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South Korea 2010

Thriller, Action, Drama

Jang Hun

Song Kang-ho
Kang Dong-won
Jeon Gook-hwan
Yun Hee-seok
Park Hyuk-kwon
Go Kyeong-min
Kim Jong-yeob
Kim Yeong-wung
Yoo Jeong

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Secret Reunion

Story: NIS-Agent Lee Han-kyu (Song Kang-ho) hunts the North Korean agent and killer Shadow (Jeon Gook-hwan). During an assassination Shadow gets help of the North Korean agent Ji-won (Kang Dong-won) who has been living in Korea for severral years already and isn't really happy about the methods of the killer, but nonetheless serves his country without questioning. Because Shadow has been betrayed by one of his subordinates the police and Lee's team arrive at the scene in time and a shoot-out takes place in which several officers lose their lives. Ji-won is henceforth regarded as a mole by his country and labeled a traitor while Agent Lee has to take full responsibility for the failed police operation and gets fired.
Six years later Han-kyu makes a living by finding people. A job which by accident lets him run into Ji-won who has gone into hiding. Since Han-kyu believes that Ji-won has never seen his face he offers him a job at his detective agency. Ji-won who believes that Lee is still a NIS-agent agrees to work for him as he thinks that he could prove to his country that he is not a traitor by working as an undercover agent. Although the two are interested in spying on the partner time tells that the two make in fact for an unusually strong team.

Review: Director Jang Hun delivers another neat thriller after his well-done debut work "Rough Cut". Kim Ki-duk's Protégé knows how to create the right mix of entertainment for the wide audience and well achieved character development, so that the film was not fully undeservedly enormously successful at the Korean box office. The actual subject of the film, the North-/South Korean conflict, doesn't always come to bear thanks to a more easy-going script, but the chemistry between the two main actors is just about right, which means that in the end we simply get a nice buddy-movie. The conflict is actually just a vehicle to pump up the tension between the two protagonists. That means that we often start to think that there are some missed opportunities here, but on the other hand we really don't need another film revolving around two rivals who realize that even though they are from the north or south respectively, they are actually kindred souls, just to still kill each other off for ideologic reasons. Here, "Secret Reunion" goes down the right path.

The introduction of the movie is pretty impressive. We are instantly thrown into the events and there is soon one fine shot and most of all thrilling shoot-out in a building, that reminds us of good ol' HK cinema. That's in face the first time that a Korean film can do a good job when it comes to cop action. Accordantly we are then quite disappointed when the movie shifts down a few gears after the introduction. Especially the brutality during the shooting scenes and the unscrupulousness of the killer who instantly manages to win the audience's hatred make us expect a rough action ride. But only at the end there are similar harsh tones finding their way back into the movie. Until then, however, director Jang further develops his characters and does so with a humoristic undertone, also because of the easy-going and sympathetic nature of Song Kang-ho who once again manages to bestow something likeable and natural upon his role. Both protagonists may only be working with each other because they want to spy on one another and by mistake believe that they have preserved their true identity, but they nonetheless stand as a fine team as we get to see in the course of the movie.

Granted, when you see Song Kang-ho ("The Host", "Thirst") in his role at first you think that he is once again playing the dim witted, clumsy idiot who only makes progress in his cases by pure luck. But Song manages like no one else to give his character fine nuances and despite his star potential never puts himself into the spotlight. Therefore, there is also enough room for Kang Dong-won ("Maundy Thursday") who easily could have run the risk to be outshined by his co-star in his more introverted role. However, Kang also does his part to give his role more color. Ji-won is quiet, always serious and professional and therefore quite the opposite of Han-kyu. The viewer can tell, though, that behind his cold exterior, which is the contribution of his country's ideology, Ji-won isn't at fault for what kind of a person he is. He doesn't have the chance to change either as we get to understand when we get to know more about his private life.

Nevertheless, there is a problem in "Secret Reunion" that can't be denied. Ji-won may have big scruples when it comes to killing, but when he accompanies Shadow on his bloody missions, who is portrayed by Jeon Gook-hwan in an outstandingly cold-blooded fashion by the way, this doesn't make him a better person than Shadow because he only watches when the killer deals headshots. In this respect it doesn't qualify taking care of a child and saving some policemen once in a while by knocking their lights out to make him a good person. Here, Ji-won was most likely supposed to get a more grey tone but this doesn't fit into the likeable character traits we see in him when he works together with Han-kyu. Of course you could argue that at this point he can be like he always wanted to be for the first time in his life, but if that's true then he should have behaved a little different at the end. Still, the movie deserves some praise for the fact that it doesn't go down the usual path concerning its story which on the other hand leads to the drama getting pushed back into the background.

The true strength of Jang Hun shows during the action scenes, though. Be it a shootout or a car chasing scene Jang proves to have an outstanding talent for the right pacing and a strong intensity. The brawls, however, are of a more lighthearted nature and only Kang Dong-won can convince in a few little scenes on a martial arts level. Jang doesn't succeed in putting the final touch on his movies, yet, "Secret Reunion" should have been more balanced concerning its tone, even though Jang without a doubt proves more talent in juggling different genres than many so-called veterans of the business, but his sense for the right timing make this two hours fly by in an instant. Together with the great actors this all adds up to an entertaining thriller that makes us hope that Jang tries his hand at making a darker action thriller in the future as he could realize his whole potential there.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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