE BERLIN FILE kicks off when a Berlin arms deal goes bad in a hail of gunfire lifting the rock off a secret operation and shining a light onto a nest of squirming spy shenanigans.

North Korea, South Korea, and the United States are all suddenly on high alert as their spy networks are shaken and stirred, and action auteur, Ryoo Seung-Wan (The Unjust), kicks things into overdrive. Ice cold North Korean comrade Pyo (Ha Jung-Woo, The Yellow Sea, Nameless Gangster) is warned that with Kim Jong-Un now assuming the mantle of Dear Leader, a comrade from the head office is coming to check his loyalty. South Korean spy, Jung (Korean acting powerhouse, Han Suk-Kyu, Shiri), is also hot on his trail after spotting him at the blown arms deal. Things get worse when the communist killer arrives. He turns out to be a ruthless fixer (played by Ryoo Seung-Beom, the director’s brother and this year’s NYAFF actor in focus) and it’s not Pyo’s loyalty that’s in doubt. His mission, and he has no choice but to accept it, is to spy on his wife. The comrades back home suspect her of passing secrets to the enemy and have her slated for extermination.

Once all these pieces are in place, the temperature is turned up a notch until this cold war is boiling hot. Political intrigue explodes into intense action set pieces that feel like much clearer, far less shaky action scenes from the Bourne movies, full of close quarters automatic weapons combat, leather-shredding foot chases, and men pounding each other into oatmeal with their knees, elbows, and the occasional fountain pen. The second-biggest hit at the Korean box office in 2013, Ryoo’s movie boils down to three performances: Ha Jung-Woo’s tormented, lonely North Korean agent who suspects his own wife of betraying the party; Han Suk-Kyu’s pissed off old hand who’s been in the game for so long that all his friends are dead, and Ryoo Seung-Beom, playing a calculating killer who’s always one jump ahead of his opponents with so much glee that it’s hard not to cheer him on.

Part of Korean Actor in Focus: Ryoo Seung-Beom

Saturday June 29, 3:35PM Walter Reade Theater Buy Tickets