CASTING, CASTING, CASTING
North Korean Won Ryu Hwan (Kim Soo Hyun) infiltrates the South as a sleeper cell agent posing as the village idiot, Dong Gu. He passes the time acclimating to life with his ordinary neighbors and their mundane lives waiting for the day when he is dispatched by the North to complete a “secret and great” mission, along with fellow agents, Rhee Hae Rang (Park Ki Woong), posing as an auditioning singer, and Rhee Hae Jin (Lee Hyun Woo), posing as a high school student. Following the events of at Yeonpyeong in 2002, South Korea demands that the North turn in 30 of their spies living in the South in return for financial aid. To prevent this, the government sends orders to the active duty spies to take their own lives for their motherland. To ensure that all spies carry out their orders, the spies’ instructor, Colonel Kim Tae Won (Son Hyun Joo), is sent across the border to take care of any dissenters.
Lee Hyun Woo – 청춘예찬 (Ode to Youth)
The movie is based on the Covertness webtoon series which had a strong following. I can’t quite say if it was loyal to the original work but the movie certainly made some really great casting choices which I think proved well for the movie. The movie starts off as being a ridiculously funny, slapstick comedy but turns into a tragic drama. Certainly, I wasn’t expecting that when I sat down to watch it. In the hands of a lesser actor(s), it could have gone horribly awry.
The film was a big office success due to the casting of Kim Soo Hyun, Park Ki Woong and Lee Hyun Woo which drew in younger audiences. I knew the movie was going to be funny but I wasn’t prepared for the slapstick to inundate the first half of the movie. Some might find that humor a bit off-putting but I would tell them to be patient with this movie.
As the three flower boys are face their final mission, the movie has a drastic shift in tone. The movie expertly does this nice transition of the shift in tone which allows them to keep me on my toes in regards to the plot. There are things are entirely predictable and things that throw me for a loop. And yet, it works in the world of this film about eccentric spies.
Adding to the lead cast, there’s Son Hyun Joo as Kim Tae Won. On the one hand, he holds a position of reverence as the young spies looked up to him as mentor and teacher. However, his physical appearance clearly says “bad guy”. His relationship with Ryu Hwan is in direct contrast with Ryu Hwan and Hae Jin. Whereas Tae Won failed as Ryu Hwan’s teacher, Ryu Hwan was there for Hae Jin to the very end.
Despite that the villagers were South Korean and that they gave “Dong Gu” a hard time, Ryu Hwa and the villagers come to realize how much they care for each other in the end. Especially Ryu Hwan’s supermarket boss who has become a replacement mom for the one he left behind in North Korea. This realization is particularly heart wrenching at the end of the film which is wrapped up in a nice moment played so nicely by Park Hye Sook.
Finally, the action scenes were pretty thrilling and beautifully filmed. It was nice that the director used the stunt coordinator from Man From Nowhere to coordinate the fight scenes but it was even more enhance by the nice audio mixing. You could literally hear every bone shatter and crack which makes it sound all the more dire for our characters.
I found myself laughing in the beginning and tearing up at the end so you find yourself doing an interesting 180 mood shift as the viewer. After watching quite a few spy movies, sometimes the twist are predictable and I like how the movie played with the predictability but also produced a few unexpected twists of their own. The movie takes an unexpected arc but the cast is so good at selling their roles the movie works very well as a comedy, action and tragedy.