The Berlin File

The Berlin File


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Berlin is a city of secrets. Picture a spy - that coat, hat. turned up collar? That's because it's what the men of Berlin were wearing in the Fifties. Korea is a country at war - its Northern neighbour a belligerent hermit kingdom. Raymond Chandler's rule was "When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand". Ryoo Seung-wan's film has all of these in spades.

It draws from a muscular kinetic espionage tradition that was popularised by Matt Damon's Bourne trilogy, themselves informed by Eastern action flicks in a way that hit its high point with John Woo's Mission: Impossible II. There are nods to older spy thrillers - a photograph is handed over in a John Le Carre novel - but this doesn't tinker with Seung-wan's winning formula. The action wanders back and forth in time, deals with honour among thieves (or the secrets of spies), and is full of neat little touches. There are some excellent little bits of tradecraft, a few astonishing gunfights, a rooftop encounter with the Aeroflot logo and the Brandenberg gate neatly in shot. "Do they teach you to put the gun to the temple?" asks one character, but they're all as forced to participate.

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With a free-wheeling mix of cross and double-cross, internal politics and conflicting ideologies, this is a film about warring intelligence services that's not afraid to just have Mossad turn up - those men with guns in their hands again. While the tension ratchets up, there are rockets, redemption, reams of secrets. The contents of the titular Berlin File become more and more important, and while there's plenty of great game-keepers there's also some measure of poaching. As turf wars start to threaten to ignite actual wars, the film keeps building to a satisfying conclusion.

Ha Jung-woo is excellent as protagonist Pyo Jong-Seong, an honourable and capable agent attached to the North Korean embassy. Arrayed against him a litany of opponents, some of whom are far closer to home than would be comfortable. Cynicism abounds, but so does the action - The Berlin File might not contain anything that's revelatory, but it's worth investigating.

Reviewed on: 26 Jun 2013
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As a North Korean spy suspects he has been set up, a South Korean spy uncovers a conspiracy.

Director: Ryoo Seung-wan

Starring: Ha Jung-woo, Han Suk-kyu, Gianna Jun, Ryoo Seung-bum

Year: 2013

Runtime: 120 minutes

Country: South Korea

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