The Spy Gone North
Hwang Jung-min, Lee Sung-min, Cho Jin-woong, Ju Ji-hoon
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…a great story, enjoyably told with cinematic flair and verve…
Adhering faithfully to the traditional genre style of spy film, Yoon Jong-bin’s The Spy Gone North lays out the story of South Korea’s efforts to gain intelligence from within North Korea and to establish exactly what North Korea’s nuclear capabilities were in the early 1990s.
The story follows Park Seok-young (Hwang Jung-min) who was code-named Black Venus, and his efforts to establish business ties with North Korean officials under the guise of creating an agency to shoot commercials in North Korea, using North Korean locations.
Months of business meetings and ingratiating himself to North Korean party officials such as Director Ri Myung-woon (Lee Sung-min) saw Park Seok-young invited to Pyongyang to meet the Supreme Leader himself. Once Kim Jong Il considered his proposal, it proved to be something of an earner for Kim Jong Il, and an intelligence boon for South Korea.
While the Bridge of Spies style theatrics can, at first, feel all too tropey, the real strengths of this film become apparent once the setup has happened and we’re into the meat of the story.
The overwhelming topical relevance of the story is undeniable and to see it told from the South Korean perspective is fascinating. The horrors of daily life in North Korea for the average person are unflinchingly depicted, likewise the pomp and gold-plated ceremony of Kim Jong Il’s lifestyle.
The Faustian deal of an undercover agent and the toll that duplicity can exact on someone’s psyche is a story-well that’s been visited many times before, although here it’s executed with aplomb, simply because of the refreshing spin placed on it. There are a few call backs to other western films of this ilk (Donnie Brasco especially) and largely, it’s just a great story, enjoyably told with cinematic flair and verve, which shows the flipside to a very different cold war.