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Spy - Movie Poster
Original Title:

South Korea 2012

Action, Comedy

Woo Min-ho

Kim Myeong-min
Yeom Jeong-ah
Yoo Hae-jin
Jeong Kyeo-woon
Byeon Hee-bong
Jeong Man-sik
Lee Seung-ho
Oh Na-ra
Woo Min-gyoo
Oh Kwang-rok

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aka The Spies

Story: Kim (Kim Myeong-min) makes a living by selling impotence drugs from China, but actually he is a North Korean spy who has come to the south many years ago. He didn't get an assignment from his comrades for a long time, though, and so he has to struggle with the typical problems of a family father until one day his superior, Choi (Yoo Hae-jin), turns up and has an assassination mission for him. A high-ranking politician from the north has sought asylum in South Korea and is said to sell state secrets to the enemy. Kim gathers his old comrades, single-mother Kang (Yeom Jeong-ah), her former boyfriend Woo (Jeong Kyeo-woon) and the aged spy Yoon (Byeon Hee-bong). First, they need to spy out the politician's hideout and then they need to infiltrate it in order carry out the assassination as silently as possible. However, Kim also has another plan. He wants to crack a safe in the hideout which most likely carries millions waiting for him and his friends to take away. Yet, he doesn't know that he is shadowed by an agent of secret service (Jeong Man-sik) for a while already...

Review: There is finally a small surprise entry in the Korean espionage genre for a change. Because although "Spy" may be an action comedy that constantly becomes more serious towards the end it doesn't make the same mistake as "Secretly Greatly" which came out a year later. The movie's tone may shift a bit and the dangers towards the end are in fact deadly, but there is no needless melodrama and there is a certain lightheartedness evident throughout the whole movie. The humor is just right most of the time, too, or can you tell the last time you had to laugh during one of the most tense moments when a little boy is it in the head with a baseball? Apart from that "Spy" is also a pretty well achieved action movie which doesn't make any serious mistakes.

Spy - Film Screenshot 11

The action comedy starts off pretty lighthearted, introducing us to the life of Kim, who is scratching a living by illegally selling viagra pills. Actor Kim Myeong-min ("Deranged", "Closer to Heaven") bestows a lot of charisma on his character and he is one of few actors who shine in both serious as well as comedic scenes, and in latter ones he doesn't need to resort to slapstick acting. Although the story effectively doesn't leave that much room director Woo Min-ho ("Man of Vendetta") doesn't only sketch Kim's family but also the one of female spy Kang, also fantastically played in a supporting role by Yeom Jeong-ah ("The Old Garden", "Boy goes to Heaven").

Spy - Film Screenshot 12

Aside from that there are other supporting actors to be named which are excellently cast of which at least Byeon Hee-bong ("The Host") as the aged spy and Yoo Hae-jin ("Desire to Kill") need to be mentioned, latter one lacking a bit of color, but making up for some clichés with great charisma. The chemistry between the characters is all-apparent and so you will find yourself carried away by that alone at times. Other than that there are also those tension-filled planning phases of a mission mandatory of espionage and heist movies which execution naturally goes wrong and then features the phase of improvisation in order for the involved individuals to somehow get out of their predicament unharmed. Moreover, there are shootouts, fist fights and car chasing scenes. What more could you ask for?

In the end you might argue that surely the director didn't reinvent the wheel. But the humor works. For example there is Kim who wants to go get his gun which he burried on a small mountain, but then he finds out that there is no mountain anymore, because at the location numerous apartment buildings are being constructed. Accordingly, a little bit of criticism of South Korean government can be heard, too, since the events are depicted from the perspective of North Koreans. On the other hand "Spy" also shows North Koreans that have no time at all to concern themselves with their spy work since they are way too busy earning money in capitalist Korea and somehow get by. Thus, they are already perfectly integrated into society and have to worry about the same things when it comes to their family as every one else in the country.

Spy - Film Screenshot 13

Granted, some viewers might be bothered by the fact that there are actually people dying by the dozen, but director Woo practices the golden rule that the protagonists themselves should always keep their hands clean and so we can easily cheer for them, even the more easily since they prove more than once that they have their heart in the right place. The shootout during the finale on the street in broad daylight is nice to look at as are some of the fights, although during latter ones the camera turns out to be too close to the action at times. However, what's unnecessary is the ending which drags on way too much. Probably in order to bring the lighthearted tone from the beginning full circle. But this is an effort Woo didn't need to make, because despite the fact that "Spy" becomes more serious towards the end the film proves to be surprisingly coherent compared to similar genre entries. Therefore, Woo's second movie deserves a thumbs up, too.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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