How great is Secret Reunion? Let me count the ways. It's a multi-layered, breathlessly-paced North/South Korean spy film; a buddy picture full of humor and action; a pitch-perfect political metaphor; and just possibly the best film I've seen all year.
Of course I'm a sucker for Song Kang-ho and, once again, he pulls the whole film together with his unique blend of schlubby, sleazy comedy and emotional intensity. He's a cornerstone of contemporary South Korean cinema for a reason; you just feel like you know the guy from the first frame and you're on his side, come what may. Major props also to newcomer director Jang Hun. A former AD to Kim Ki-duk, Secret Reunion is his sophomore effort after turning heads with his gangsters vs. actors debut Rough Cut (2008).
Song plays Lee Han-kyu, a National Intelligence Service agent fired for botching a mission to capture North Korean operative Song Ji-won (Kang Dong-won). Six years later, the two men meet, albeit under completely different circumstances, each becoming increasingly more involved in the other's life. Lee knows Song's real identity but keeps it on the down-low for his own purposes. Song does likewise. As events advance and tension mounts, the two men develop a mutual admiration and respect for one another. Can the North Korean and the South Korean work things out? Can't we all just get along?
Kang Dong-won deserves praise as well, perfectly complimenting Song Kang-ho's performance with his own stoic, steely stance. It's funny, I was just looking at him on Korean television the night before in a very different role, that of the title character in Jeon Woochi: The Taoist Wizard, wherein he fights giant rat and rabbit spirits among other things. Yeah, you'll be hearing more about that one -- watch this space …
In any case, I found Secret Reunion so thoroughly enjoyable that I even forgot how loud it was. I don't know if it's Korean cinemas in general or just the films at the PIFF, but every screening I've attended has been just short of deafening. The sound on these films is cranked up to 11, way louder than anything in a cineplex in the States. So if you like your action loud, get your ass to Busan!
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