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(Kyu Hyun Kim) Choi Bona is overworked and underpaid in one of Korea's most selfless jobs: she is an assistant director.
Casually disregarded by her work colleagues, she knows that her career is going nowhere, but there's nothing she can do about it. Stranded on a beach in the middle of nowhere, she comes across an eccentric middle-aged man selling inspirational videos. How to Use Guys with Secret Tips is in some ways a fairly standard Korean romantic comedy, except that it's funnier and more engaging, and ultimately much better than you would expect.
In the end, exciting and beautifully rendered as they are, I cannot help wonder if the movie really needed these head-spinning action set pieces.
All in all, The Berlin File is a flawed but terrific and gutsy espionage film.
Although not technically Korean films, these works are of great interest to many fans of Korean cinema, so we will be providing a separate page (coming soon) for reviews of these and other "not quite Korean" films. It appears that someone in the North Korean embassy has been selling secrets and is now preparing to defect to the South.
Looking ahead to the rest of 2013, the one massive project on the horizon is Bong Joon-ho's SF epic Snowpiercer, expected to reach theaters in August. Pyo begins to suspect his estranged wife Ryeon Jeong-hee (Jeon Ji-hyun, a.k.a. Meanwhile the Northern headquarters is sending Dong Myung-soo (Ryoo Seung-beom, Perfect Number), a sadistic interrogator and cold-blooded assassin, to clean up the mess.
Indeed, Ryoo's Dong Myung-soo seems to be the perfect embodiment of the quasi-anarchic, utterly ruthless pursuit of power that seems to be the true credo of the North Korean rulers, beneath their Communist or nationalist flag-waving. Be my guest: give Comrade Dong a hug, why don't you? old dog (John Keogh) is visibly clunky, what with the former's bizarre, hiya-ol'-buddy English diction (in contrast, Ryoo Seung-beom's mannered, ersatz-Middle-European-accented "Konglish" fits his character perfectly).
Ryoo stumbles somewhat in a series of extravagantly ambitious action sequences that build up to the film's finale, with its occasionally haphazard continuities and CG-rendered, cheap-looking explosions. On the other hand, technical specs are dependably superior.
Although shot mostly in English with an international cast, it was produced in Korea, and is the source of much anticipation. The Berlin File was one of 2013's biggest domestic hits (7.4 million tickets sold), not to mention the most financially successful film directed by the perennially under-appreciated Ryoo Seung-wan (The Unjust).
Other upcoming films include The Face Reader by Han Jae-rim who previously directed The Show Must Go On; Hwayi by Save the Green Planet director Jang Jun-hwan; and a big-budget 3-D baseball movie Mr. Although apparently beset by a series of production difficulties, it is an impressively mounted thriller: efficient, dry-eyed and intelligent.
Praise is also due to the veteran Park Young-gyu (Attack the Gas Station), who plays the video salesman and appears as the presenter in the video segments themselves.
These short instructional clips, which run intermittently throughout the narrative, are deadpan, intentionally amateur in style, and hilarious.
Rather than paying lip services to the "Northerners are human beings too" rhetoric of ethnic reconciliation, the film addresses the fact that the Cold War ideology still survives in North Korea precisely because it serves the interests of the top-of-the-food-chain jackals like Dong (and his clan, the paterfamilias of which is played by Myung Gye-nam in an amusing cameo), who continued to fatten themselves at the expense of ordinary working stiffs like Pyo and Ryeon.