To many, the last great war was World War 2. If someone was to tell you there was another war that started a way back in 1953? You would probably their having a giraffe. The war in question is the Korean War , a product of the Cold War that ended ‘officially’ in 1991. It may now be 28 years later things may have thawed, but in the Korean Peninsular the war still rages on.
It may not be a war of destructive weaponry, instead one of propaganda, paranoia and fear. The past few years the actions of North Korea have focused the world’s eyes once again on the peninsular. Jong-Bin Yoon‘s The Spy Gone North (2018) takes us back to the 1990s. Based on the true event that could have seen the two Korean countries on the brink of Nuclear War. Highlighting the fragility and sensitivity of the relations between the two.
The film is based on the exploits of South Korean secret Agent who worked under the title of ‘Black Venus’. Suk-Yung Park(Jung-min Hwang) is our agent in question, who we meet first ‘quitting’ his job. Unravelling into a life of heavily drinking and gambling himself into debt. Soon to be reborn as a teetotal businessman looking to expand into North Korea.
Park first heads to China to first prove he’s an genuine businessman wanting to instigate a passage to North Korea. Attempting to convince those with the powers he’s that greedy capitalist with an authentic interest was another matter. Slowly he gains the trust of the inner circles of the North Korean hierarchy to infiltrate them. Can he gain the relevant information on their Nuclear Program?
The first hour of The Spy Gone North is all about Park setting himself up as the bumbling plutocrat and gaining trust. The film does take a while to warm up, plenty of exposition, in phone calls, meetings, secret meet ups with Park’s secret service contact. It’s when he meets the high ranking North Korean official Ri Myung-Woon (Lee Sung-min) things start to get interesting for Park.Slowly he gets deeper into the higher echelons of were he wants to be. That deep he even gets an audience with Dear Leader King Gong-il (uncannily played by Ki Joo-bong).
Despite earning that trust of the officials Myung-Woon is still not convinced with Capitalist rat Park is pretending to be. Just when things start to look good for Park things start to unravel. Those near misses the authorities come more frequent and each one he gets even closer to him captured. Even his own contact starts to threaten to expose him as a fraud,
When 1997 comes around, things are not helped when South Korea hold elections and the ruling Conservative Party looses. This further threatens Park as well as his own family in Seoul who have no clue where he is or what he’s doing. There’s even suggestion North Korea was involved in that election results (ironically in the way many accused the Russian government in Trump winning the U.S Presidential Elections).
The Spy Gone North may not have the action and the gadgetry of James Bond, it’s more at home with a John Le Carre novel. High-end espionage drama thriller that’s sleek, sharp storytelling that asks you to use your brain rather than leave it at the box office.
Superb performances from Jung -min Hwang and Lee Sung-min. Their characters are politically are at the opposite ends of the scale, but equally share a bond of kinship for their love of their nations. If you enjoyed Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy you’re in for a treat. A story that exposes the so called ‘good-guys’ are as vindictive and bad as those you call your enemy.
The Spy Gone North is a film of political intrigue, paranoia. A genuinely authentic cautionary film that’s tense, thrilling and hard hitting.
Drama, Spy, Thriller | South Korea, 2018 | 12 | Subtitles | Digital HD | Signature Entertainment | Dir.Jong-bin Yoon | Jung-min Hwang, Sung-min Lee, Jin-Woong Cho