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    Double Agent

    Fixing a mole

    The story of a spy within South Korean intelligence is told with grim, engaging realism in "Double Agent."


    "Double Agent," starring Han Suk-kyu of the Korean megahit "Shiri," is a spy movie much less Hollywoodized than that overdone technothriller.

    Directed by: Kim Hyun-jung.
    Written by: Sim Hyae-won.
    Adapted from an original story by: Koo Bon-han.
    Cast: Han Suk-kyu, Ko So-young, Jun Ho-jin, Song Jae-ho.
    Cinematography: Kim Sung-bok.
    In Korean with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    Anthology Film Archives 32 Second Ave. (at Second Street) Wed., May 21, 2003, 6:30 p.m. Sun., May 25, 2003, 9:15 p.m.

    Asian Films Are Go! 2003
  • Overview
  • Double Agent
  • Double Vision
  • Out

  • Ping Pong
  • Runaway Pistol
  • So Close
  • Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

  • Previous years' festivals
  • When Korean Cinema Attacks! (2001)
  • Asian Films Are Go! (2002)

  • Official site
  • More in the mold of "The Spy Who Came In From the Cold," it shows a spy's precarious life unadorned by James Bond's phony glamour and pyrotechnic gadgetry. There are no dazzling explosions or last-second escapes — just the story of a North Korean defector's perilous mission deep within South Korean intelligence, told with patience and grim realism.

    Northern diplomat Lim Byung-ho (Han) first makes a daring escape to waiting Southerners across a Berlin checkpoint, but not before taking a bullet in the leg during his frantic dash to freedom. And his ordeal doesn't stop there. Once in the then-unscrupulous hands of Southern intelligence, he's put through excruciating torture if only to prove that he isn't a Northern double agent.

    Which, it turns out, he is.

    Playing right into his hands, South Korean authorities introduce him to a beautiful young radio hostess, Yun Su-mi, who they don't realize is a fellow mole. So it arouses no suspicion when they appear together as boyfriend and girlfriend.

    Double Agent  
    From here, the spy's life never gets less complicated or dangerous. Ever in danger of being exposed, Lim has some victories and some close calls — anything he does to help his comrades in the North puts him in greater danger of being exposed. The film's greatest impact comes at times when he has to commit terrible acts either to serve his own side or to throw off his Southern bosses' suspicion. The film doesn't judge his political allegiances — it's most concerned with dramatizing the constant desperation of the double agent's life.

      Double Agent
    As such, "Double Agent" is a strong, clear-eyed look inside the shadowy espionage world in a country constantly at the throat of its other half. I have no doubt about its realism but I would be curious how this kind of film is seen by Koreans themselves. With the two sides' brief rapprochement now in shambles, it's strange to see a movie that makes so little judgement about what amounts to traitorous betrayal of country. On the other hand, much about the sinister side of Southern intelligence has been made public in recent years, and so many view both sides as suspect and just want the country's division to be over. So maybe it's the right time for a classic spy movie with no heroes — just grim reality.

    MAY 15, 2003

    Reader comments on Double Agent:

  • In a Korean Perspective   from Katherine, May 17, 2003
  • Joshua Tanzer's review of   from Edwin Bergmann, May 19, 2003
  • Re: Joshua Tanzer's review of   from Harry K, May 26, 2003
  • [no subject]   from nakre, Sep 3, 2004
  • hi   from AliceJoh , May 31, 2012
  • hi   from Alicejoh , May 31, 2012

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