KOREA 2010 Directed by: Hun Jang Written by: Hun Jang, Min-Seok Jang Produced by: Myong-Chul Song Editing: Na-Yeong Nam Cast: Song Kang-Ho, Kang Dong-Won, Yun Hee-Seok, Park Hyeok-Kwon, Ko Chang-Seok, Lee So-Yun, Bae Yong-Geun, Hong Young-Geun, Jo Seok-Hyeon
Six years have passed since detective Lee lost his job in the aftermath of a mission that ultimately went wrong: leading a task force that hunts down spies from the North Lee closed in on a prime target, but instead of informing his superiors he went ahead to capture one of the most notorious assassins of the communist state. And the plan unfortunately doesn’t work out – instead of fame and glory a bloodbath and disciplinary action are waiting for Lee. On top of it he didn’t just lose the trail of his chief enemy, he also was duped and lost his only lead that could help him find the killer: Song Ji-Won, his right hand who escaped in bright daylight with Lee standing by.
Now this all doesn’t matter anymore: Lee has left the force and works as a private eye specialized in finding runaway wives from Vietnam who are married to Korean nationals and mostly try to get away after years of abuse. One fine day though Lee gets into a fight with the Vietnamese mob in a factory and has to be rescued by one of the co-workers who turns out to be Song Ji-Won. Even after six years Lee has not forgotten his face – and neither has Song forgotten Lee’s.
Since both men cannot be at to each other’s throats instantly a slow and silent duel begins, starting with Lee inquiring about Song’s Vietnamese language skills and so forth. Finally they both decide to follow the common wisdom to keep friends close and enemies even closer: Lee offers Song a job and lets him stay in his apartment, Song accepts as he earns more than in the factory and needs the money to get his family over the border as he is considered a defective agent since the incident and charged with treason (which he didn’t commit, but that’s another, less relevant subplot). As both men learn more about each other, gain respect for each other and almost become buddies it gets more difficult for them to decide what to do: pull the trigger rather sooner than later, or live and let live.
THE SECRET REUNION is an excellent movie about the North-South conflict and the personal conflict between two men whose existence is defined by the existence of the enemy. Their professional life as much as their personal beliefs are deeply influenced by their distaste for the other side, and it comes to the point when we can feel that they hesitate to accept the other one as equal as it means that the foundation of what constitutes their reality would collapse completely. It is great to see another wonderful performance of Song Kang-Ho as well as the charismatic presence of Kang Dong-Won – both of them together with the elaborate script make THE SECRET REUNION one of the best political thrillers since JOINT SECURITY AREA (J.S.A.).
Now despite its clever and detailed story, fine acting and technical accomplishment you might find its moods wings a bit puzzling: THE SECRET REUNION starts off extremely violent, just to indulge later in a rather psychological duel between Lee and Song, until the movie finally returns to action once again, just before it presents us a sugary happy ending. The ending feels too much like tried and tested, and I would be surprised if this was the only ending that was originally scripted. To be fair, it works nevertheless, but it doesn’t feel right.
Also THE SECRET REUNION leaves a less compact impression than J.S.A. or SHIRI as the changes in style are quite drastic. It may not feel out-of-place, but you can’t help noticing that there’s a bit of disruption along the way, even if all that change is closely linked to significant turning points of the story.
It is wise to bear on mind that the beginning of THE SILENT REUNION is not the absolute benchmark for the rest of the film and that the movie has little to do with fashionable mayhem, but instead is staging an intense stand-off between two antagonists and quickly develops into a political thriller/drama with elements of black comedy. Despite that, or because of that, THE SILENT REUNION marks one of the Korean movie highlights of the year.
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