Reviewed By

Christopher Armstead
The sale of arms is going down in a hotel room in Berlin.  Some Russians are at the table, it looks like some Arab cats are on the other side of the table and at the front of the table is a North Korean, the Hero of the Republic, Joon-Syeong Pyo (Jung-woo Ha).  The South Koreans, led by their commie hating boss Jeong Jin Soo (Suk-kyu Han) are clandestinely watching this deal.  Then in the middle of the deal, Israeli Mossad agents bust in and then people start shooting at each other.  Right now I'm pretty confused about what the heck is going on in this South Korean action epic 'The Berlin File'.  Until they started shooting at each other.  That I got.  This will be the general running theme that I will be dealing with for most of this films run time.

Joon makes it out to his safe house, after totally kicking the asses of crapload of worthless South Korean agents, including the commie hating Jeong.  One thing I've learned from watching this film, if I am to accept this fictional insanity as the truth, is that North Korean operatives… all of them… are badass.  And South Korean operatives… almost all of them… are not.

Now the plot of this movie really kicks in, and if there was a film with a lot of plot, it is 'The Berlin File'.  True enough, I couldn't make heads or tails of the majority of this plot, but we will trudge through.  The North Korean ambassador informs Joon that the Grand Party is none too happy with their lousy performance.  Joon thinks their lousy performance is because somebody on the inside is tipping off the enemy.  The ambassador informs Joon that the Grand Party is sending some backup to clean up their incompetence in Joon's understudy, the crazy and duplicitous agent Dong (Seung-beom Ryu).  While the plot is still kind of baffling me, just one look at Agent Dong tells me that this cat is up to no good.
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On the other side of the virtual DMZ, our commie hating agent Jeong… this is a man who says he doesn't even make left turns… is trying to find Joon, discover what the hell is going on and crack the case even though there is interference from all directions trying to keep this obviously insane man from doing his job.

The plot gets even thicker when we are introduced to our North Korean agents pretty wife Jung-Hee (Gianna Jun) who also works with the ambassador, often tasked with doing some really unsavory things, and who just might be hiding something from her detached husband.    Not to mention the American CIA is involved in whatever is going on, that sneaky Agent Dong is even worse than we thought, there are possible defections, then Mossad show back up, then let's not forget the terrorists… it's a mess. 

Fortunately, whether you are following this story or have let it go, eventually it simply devolves into everybody… and I mean everybody… wanting to kill agent Joon and his pretty wife who kind of hates him right now.   In fact, the person who would really like to kill him the most, this being the commie hating agent Jeong, can't kill him because right now they need each other to kill other people.  The enemy of my enemy is my friend, I guess.   Mad action shall ensue.

Helmed by noted director Seung-Wan Ryoo, I'm thinking that your ability to observe, compartmentalize, analyze and mentally categorize everyone and everything that is going on in at least the first half of his movie will vastly improve your enjoyment of this movie.  Personally, I did a piss poor job of doing any of those things, so while all of these various characters were doing all of this talking about all of this stuff that I'm dead certain was critically important about what was about to go down in this action movie, most of it just glazed right over me.  At some point during the film I just decided to try focus on the basics, this being that agent Dong is bad, agent Joon is torn, his wife is pretty and agent Jeong hates commies.  So while understanding the complete intricacies that writer / director Seung was setting up for the viewer will probably make this film a great one for you, simply clutching to basics keeps it manageable and still makes it entertaining.

And this entertainment comes from the action sequences which are really, really impressive.  Jung-woo Ha is a very good actor, but he's also a very good physical actor considering all of the incredible physical things he had to pull off to sell us on his character as a complete badass, which the young man handles superbly.  One doesn't need to understand the plot to enjoy some fine fist fights, car chases, enough shootouts for two movies, knife fights, gun fights and a final action sequence which will make you weep.  Or make you think that you are actually watching an updated version of John Woo's 'The Killer'.  Hmmm… honorable bad guy, cop chasing him like forever, pretty woman caught in the middle, enemies forced to come together to bring down somebody they both hate, forging a new found respect for each other.  Now 'The Berlin File' really gets a little simpler.

While I make no bones that the narrative of 'The Berlin File' largely baffled me, spy gobbledygook just for spy gobbledygook's sake, it's still a difficult film not to like because it is so well crafted, well-acted and has some of the best action scenes we've seen or probably will see in a while.
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