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(Movie Review) Cliche-ridden 'Confidential Assignment' still shines through

2017/01/13 10:04

By Shim Sun-ah

SEOUL, Jan. 13 (Yonhap) -- The new domestic action thriller "Confidential Assignment" recycles the familiar, cliche-ridden story of friendship between two former foes, told most famously in "Secret Reunion."

   For those who haven't seen it, the 2010 homegrown spy thriller helmed by Jang Hun is about two agents from South and North Korea (played by Song Kang-ho and Gang Dong-won) who start out as enemies but gradually form a bond after seeing the human sides to each other while cohabiting with different intentions.

The 2017 film, directed by Kim Sung-hoon ("A Wonderful Moment"), never departs from the storyline except that the two protagonists who develop their unlikely friendship are cops from South and North Korea put on a joint confidential assignment. The premise that the two Koreas launch a joint probe to hunt down a North Korean fugitive hiding in the South sounds somewhat fresh but implausible at the same time given the currently frosty cross-border relationship. But who knows? Such an event could actually happen in the future when relations improve.

A still cut from the Korean action thriller "Confidential Assignment" (Yonhap) A still cut from the Korean action thriller "Confidential Assignment" (Yonhap)

Actor Hyun Bin is Lim Cheol-ryeong, a shrewd elite North Korean cop who is dispatched to Seoul to team up with Kang Jin-tae, a less competent South Korean police detective played by Yoo Hae-jin for the joint assignment in the South Korean capital.

The movie opens with Cha Ki-sung (Kim Joo-hyuck), Lim's former special forces superior, indiscriminately shooting Lim's wife and other team members on guard at a North Korean factory for manufacturing fake US$100 bills, known as "supernotes."

   Cha and his followers then sneaked into South Korea with a set of plates for printing the supernotes. Afraid that the outside world might discover the supernote plates, Pyongyang secretly requests for the first joint cooperation ever with Seoul.

But the South's state intelligence agency is only suspicious of the North's motives behind the rare request for Seoul's help in hunting down a single criminal. In the judgment that there must be a bigger reason, the National Intelligence Service orders Kang, a cop suspended for three months from his duty for missing a key suspect running away before his eyes, to only pretend to help him and keep Lim under close watch during his three-day stay in Seoul as part of the North Korean delegation to inter-Korean ministerial talks. And then a game of "cat-and-mouse" ensues between the two cops -- one who has to complete his mission and the other who has to hinder him from doing it. They spy on each other, fearing they might be deceived by the other side. But as time goes by, quite predictably, they get closer to each other, coming to understand each other's situations. And there is a final shootout that tests their brotherly bonds, which is a common theme among most police movies.

A still cut from the Korean action thriller "Confidential Assignment" (Yonhap) A still cut from the Korean action thriller "Confidential Assignment" (Yonhap)

There is also nothing new with the upcoming film's two main characters. It features a young and handsome North Korean man who is really focused on his duty based on his superior physical conditions, specially trained skills and swift acting power, and his middle-aged South Korean partner who doesn't look good, is short and even not good at work. But both of them are devoted family men.

These images of the two protagonists have parallels in those of the two spies from South and North Korea in "Secret Reunion."

   By trying too hard to humanize the protagonists, however, the script of "Confidential Assignment" resorts to some premises that are hard to swallow, such as a scene when the North Korean police chief lets Lim go back to help his South Korean partner even though he already succeeded in completing his mission for the North. It also is nonsense that Kang knocks out six or seven armed ethnic Korean gangsters from China with his bare hands.

Still, "Confidential Assignment" is passable entertainment that has elements from all different genres -- comedy, action and drama. This, especially, is good as a commercial action flick with elaborate and heart-stopping chases, shootouts and fights. The performances, particularly those of the two co-stars, are excellent.

Your ability to enjoy the movie will likely depend on whether you can overlook some of the glaring shortcomings that exist in the story.

"Confidential Assignment" is set to open in local theaters on Jan. 18.

A still cut from the Korean action thriller "Confidential Assignment" (Yonhap) A still cut from the Korean action thriller "Confidential Assignment" (Yonhap)

A still cut from the Korean action thriller "Confidential Assignment" (Yonhap) A still cut from the Korean action thriller "Confidential Assignment" (Yonhap)

sshim@yna.co.kr

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