Friday, July 9, 2010

Fantasia 2010: The Secret Reunion (2010)

The Secret Reunion (2010) aka Ui-hyeong-je imdb
Directed by Hun Jang, Written by Hun Jang and Min-seok Jang

There is only one reason to see The Secret Reunion, but it is a good one: lead actor Kang-ho Song. He is not just Korea's best actor, he is one of the world's best. It shouldn't be a huge surprise that I am totally in the bag for Kang-ho Song. I have been using his role as The Foul King for my avatar since 2001. What impresses most about Kang-ho Song is his range - able to play tragedy, melodrama and comedy - sometimes switching from one to the other during the same scene without incurring emotional whiplash as a result..

The strength of Korean cinema (and sometimes its Achilles Heel) is its ability to switch genres in mid-scene, to inject laughter into drama, danger into slapstick and terror into the mundane. The willingness of Korean directors to run risks and blend genres makes their films fascinating and unpredictable. It also demands actors with the emotional flexibility of Kang-ho Song. If he didn't exist already. Korean directors would have had to invent him.

The Secret Reunion is a bit of a twist on Infernal Affairs. Kang-ho Song is Agent Lee, a maverick police detective in charge of a shift of the anti-terrorism squad trying to track down North Korean spies and protect North Korean defectors. The baby-face Dong-won Kang is Song, a North Korean agent working for a ruthless assassin known by the code name Shadow. When the two sides collide, the ensuing blood-bath causes Lee to be fired and Song to be branded as a traitor to North Korea.

Six years later, Lee is a private detective specializing in tracking down runaway Vietnamese brides and Song is on the run both from the South Korean police and his fellow North Korean spies. Lee runs into Song and recruits him to join the detective agency (such as it is.)  Both men recognize each other, but fool themselves into believing that the other man failed to identify his former enemy. In the byzantine world of spy and counter-spy, simple truths are the hardest to believe, so Song and Lee become convinced that the story of being fired by their respective organizations is a cover story designed to confuse.

There has been some complaints about the middle stretch of the film where it morphs from a tense espionage thriller into a domestic sit-com, but this stretch is vital to the film's theme of the hope, despair and tragedy surrounding any chance of reconciling the two Koreas. On a human level, friendship and trust sometimes seems possible, but humanity plays little part in the larger political conflict that is constantly interfering in the lives of the cast and by extension the lives of all Koreans.

Oddly, the film that The Secret Reunion most reminds me of is L.A. Confidential, a brilliant film that runs five minutes too long - spoiling a perfect albeit downbeat ending to give us a cop-out bullshit Hollywood ending that ties a happy bow around the characters. The Secret Reunion has the same downbeat ending, one that makes perfect tragic sense for the film, for the countries and especially for the characters, but betrays those characters and the situation to give us a cop-out bullshit Hollywood ending that ties a happy bow around the characters.


(Also I should add that the sub-titles were TERRIBLE, not in the badly translated sense, but in the "I can"t read white text against a white background" sense. Learn to use Drop Shadow, For Fuck's Sakes.)

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