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Another problem is the strangely unconvincing characterization of Han Suk-kyu's Agent Jeong, compared to his Northern counterparts. DP Choi Young-hwan (The Thieves), reunited with Ryoo after a decade following their collaboration in No Blood No Tears (2002), and Lighting Director Kim Seong-gwan portray Berlin, through impressively extensive location shooting, as a city pregnant with old secrets, bustling with busy population yet pocketed with dark corners and wood-paneled back rooms.The hand-to-hand combat choreography, designed by Ryoo's longtime collaborator Jeong Doo-hong and Seoul Action School, actually works better when it is essentially two people smashing each other with various kitchen implements and office tools in a narrow apartment corridor.Lee Si-young has an unusual star image: she is unique in simultaneously pursuing a career as an actress, while also competing as an amateur boxer.Lee originally learned boxing as part of her preparation to act in a TV drama, but then she continued training and eventually won several amateur boxing championships in the 48kg weight category.Rather than paying lip services to the "Northerners are human beings too" rhetoric of ethnic reconciliation, the film addresses the fact that the Cold War ideology still survives in North Korea precisely because it serves the interests of the top-of-the-food-chain jackals like Dong (and his clan, the paterfamilias of which is played by Myung Gye-nam in an amusing cameo), who continued to fatten themselves at the expense of ordinary working stiffs like Pyo and Ryeon.As Dong sneers at one point, "People always change," even if the ideology remains unchanged.In the end, exciting and beautifully rendered as they are, I cannot help wonder if the movie really needed these head-spinning action set pieces.All in all, The Berlin File is a flawed but terrific and gutsy espionage film.
(Written on April 11) Reviewed below: The Berlin File (Jan 30) -- How to Use Guys with Secret Tips (Feb 14) -- New World (Feb 21) -- Nobody's Daughter Haewon (Feb 28) -- Jiseul (Mar 21) -- Very Ordinary Couple (Mar 21) -- Horror Stories 2 (Jun 5) -- Cold Eyes (Jul 3) -- The Terror Live (Jul 31) -- The Face Reader (Sep 11) -- Our Sunhi (Sep 12) -- The Russian Novel (Sep 19) -- Hwayi: A Monster Boy (Oct 9) -- City: Hall (Oct 24) -- Blood and Ties (Oct 24) -- The Commitment (Nov 6) -- Steel Cold Winter (Nov 7) -- The Fake (Nov 21). Ryoo, who also penned the film's unusually (for him) taut screenplay, again seems to have achieved what he does arguably better than almost any other Korean filmmaker: to come up with a film firmly grounded in the Euro-American genre conventions and at the same time in the unique features of the Korean historical experience-in this case, a bona fide Cold War espionage film entirely bereft of nostalgia, for the simple reason that for North and South Koreans of today the Cold War still remains an unassailable "reality." I initially approached The Berlin File with some trepidation, since what I had heard through grapevine about the film made me anticipate something on the order of a commercialized hybrid between The City of Violence (2006) and Park Chan-wook's Joint Security Area (2000), in which the North-South relations, perhaps in the form of a macho male-bonding between Northern and Southern agents, would be at the center stage.
Positive word-of-mouth then helped the film to achieve a level of publicity and box office success almost unheard of for independent films.
The early part of 2013 also marked the anticipated Hollywood debuts of Korean directors Park Chan-wook (Stoker) and Kim Jee-woon (The Last Stand). A) operatives headed by Jeong Jin-soo (Han Suk-kyu, Villian and Widow). Pyo barely escapes with his life, but manages to elude Jeong, obsessed with bagging him.
He urges her to buy his masterwork, "Instructions on How to Use Men," telling her that it will change her life, and give her the skills she needs to find success and happiness. Director Lee Won-suk, a graduate of the American Film Institute, maintains great comic timing and even manages to keep the audience's interest in the final reels, which are a weak point of many Korean romantic comedies.
Boosted by great performances and a multitude of gags that are genuinely funny, the film produced strong word-of-mouth among viewers, though not soon enough to save it in a month when it was sharing screens with box office behemoths The Berlin File, New World and Miracle in Cell No. Much of the buzz surrounding this film centers on the two charismatic leads.