They got Al Capone on his taxes. In the ’90s, the South Korean government went swinging for Kim Jong-il right where it hurts: the money. The Spy Gone North takes this convoluted true story of espionage, trade and uneasy allegiances and not only translates it to the silver screen, but elevates it into something altogether more special.
It’s a complicated tale, but The Spy Gone North strikes the perfect pace. Kwon Sung-hwi and Yoon Jong-bin’s script knows when to hold your hand and when to cut through the complexities of real life to the thriller underneath. The film covers a lot of ground, but still finds time to take a closer look at the people playing with fire. There’s a beating heart in every spy, and as the tension ramps up The Spy Gone North lets the pieces fall away, exposing the raw consequences in a surprisingly affecting North-South, West Side Story dynamic.
If the nuances of trade embargoes sound dry – don’t worry. The Spy Gone North isn’t aping the relentless action of Bond or Bourne but still boasts enough tension to leave you on the edge of your seat. Like the best thrillers, this doesn’t spring from a ticking bomb or a three-way firefight, but from the tiniest details.
That might sound overwhelming, but thankfully good character work makes space for levity. Hwang Jung-min’s starring turn as a brooding spy turned bumbling salesman is nothing short of genius. As the plot thickens, his “audacious spirit” cuts through the tension on both sides of the 38th parallel.
A true story this good only comes along once in a generation. A production of this calibre is just as rare. The Spy Gone North is a rare convergence of the two – and like a solar eclipse, you should make time in your life to sneak a peek.
CAST: Jung-min Hwang, Sung-min Lee, Jin-Woong Cho, Ji-Hoon Ju
DIRECTOR: Jong-bin Yoon
WRITERS: Sung-hui Kwon, Jong-bin Yoon
SYNOPSIS: In the mid-1990s, a loyal South Korean secret agent is caught in a political vortex plotted by the ruling classes of North and South Korea.
Available on Digital HD from 22nd October