Secret Reunion -- Film Review

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UDINE, ITALY -- A strong follow-up to his successful directorial debut "Rough Cut," "Secret Reunion" illustrates Jang Hun's assured command of upscale commercial productions involving a large crew and elaborate action setups. Notwithstanding an indulgent male-bonding midsection, the spy thriller about the cat-and-mouse games between two agents from North and South Korea, united by their questioning of their raison d'etre (both political and personal), delivers some heart-stopping chase and shoot-out sequences in the opening and closing acts.

Considering its subject, "Secret Reunion" not surprisingly stormed the Korean boxoffice, taking in around $38 million. More unexpected is that it also clinched theatrical deals for USA and three major Asian territories despite the rather naive and sentimental representation of ideological and national conflicts.

Sung Ji-won (Gang Dong-won) and Lee Han-gyu (Song Kang-ho) are special agents for North and South Korea, respectively. They exchange glances at the crime scene of a botched assassination attempt to a Northern defector living in Seoul. The incident leads to Lee's discharge for mishandling the case. Sung takes the blame for Tae-soo, another spy who betrayed him, and goes into hiding from his fanatical commander Shadow.

Years later, Sung and Lee cross paths again. Lee recruits Sung for his private eye service, which specializes in tracking down missing Vietnamese brides. Lee intends to use Sung as a lead to bust the whole North Korean spy ring. Sung in turn goes along with the charade hoping he could infiltrate South Korean security. They find out they have much in common, like being betrayed by their organizations and ideals they swore allegiance to. The runaway wives mirror Sung's own plight as a political exile and fugitive while also reminding Lee of his own wife's desertion.

Whenever there is an action scene, Jang has the knack for building up a breathless rhythm, be it an early chase sequence when Lee's car whips through Seoul's most congested traffic and dramatically roars up a flight of pedestrian steps, or the choreography of the final shootout which grips with the desperation and passion of showdowns in John Woo's early films. Song switches between traits of hero, everyman and clown with apparent ease. Gang's down-to-earth performance transcends the paradox of his role as a killing machine with humane instincts.

The representation of the protagonists' relationship from uneasy truce to friendship inches further towards detente than any Korean North-South divide bestsellers like "Shiri," "Double Agent" and "Welcome to Dongmokhol." This may pander to Korean audiences but by trying too hard to humanize the protagonists, the script resorts to goofy farce in the midsection which is out of character with their roles, such as a scene when Lee clumsily tails Sung in the street in an easily recognizable disguise -- not the sort of thing the nation's most highly trained agent would do.

Technical credits, especially editing, are strong.

Venue: Udine Far East Film Festival
Showbox/Mediaplex presents a Showbox, Rubicon Pictures production
Sales: Showbox/Mediaplex Inc.
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Gang Dong-won, Yoon Hee-seok
Director: Jang Hun
Screenwriter: Jang Min-seok
Producers: Song Myung-chul, Yu Jeong-hoon, Jang Won-seok
Executive producer: Ryu Jeong-hyun
Director of Photography: Lee Mo-gae
Production designer: Hwang In-joon
Music: Noh Hyung-woo
Editor: Nam Na-yong
No rating, 118 minutes
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