Director: Yoon Jong-bin
Cast: Hwang Jung-min, Lee Sung-min, Cho Jin-woong, Ju Ji-hoon
RunTime: 2 hrs 17 mins
Released By: Golden Village Pictures, Clover Films
Opening Day: 20 September 2018
Synopsis: In 1990s, South Korean military intelligence agent with code name 'Black Venus' is assigned to infiltrate North Korean nuclear facility. Disguised as a South Korean businessman working on a collaborative project with North Korea, he manages to win the trust of North's ruling class. but a larger political scheme lies ahead.
Just as no filmmakers can replicate Jack Neo’s Singapore style comedy, no filmmakers in the world will be able to do a spy drama detailing the political issues between North and South Korea other than a true-blue Korean.
Director and writer Yoon Jong-bin concocts this spy flick based on the accounts of an ex-spy dubbed “Black Venus”. In the movie version, character actor Hwang Jung-min (The Battleship Island, Ode To My Father) plays Park, an ex-intelligence officer who is being assigned by Choi (Cho Jin-woong), director of the South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS) to infiltrate Pyongyang to gather data on their nuclear plant.
Thus the first half of the drama sees Park transforming to a loud, brash capitalist businessman trying to scour for deals and links in Beijing until he met Director Ri (Lee Sung-min), the man in charge of economic affairs on behalf of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il. On the pretext of looking for special locations in the hermit capital, Park hatches a joint ad venture between the two Koreans. Fortunately, the plan was approved by Kim but with the political climate in South Korea being unpredictable at that point of time, Park’s life and career might be hanging by the thread in the end.
Under Yoon’s skilful guidance, both Hwang and Lee shines tremendously in their respective roles. Both men are faithful to their own motherland and wants nothing but the best for them. Though having the same mindset, their sense of belonging might be a stumbling block to their budding friendship. Joo Ji-hoon (Along With The Gods) who is pretty prolific in 2018 turned up as the Head of Security who is constantly suspicious of Park’s intentions served as one of the movie’s antagonists.
Despite having an espionage theme,The Spy Gone North boasts none of the exhilarating action sequences of the James Bond movies or the Mission Impossible franchise. A gun is sighted but no bullets are fired. In fact, there’s hardly any scene of tension in the entire flick unless you factor in the scene in which we see Park meeting Supreme Leader Kim for the first time. What we have are scenes after scenes of Park talking on the phone in long dark corridors, hotel room and restaurants and Park conversing with Ri along long dark corridors, hotel room and restaurants.
It’s best to walk into The Spy Gone North with a clear mind as Yoon fills the third act with so much political conspiracies, politicians, congressmen and North Korea reps that the narrative is no longer a simple affair that revolves around Park and the nuclear program. For better or worse, this might be the main factor why casual audiences might find convoluting if you somehow lost your concentration.
The Spy Gone North is an ambitious, honest tale of ordinary brave folks who risked their lives for their motherland only to be let-down by it at the end of the day. There are solutions that can be easily settled by fake Rolexs and tie clip instead of nukes and bullets. The movie also boasts impressive CGI which showcases the streets of North Korea and cheesy set dressing that has Taiwan standing in for 90’s Beijing.
(For a flick that is set in the 90’s, the themes discussed are still surprisingly relevant today and to top it off, it’s a mature spy flick that boasts excellent performances. Those craving for guns and bullets should stay away)
Review by Linus Tee