Hello Asia! KOFFIA 2013 Film Review: The Berlin File (베를린) (MA15+) (South Korea, 2013)

Taking a slice of “Bourne Identity”, South Korean director Ryoo Seung-wan attempts to make an action-packed spy film reflecting upon the emotional connections denied to those who live as secret agents. Welcome to The Berlin File.

In a hotel in Berlin, North Korean spy Pyo Jong-seong (Ha Jung-woo) is brokering an arms deal with a Russian broker and a Middle Eastern terrorist in when things go awry. He escapes when the Israeli Mossad appear claiming that they only want to capture the other two men.

On his way out he bumps into a South Korean intelligence agent Jung Jin-soo (Han Suk-kyu) whom promptly puts a gun to his head. It’s not a problem for Jong-seong, who knows exactly how to escape out of this type of situation. Jong-seong meets with the North Korean ambassador to see if he can fish out a double crosser while Jin-soo is left racking his brains trying to discover who this mysterious North Korean agent is – a double agent or someone about to take the fall for a bigger conspiracy.

We soon discover that Dong Myung-soo (Ryoo Seung-bum) is on his way out from North Korea. He is a ruthless fixer sent to sniff out where the loyalties of the Berlin office lie, especially after the recent death of Kim Jong-il. He implicates Ryun Jung-hee (Jeon Ji-hyun), a translator at the embassy and also Jong-seong’s wife. It’s a blow for Jong-seong who is a hero to North Korea for all his deeds. He is given 48-hours to either incriminate his wife or prove she isn’t guilty. Following her through the suburbs of Berlin, losing her at a sign pointing to the US embassy.

He is still reluctant to believe that his wife could betray her husband and country and ransacks their home for any proof. When the ambassador applies for defection to the West, Jong-seong gets an inkling that something isn’t right and captures him to be tortured by Myung-soo. Jin-soo also appears on the scene after a tip off from the CIA but is still one step behind.

Jong-seong then admits that his wife could possibly be a traitor to the applause of Myung-soo. Jung-hee returns home and confesses that she is pregnant, her gynaecologist just happened to be near the US embassy. Jong-seong puts the pieces together, and triggered by Myung-soo’s words, he realises he is actually being set up and narrowly escapes with his wife. Myung-soo easily finds the couple and lures Jong-seong to make a false confession in order to save his wife.

Jeon Ji-hyun did well in her role as an obedient wife, overshadowed by her husband’s heroics in the name of the homeland. Although alongside another of KOFFIA’s offerings “The Thieves” where she played a feisty crook and her most well-known role in “My Sassy Girl” I was expecting a bit more from her role. I should remember that she is playing a woman from a country who would suppress a defiant woman, but I admit that a reason I went to watch the film was to see her in a spy thriller.

I quite liked Ha Jung-woo’s character as a man who believes he is doing the right thing and is torn by the betrayal of his motherland and suspected betrayal of his wife. As a spy he is quick-thinking, putting together the puzzle pieces as to who is really double-crossing who and putting aside the training ingrained in him since birth to protect the woman he loves and to find freedom in his future. As the story unfolds, and you realise that his past is quite dark and violent, his humanity and emotion is what wins you over.

The film boats a multitude of languages such as Korean, English and German, with American screenwriter Ted Geoghegan being hired to polish the English portion of the script. The action in the film had the right touch showing the ruthlessness and realities of secret agents to the intense survival techniques in the dark and gritty underworld. Although the film was exciting, there were points in the storyline that took some time to digest and figure out what was actually happening with the various terrorist and agencies adding confusion and complexity.


Running Time: 120 minutes (w/English Subtitles)

The Berlin File will screen as part of KOFFIA Melbourne, at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), Friday 6th of September at 8.45pm.

Please visit www.koffia.com.au for more details.


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