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Secretly Greatly - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Eun-mil-ha-gae eui-dae-ha-gae

South Korea 2013

Comedy, Action, Drama

Jang Cheol-soo

Kim Soo-hyeon
Park Ki-woong
Lee Hyun-woo
Son Hyeon-joo
Park Hye-sook
Kim Seong-gyoon
Jang Gwang
Ko Chang-seok
Lee Chae-yeong
Park Eun-bin
Park Jeong-gi

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Secretly Greatly

Story: Won Ryoo-hwan (Kim Soo-hyeon) has been trained as part of a North Korean secret military unit and is sent to the south to act as a spy. In a small town he is now pretending to be a mentally deficient village idiot who works in a small shop and has to put up with the constant bullying by some children. His cover seems to be perfect and he collects as much information as possible. But actually he is just waiting for an order from the north. However, one day his comrade Ri Hae-rang (Park Ki-woong) turns up in the small community. Ris mission is to become a rock star but even during the audition he encounters some problems. Life doesn't seem all too difficult for Ryoo-hwan until his younger comrade Ri Hae-jin (Lee Hyun-woo) turns up in town as well, in order to test his loyality. But even he is just waiting for a real mission. Ultimately, there is a rethinking in the north concerning the political talks with the neighbors and the unit sent to the south is just impedimental now. The three young men get the instruction to commit suicide for their country...

Review: The most disappointing Korean movie of the year is - no drum roll required - without a doubt "Secretly Greatly". To tell the truth the film made me really mad at the director and everyone involved. The reason for that is pretty simple. The first half of the movie is a wonderfully refreshing comedy that is simply fun and breaks with some clichés of espionage movies. But then the movie's tone shifts to the dark and melodramatic. This happens so suddenly and completely without cause that you feel absolutely disconnected from the events. The characters you learned to love just disappear into thin air and we get presented with a completely different movie. This considered it would have been better if everything were over after the first hour, then the only thing you could have accused "Secretly Greatly" of were that it was too short.

Secretly Greatly - Film Screenshot 11

Espionage movies in which the divided Korea stands in the center are very popular with Koreans, see "Secret Reunion". Thus, it shouldn't come as a surprise that "Secretly Greatly" did pretty well at the box-office. And after the initial ten minutes you believe to know why. A feel-good atmosphere, likeable characters and a small town that you grow fond of as if it were family. However, if you watch until the credits roll you can't, by any means, still have the same positive opinion! So why isn't there more of a volley of bad reviews? One reason may be main actor Kim Soo-hyeon, who has grown popular because of drama shows like "Dream High" and "The Sun and the Moon" and makes fan girls adore the movie just because of his mere presence. Accordingly, this once more proves that being successful at the box-office certainly doesn't promise a good movie.

Secretly Greatly - Film Screenshot 12

And this even though you actually want to like this film! Kim Soo-hyeon cuts a fine figure as the village idiot, first he lets us know his thoughts about every single one of his actions, creating a contrast between what the spy is actually capable of doing and what he has to pretend not being capable of, which leads to some funny scenes. To be exactly Dong-gu's training in the north has given him superhero-like abilities. Naturally, he is a good guy deep down in his heart and so he searches for a small boy gone missing while jumping over rooftops or protects his foster mother. The action scenes featured here fit in well and are nice to look at. Because of the likeably written characters it also isn't a real bother that the other two North Korean spies are also played by two teenagers female audiences find irresistible and know from certain drama series.

One of the movie's strengths lies in its supporting characters, though. Especially the episode around the hostess who had to give up her child for adoption turns out to be the most emotionally involving, although it is introduced only shortly. You start to connect to the other characters very fast as well and soon start to feel at home in the small town. That things eventually need to head into the direction of a threat from the north in the shape of a mission assignment is almost mandatory, but that "Secretly Greatly" makes a full U-turn throws you completely off track. The colorful look loses ground to rainy locations and dark interior sets. The protagonists you somehow started to hold dear turn back into tough-as-nails spies. And the rest is flavored with absolutely shallow villains and new introduced characters that in the end oversalt the dish irrecoverable.

Secretly Greatly - Film Screenshot 13

So what's all the emotionality and melodrama for? The individuals we get to see during the second half aren't those from the first and the movie also doesn't manage to bridge the gap between the two parts. It also isn't consoling that the action, particularly the fights, are pretty well executed. Except from the interesting premise the story, which is based on a webtoon by the artist Hun, only holds in store clichés during the second half, where everything results in a chaotic jumble in which nothing really makes sense anymore. This is even the more frustrating since director Jang Cheol-soo actually knows his craft, which his debut work "Bedevilled" and his all in all well-achieved directing in "Secretly Greatly" is proof of. But the dichotomy of the movie is an extreme pain in the proverbial and despite all the action and emotions the finale leaves us totally cold - you almost feel bored. At the end you somehow have the feeling to be ripped off of a good comedy.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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