"The Berlin File" is, again, my random choice. It's currently the number one box office in South Korea. "Akbar, wait, it's a Korean movie?" Yes, it absolutely is. I am not a fan of Korean movie, but I think, it's kind of rare seeing such an espionage thriller from that country. "The Berlin File" may sound a little bit ambitious for Korean movie industry, because this is the genre where Hollywood has a great expertise. It takes place mostly in Latvia and Germany, has dialogues written in three languages (Korean, English, and Germany), includes foreign actors as well as Korean actors, and scopes multinational conflicts as a main plot—not to mention, a conflict to the neighboring country, North Korea.
“The Berlin File” starts exposing an illegal arms trade in Berlin. The trade involves a North Korean “ghost” agent—Pyo Jong-seong (portrayed by Ha Jung-woo)—and two other persons from Russia and Middle East. He doesn’t know that he is being pursued by a South Korean intelligence agent, Jung Jin-soo (portrayed by Han Suk-kyu), who also looks for any potential involvements of the CIA, Israel’s Mossad, and several terrorist organizations. Ryeon Jung-hee (portrayed by Gianna Jun), Jong-seong’s wife as well as an interpreter for North Korean ambassador for Germany, Ri Hak-soo (portrayed by Lee Geung-young), becomes suspected of betraying the country since Dong Myung-soo (portrayed by Ryu Seung-beom) is sent to investigate any possibilities of conflicting loyalties from these agents. Jeong-seong tries to resolve this in the midst of a sort of hide-and-seek game he played with the South Korean intelligence agents and the traders.
In the first minutes, “The Berlin File” looks similar to any movies from the Bourne trilogy. A little bit more complicated perhaps, because the movement of each scenes in the opening part is so fast and so brainy. Even I just had begun to understand what was currently going on in the middle part. Not a good option for easy entertainment, but if you are an espionage movie lover, this is the one you could try to refresh your brain. I think the story idea of “The Berlin File” is not a fresh one. An illegal trade among countries that involves governmental officers and betrayal? Of course not a fresh one. Still, some twists and action scenes are interesting, although the two may just be the factors that put “The Berlin File” into the average-and-above crime-thriller movie list.
What is more interesting from “The Berlin File”, in my opinion, is the big idea behind the story. I mean, it takes a real bravery—if I may say so—to make a story about conflicts (and betrayal!) from the neighboring country, North Korea. I don’t know if there have ever been any movies like this made in South Korea, but in current political situation—well, I’m not a political expert B-)—this movie is really a form of courage (or recklessness?). The last movie I watched that talks about North Korean is “Olympus Has Fallen”, but since it’s Hollywood that made it—and Hollywood have produced a lot of movies about conflicts from far-far-away countries—I don’t really put it into account. Now, South Korea makes similar thing. I know this sounds a little bit exaggerating but I just hope that no North Korean watches this movie. Moreover, this is just a movie, isn’t it?
Let’s back to the track. Beyond all the talky, multi-languages dialogues (seriously, in several scenes they give three lines of subtitles because the three languages were spoken interchangeably) and the brainy plot, “The Berlin File” amuses me for all stuffs that everyone want to see in a crime-thriller. However, I don’t like the first part because, well, my brain can’t reach that high. Excitement and adrenaline starts to rush in the middle until the last part, where everything becomes clear. Tips for you: if you don’t understand the first part, the twist may not be that surprising. Regardless of whether the twist is shocking enough or not, I myself was not blown by it. The complexity that “The Berlin File” serves maybe a little bit harder, but after you finished watching it, you will be able to comprehensively tell what the story is all about.
Ryoo Seung-wan, the writer and director of "The Berlin File", puts ambition in this movie. Oh how it is obviously seen. Like I said before, you will see anything you want to see in such an espionage thriller: codes, passwords, fights (with or without guns), chase-and-run, hostages, bombings, or even a love story. Ryoo Seung-wan mixes them all in “The Berlin File” making it both rich and abundant. But I love seeing how he paid attention to details. Seeing who is coming from reflection of a mirror instead of peeking it from the door hole? Only spies do that, and Ryoo knows it very well. Fast-paced editing nicely makes “The Berlin File” looks tidy, out of the complexity it contains in the story. The scoring is good, too. I have no problems with the acting. Ha Jung-woo is a good pick for the protagonist, not only physically but also by the mood that Pyo Jong-seong carries out.
I would like to finish my review on “The Berlin File” not specifically by giving a verdict about the story or any cinematic excitement I have (because you can just see how many stars I give to this movie, LOL), but more by telling my opinion about the value that it brings to me. It is very interesting for you to know that from “The Berlin File”, I learn that the movie industry of South Korea is really expanding. They can make a movie this big and this complex. I really hope that someday, filmmakers from my beloved country Indonesia could do the same thing. Oh I really hope for that. I am looking forward to seeing that.
▲ Good details and suspense, tidy editing
▼ Brainy and complex, easy to lose track
THE BERLIN FILE | ORIGINAL TITLE Bereurlin COUNTRY South Korea YEAR 2013 RATING n.a. RUNTIME 120 min GENRE Action, Drama, Thriller CAST Ha Jung-woo, Han Suk-kyu, Gianna Jun, Ryu Seong-beom, Lee Geung-young WRITER Ryoo Seung-wan (screenplay), Ted Geoghegan (English dialogue), Stefanie Y. Hong (translation) DIRECTOR Ryoo Seung-wan MORE INFO