Korean Movie Review – The Berlin File (베를린)

One way to guarantee big box office returns is to cast well-known actors and put them in exotic locations, which is exactly what director Ryu Seung-wan did with “The Berlin File” (2013). 

Ha Jung-woo (“The Chaser,” 2008; “The Yellow Sea,” 2010) and Jeon Ji-hyeon (“The Thieves,” 2012; “My Sassy Girl,” 2001) team up in this international tale of espionage set in Germany.

“The Berlin File” opens with an unnamed man running through the streets of Berlin. He’s battered and bruised and eventually has to treat himself via a hidden set of medical supplies. What happened? Rewind three hours and we see that this character is Pyo Jong-seong (Ha), a secret agent working for the North Korean government attempting to sell arms. After a tense standoff, the deal is scuppered when the Israeli army intervenes. But the Israelis aren’t the only government spying on the deal, as the South Koreans, led by merciless agent Jeong Jin-soo (Han Seok-kyu), also attempt to stop the exchange.

This event leads the heads of the North Korean government to question the loyalty of Jong-seong and his interpreter wife, Ryeon Jeong-hee (Jeon). 

Double crossings, misinformation and mayhem ensue as the North Koreans send in ruthless up-and-coming soldier Dong Myeong-soo (Ryu Seung-beom) to find out who the traitor is inside North Korea’s Berlin office.

“The Berlin File” feels like the love child of “Mission: Impossible” (1996) and “The Bourne Identity” (2002). Cell phones self-destruct after encoded messages have been read and the fight scenes are frenetic, with the majority of them focusing on hand-to-hand combat. In this respect, the film is pretty successful. However, the plot has so many twists and turns that aren’t fully explained that I came away feeling slightly baffled about what had just taken place. “The Berlin File” is well acted and well choreographed, but also, WELL confusing.

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