ContactSales: CJ Entertainment, Seoul ([email protected])
Theatrical release: South Korea, 29 Jan 2013.
Presented by CJ Entertainment (SK). Produced by Filmmaker R&K (SK). Executive producer: Jeong Tae-seong. Producer: Gang Hye-jeong.
Script: Ryoo Seung-wan. Photography: Choi Yeong-hwan. Editing: Kim Sang-beom, Kim Jae-beom. Music: Jo Yeong-uk. Art direction: Jeon Su-a. Costumes: Shin Ji-yeong. Sound: Yun Seong-gi, Kim Chang-seop. Action: Jeong Du-hong, Han Jeon-uk. Special effects: Demolition. Visual effects: Lee Jeon-hyeong, Jo Yong-seok (4th Creative Party).
Cast: Ha Jung-woo (Pyo Jong Sung), Han Seok-gyu (Jeong Jin-su), Ryu Seung-beom (Dong Myung Su), Gianna Jun (Ryun Jong Hui), Lee Gyeong-yeong (Ri Hak Su, North Korean ambassador), John Keogh (Marty, CIA agent), Numan Acar (Abdul), Pasquale Aleardi (Dagan Zamir, Mossad agent), Choi Mu-seong (Gang Min-ho, Jin-su's boss), Gwak Do-won (Cheong Wa-dae), Kim Seo-hyeong (North Korean embassy secretary), Thomas Thieme (Siegmund), Tayfun Bademsoy (Assim), Werner Daehn (Yuri, arms broker), Sinja Dieks (restaurant waitress), Bae Jeong-nam (Myung Su's agent), Baek Seung-ik, Park Ji-hwan (agency personnel), Seo Ji-o (agency backup personnel), Toni Varvasoudis, Matthias Günther, Oskars Lauva, Can Aiyden (Abdul's men), Baek Dong-hyeon, Jo Ha-seok, Ji Geon-u (North Korean agents), Gwon Ji-hun, Kim Seon-ung, Gwak Jin-seok (South Korean agents), Myeong Gye-nam (Dong Jung Ho, Myung Su's father), Yun Jong-bin (South Korean field analyst), Lee Gyeong-mi (South Korean office analyst).
The Berlin File 베를린
Contemporary action drama
2013, colour, 2.35:1, 122 mins
Directed by Ryoo Seung-wan (류승완 | 柳昇完)
By Derek Elley
Mon, 11 February 2013, 16:00 PM (HKT)
Gritty, hard-driven spy thriller is chock-full of great action and performances. Asian and genre events, plus some theatrical beyond Asia.
Berlin, March 2012. In Room 607 of the Westin Hotel an arms deal, brokered by Yuri (Werner Daehn), takes place between Assim (Tayfun Bademsoy), representing the Anti-Imperialist Arab League, and a "ghost" North Korean agent. The meeting is being followed by both the North Koreans, led by Berlin Ambassador Ri Hak Su (Lee Gyeong-yeong), and by a South Korean team, led by Jeong Jin-su (Han Seok-gyu), an intense communist-hater. When Jin-su raids the meeting, chaos breaks out, and a Mossad agent, Dagan Zamir (Pasquale Aleardi), who is hunting Assim, also becomes involved. Jin-su does not recognise the unidentified North Korean agent; he gives chase but loses him. Disappointed, Jin-su's boss, Gang Min-ho (Choi Mu-seong), threatens to close down the operation, whose wider objective is to find the US$4 billion of North Korean funds that was transferred from Macau to a European bank after the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in 2011. The "ghost" is actually North Korean agent Pyo Jong Sung (Ha Jung-woo), a loyal hero to his country, who is ending his tour of duty in Berlin with his wife, Ryun Jong Hui (Gianna Jun), a translator at the embassy. Both work for Ambassador Ri, who carpets Jong Sung over the botched deal and warns him that the new leadership in Pyongyang is sending another top agent, Dong Myung Su (Ryu Seung-beom), to Berlin to replace him. Myung Su arrives in the city and, after a meeting in a restaurant between the Ambassador Ri and a German politician (Thomas Thieme), he kidnaps and kills a waitress (Sinja Dieks) who was spying on them for Jin-su. Meanwhile, Jin-su asks a CIA agent friend, Marty (John Keogh), to find out whether anyone at the North Korean embassy had access to the CIA's database. Myung Su tells Ambassador Ri that he has been sent from Pyongyang to expose a leak in the Berlin office and that, before he killed the waitress, he found out from her that the traitor was Jong Hui. The ambassador passes the information on to Jong Seong and tells him to be careful. The next day, as Jong Hui leaves the North Korean embassy, Jong Sung is ordered to follow her, as she is believed to be going to the US embassy to apply for political asylum. Among those on her tail are South Korean agents. As Jong Sung is thrown into confusion over his wife's loyalties, Myung Su tells him she is not the traitor. Jin-su has separately discovered this, and the city's espionage netherworld goes into meltdown.
Germany's modern-day capital becomes a playground for ruthless, gun-toting spies from North and South Korea, plus various Arab, Israeli and US agents, in The Berlin File 베를린, a gritty, hard-driven thriller that finds South Korean writer-director RYOO Seung-wan 류승완 | 柳昇完 (No Blood No Tears 피도 눈물도 없이 (2002), The Unjust 부당거래 (2010)) back on top form. Cleverly playing on Berlin's past reputation as an espionage hotspot during Cold War days, Ryoo, a spy novel fan, re-invents the city as crawling with every conceivable modern power-player engaged in life-and-death rivalries. A good old shoot-'em-up, which requires a super-computer to keep track of the plot — and even then only barely makes sense — File is flawed by a finale that doesn't top the previous setpieces but otherwise contains enough superbly staged action and rich performances to keep any audience hooked for two hours.
Again working with his wife, producer GANG Hye-jeong 강혜정, and younger brother, actor RYU Seung-beom 류승범 | 柳昇範, Ryoo has assembled a top-notch cast that manages to deliver some fine playing between all the bullets and rough-and-tumble. Ryu's grinning psychopath, which perfectly combines his talent for comedy and offbeat drama, is one of the film's theatrical highlights but he's given a run for his money by top-billed HA Jung-woo 하정우 | 河正佑 (the serial killer in The Chaser 추격자 (2008), the lead in The Yellow Sea 황해 | 黃海 (2010)), whose blank-faced NK super-agent emerges as a genuinely involving character. The biggest surprise, as his maybe-traitorous wife, is Gianna JUN 전지현 | 全智賢 (aka Jeon Ji-hyeon, My Sassy Girl 엽기적인 그녀 (2001), The Thieves 도둑들 (2012)) who, especially in her earlier scenes before becoming female collateral damage, not only looks the part but also delivers a real, touching performance.
Even when he's not on best form, director Ryoo always manages to create a gallery of resonant roles, and the supporting cast, led by character actor LEE Gyeong-yeong 이경영 | 李璟榮 (the torturer in National Security 남영동１９８５ (2012)) as the NK ambassador, features a mix of Koreans and westerners who are memorable even when in brief parts as heavies. Facing off against Ha, Ryu and Jun, fellow star HAN Seok-gyu 한석규 | 韓石圭 turns in a wild performance (for him) as an old-fashioned, commie-hating SK agent who's as screwed up as the rest of the characters.
In fact, though it's produced by South Korea's dominant film conglomerate, The Berlin File is almost new-detente in its portrayal of North-South tensions compared with some recent flag-wavers. No side is given the moral high ground, with the South staffed by bickering, back-stabbing agents and the North exactly the same; on an emotional level, the most involving characters are Ha and Jun's NK husband and wife, caught up in a much bigger game, and the finale sees a wary partnership between two players from both sides.
With studio work in South Korea, 80% of other footage in Berlin, plus some exteriors in Latvia, the movie creates a believable portrait of the capital, even if some of the connecting geography is a tad off. Widescreen photography by CHOI Yeong-hwan 최영환 (No Blood No Tears, The Thieves) evokes a city of chilly springtime during the day and dark backstreets at night, while the action, supervised by veteran JEONG Du-hong 정두홍, has a go-for-broke feel, with typical Ryoo-like fisticuffs always the final arbiter (as in the slug-out finale). Cutting by top sibling editors KIM Sang-beom 김상범 and KIM Jae-beom 김재범 is seen at its best in a standout sequence of the husband and wife escaping from their small flat, but also knows how to relax between the mayhem.
The production's most noticeable flaw is its non-Korean dialogue, which urgently needs to be re-voiced. Han's English is especially incomprehensible, though others' is not much better, and the brief moments of German are the same. This is becoming a recurrent problem in South Korean movies (The Taste of Money 돈의 맛 (2012), The Thieves) as they aspire to a more "international" sound, and could so easily be remedied during post-production.
The Korean title simply means Berlin. Most surprisingly, given its qualities, setting and release timing, the movie was spurned by the 2013 Berlinale's selectors.