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The Spy Gone North

Opening Date
06 Sep 2018
PG Some Coarse Language
137 mins
Korean with English & Chinese subtitles
Yoon Jong-Bin
Hwang Jung-min, Lee Sung-min, Cho Jin-woong, Ju Ji-hoon
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...
By Say Peng  05 Sep 2018
Intelligently written, intensely well acted, and assuredly directed, it is sure to join the ranks of the best of its genre.
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Korean director Yoon Jong-bin’s latest film 'The Spy Gone North' could not have come at a more relevant time. In April this year, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held a summit at the truce village of Panmunjom and jointly pledged that the Korean peninsula will eventually be completely denuclearized.

The two countries have been in conflict with each other for more than the past 50 years, dating back to the Korean War and the Cold War. The centrepiece of their conflict is North Korea’s nuclear programme, which has long been a major thorn and cause for concern for South Korea. In 'The Spy Gone North', North Korea’s nuclear programme is the inciting cause for the lead character, South Korean secret agent Park (played superbly by Hwang Jung-min), to infiltrate the North. Park’s superior Choi (Cho Jin-woong), director of the South Korean National Intelligence Service, suspects that the North Koreans have already perfected their nuclear capabilities and that while the North Koreans claims to be using them as electricity, Choi believes that they will eventually weaponise their nuclear power. Park’s mission is to infiltrate the city of Yongbyon, where it is believed the nuclear plants are located.

The film is based on the real case of a South Korean intelligence operative, codenamed Black Venus, who had infiltrated the highest echelon of North Korea’s political elite. Its true-story pedigree lends the film an unshakeable sense of gravitas and intensity as the plot takes us to places in which fact is stranger than fiction. Park disguises himself as a money-grubbing businessman and goes to Beijing to try to secure business deals in North Korea, which will enable him to travel to the country. He manages to attract the interest of Ri (played masterfully by Lee Sung-min), the head of North Korea’s Economic Council, as well as the suspicions of Security Chief Jong (played by Along With the Gods’ Ju Ji-hoon). Pretty soon, Park finds himself in the North, and in the chilling presence of Kim Jong-il, who approves of Park’s proposal of having South Korean advertising company to shoot in the North, with the backing of Ri.

Ri eventually discovers Park’s ruse to much chagrin, and we discover that there is more about Ri than previously meets our eye. For Ri, he sees this as a chance for the North and South to reunite, and for his country to be lifted out of abject poverty. Ri also fears the backlash he will receive for having welcomed a South Korean spy into the country and even setting up meetings with Kim Jong-il. The film’s most emotional and touching moment is between the two of them as each of them grow more alienated from their own country who is letting them down and as they grow closer in the shared goal of reunification. Unlike many spy thrillers which sacrifices character for plot, 'The Spy Gone North' masterfully ensures that the two are integral parts of each other. Character developments move the plot and vice versa. Despite its 140 minutes length, the film is briskly paced with never a dull moment.

More 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' than 'James Bond', 'The Spy Gone North' is a political spy thriller of the highest calibre. Intelligently written, intensely well acted, and assuredly directed, it is sure to join the ranks of the best of its genre.
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