Review: THE BERLIN FILE 베를린 (2013) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Review: THE BERLIN FILE 베를린 (2013)

THE BERLIN FILE is blessed with some stunning action set-pieces, but this big-budget South Korean espionage thriller suffers from an overstuffed plot, labored pace and underdeveloped characters.

As one of South Korea's highly-anticipated movies of 2013, it's hard to ignore THE BERLIN FILE -- especially with A-list cast (Ha Jung-Woo, Han Suk-Kyu, Ryoo Seung-Bum and Gianna Jun) and a top action director (Ryoo Seung-Wan of THE CITY OF VIOLENCE and THE UNJUST fame) involved in this big-budget espionage thriller filled with international intrigue, double-crosses and political paranoia reminiscent of the popular BOURNE franchise and John Le Carre's spy novels. What's more, the movie proved to be an instant box-office hit in South Korea. But too bad the movie itself is nothing more than a half-baked espionage thriller that tries too hard to match the complexity and the intensity of the BOURNE franchise and of course, the country's own 1999 landmark blockbuster SHIRI -- only to come up short.


Set in Berlin, the movie opens at Westin Hotel where an arms deal takes place between a North Korean operative Pyo Jong-Seong (Ha Jung-Woo), a Russian broker and an Arab military activist. But it doesn't take long before all hell breaks loose when a sudden raid from a team of heavily-armed Israeli Mossad comes charging into the room with hails of gunfire. Complicating matters are the arrival of South Korean agent Jung Jin-Soo (Han Suk-Kyu) who has been wiretapping over the arms deal, and chases Pyo over at the rooftop and confronts him. However, a tense fight ensues and Pyo manages to escape in the end. As Pyo is trying to figure out what went wrong with the arms deal, he gets an early warning from his North Korean ambassador Lee Hak-Su (Lee Kyung-Young) that another North Korean operative named Dong Myung-Su (Ryoo Seung-Bum), who is the son of a high-ranking North Korean official, is sent to Berlin to rat out a traitor. Things get even more complicated when Pyo's estranged wife, Ryun Jung-Hee (Gianna Jun), who works as Lee Hak-Su's interpreter, is suspected of treason.

Ryoo Seung-Wan is at his best when comes to technical fronts. The action is impeccably staged with sheer intensity -- especially the fight sequences -- that you can almost feel the blow. The rest of the technical skills -- from sound, production design, and cinematography -- are all equally top-notch.

Two intense hand-to-hand combats -- one which sets in a cramped apartment, and another one sets in a climactic finale in the open field -- are remarkably exhilarating.

Where Ryoo Seung-Wan excels in the technical department, he isn't skillful enough when comes to handling a complex storyline. Don't get me wrong, the plot does sounds potentially intriguing but the overall execution is disappointingly patchy all over the place. Not to mention the plot is overly convoluted and feels confusing at the same time. The A-list cast is solid but too bad their characters are underutilized, especially for Gianna Jun's wasted performance who doesn't have much to work with. Even as strong as the action manages to entertain the viewers, it's really baffling that Ryoo Seung-Wan has to rely on bad CG (particularly involving explosions) to enhance its effects.

Overall, THE BERLIN FILE is a missed opportunity because it really has the potential to become one of the best South Korean espionage thrillers ever made.

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