DIRECTOR RYOO Seung-wan
CAST HA Jung-woo, HAN Suk-kyu, Gianna JUN, RYOO Seung-bum
RELEASE DATE January 30, 2013
CONTACT CJ Entertainment
Occasionally in cinema, a group of similar films will emerge outside of any obvious trend. One example of this occurred in the Korean film industry in 2013, when an unusually high number of films featuring North Korea spies emerged. One was a low-budget comedy called Red Family (2013), while three others were big-budget, hard-boiled action-thrillers: Commitment (2013), The Suspect (2013) and, first out of the gate, RYOO Seung-wan’s The Berlin File (2013).
A South Korean intelligence agent named Jung Jin-soo (HAN Suk-kyu) surveils an illegal arm deal in Berlin that involves a mysterious figure, and when the deal goes south, he gives chase to the man over the rooftops of the German capital. The man, who is actually the North Korean secret agent Pyo Jong-seong (HA Jung-woo), returns home to his cramped apartment where he lives with his wife Ryun Jung-hee (Gianna JUN), an interpreter at the North Korean embassy.
While Jin-soo tries to uncover Jong-seong’s identity, he quickly finds himself deep within an international conspiracy. Another North Korean operative named Dong Myung-soo is also dispatched to Berlin when higher-ups in North Korea believe that there’s a mole in the North Korean embassy. When Jung-hee is suspected, he is forced to choose between his love and his loyalty for his country. But everything is not as simple as it seems.
Shot on location in Berlin and Riga, Latvia, The Berlin File immediately calls to mind the moody tones of western thrillers, like John LE CARRÉ adaptations such as Tinker Tailor Solider Spy and especially the Bourne series, which director RYOO attempted to emulate. The wintry location shooting makes the film stand apart from other Korean spy thrillers and heightens the sense of loneliness of its secret agent characters, ie. working in dank spaces overseas with no one they can truly trust.
The ambitious production was a bold new step for Korean commercial cinema, clearly designed to maximize on international sales. It did so through its name director, who guaranteed plenty of action, a slew of A-list stars that includes Gianna JUN, known around the world for My Sassy Girl (2001), and its foreign locations, but also through its multilingual dialogues. In addition to Korean and German, much of the film is in foreign sales-friendly English. The production enlisted the help of American filmmaker Ted GEOGHEGAN to punch up the film’s English dialogues. GEOGHEGAN has since directed the indie horror favorites We Are Still Here and Mohawk.
The Berlin File (2013) became Director RYOO’s biggest hit when it welcomed over seven million viewers during the Lunar New Year holidays in 2013. He would scale back with the smaller crime-action film Veteran in 2015, which became one of the most successful Korean films of all time, before ambition called again with his World War II POW film The Battleship Island (2017). RYOO recently completed another action-thriller shot overseas (Mogadishu, shot in Morocco), which is currently awaiting release.