The London Korean Film Festival 2010:Secret Reunion (2010), Dir. Hun Jang

Ji-won (Dong Won-kan) and Han-kyu (Kang Ho-Song) form a tense but later rewarding partnership.


Rating: 8.5/10

Hun Jang’s second film is a detective film which combines comedy with social commentary on the ongoing tensions between North and South Korea. The film pairs a South Korean ex-police detective turned private detective Lee Han-kyu (Kang-ho Song recognisable from his roles in the excellent Thirst (2009) and Memories Of Murder (2003)) with North Korean spy and hit-man Song Ji-won (Dong-won Kang).

The film starts off as a serious action thriller detailing a North Korean operation, involving Ji-won under the command of the ruthless assassin Shadow (Gook-hwan Jeon), to track down and kill North Korean defectors. When Song refuses to kill a child he is named a traitor and banished to South Korea, meanwhile Han-kyu starts a deadly gun battle with the spies and is fired as a result.

Fast forward six years and Ji-won and Han-kyu meet again. Han-kyu now deals in the shady business of finding runaway foreign brides and their pimps, and Ji-won moonlighting as a construction worker comes to his rescue on a botched investigation. Han-kyu seeing the opportunity to reinstate himself by gathering information on Ji-won, plots to hire him as a detective, while Ji-won seeing the same opportunity for himself agrees to join his firm. What ensues is a clashing of methods and styles (Han-kyu is aggressive, while Ji-won is sensitive in a reversal of perceived sterotypes) , which is gradually replaced by a growing mutual acceptance which is increasingly at odds with their political allegiances. So that what starts off as an action-thriller turns into a buddy cop film in the mould of Lethal Weapon or Life On Mars.

What could’ve been an odd transition is deftly achieved here, and Song is great as the crude, untidy and bumbling recently divorced bachelor (his ex-wife and daughter having emigrated to England), whose tough exterior hides a lonely frustrated man. And his comic expressions and displays of clumsiness are pure entertainment (a scene in which he accidently hand-cuffs himself to a pipe in his flat while pretending to take on Ji-won is particularly hilarious). While Kang is good is as a cooly efficient spy, determined to go back to his family in North Korea at almost any cost.

A highly enjoyable film which doesn’t pander to North/South stereotypes but instead presents the two characters as equally flawed and equally sympathetic.


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