Director Jang Hun’s Secret Reunion (2010) makes a terrific follow-up to the gangster/actor face-off Rough Cut, and keeps that film’s central gimmick in place: the uneasy alliance between men of opposing backgrounds. Secret Reunion begins and ends with a pair of thrilling action set pieces, as South Korean security forces led by Agent Lee (Song Kang-ho) close in on a Jackal-esque North Korean assassin dubbed Shadow. Assisted by a younger, inexperienced (but no less devoted) spy named Ji-won (Kang Dong-won), Shadow is out to kill traitors to the homeland during a very tense time as South and North Korea approach a lessening of hostility. This means a reduction of South Korean security forces, so when Lee takes responsibility for an initial botched capture of Ji-won and the assassin, he’s the first to be let go.
Six years later, diplomatic attempts between countries are failing thanks to a North Korean nuclear test, but Lee is doing well as a detective specializing in runaway wives. That the husbands of these women more often turn out to be unpleasant louts is unimportant; Lee is just trying to get by, seeking out jobs with a pair of bumbling helpers who abandon him at the first sign of a fight. Ji-won defends Lee one night when he is vastly outnumbered, and both men recognize each other immediately, but act otherwise. Lee offers Ji-won work, and both men reach out to their former employers with intel reports of their activities. It isn’t long before identities, intentions and suspicions are all out in the open, and Shadow returns to engage both men.
Song Kang-ho (Thirst, The Host, JSA) is reason alone to see Secret Reunion, though the film crackles with life during its action scenes and becomes frequently touching when it isn’t playing clever covert spy drama. He seems to thrive on characters whose sense of duty often ruins any chance of a normal domestic life. And his ability to play tough in action scenes and seem a little lost at home just shows what a versatile actor he is. Lee isn’t a stupid man by any means, but when he thoughtlessly handcuffs himself to a kitchen wall and immediately realizes he hasn’t got the key, Song’s face registers his embarrassment, anger and fear so quickly that it seems thoroughly natural.
A highly-entertaining mix of drama and action, Secret Reunion is brought to DFW in a limited run at the AMC Grapevine Mills as part of JS Media’s attempt to bring current Korean box office champions to American cities. For the past 18 months, they have made a nice variety of films available, but whether they stay long will be decided entirely based on whether a sufficient audience shows up. If you love Korean cinema, or simply want to catch some international films that likely won’t get broad domestic release (and perhaps not even make U.S. DVD distribution), make an effort to go see these films. In the case of Secret Reunion, you will not be disappointed.
(Steve is also the Senior Programmer for the Asian Film Festival of Dallas, whose 2010 festival begins July 23rd. Watch for updates here or check out the AFFD and become a member!)