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KCS Movie Night: Secretly Greatly
North Korea, loyalty is only for the little people. In contrast, the state owes them nothing for
their faithful service and sacrifice. A
trio of DPRK sleeper spies learns this lesson the hardest way possible in Jang
Cheol-soo’s Secretly Greatly (trailer here), which the Korean Cultural Service will screen for free this Tuesday in New York.
Ryu-hwan is one of the most lethal commandos ever forged by the North Korean military. Folks in a sleepy South Korean town know him
as Bang Dong-gu, the village idiot. To
maintain his deep cover, Won follows a strict regimen, such as regularly being
seen in public doing both number one and number two. It is a real bummer for Won when the lovely
Yu Yu-ran sees him doing his duty (if you will), but at least he will have some
comrades to commiserate with when two new sleepers arrive in town.
Hae-rang is supposed to be a hipster-rocker, but he cannot play the simplest of
chords. However, he is well connected as
the illegitimate son of a high ranking general.
On the other hand, Ri Hae-jin makes a convincing high school student,
because he is still a teenager. Of the
three, only Ri has seen any action, carrying out the assassinations of several
With the change at the top of the regime, the sleeper agents suddenly look like
a potential liability, resulting in a general self-termination order. Of course, Won will do anything his government
demands, but first he has the gall to ask for some assurance the Party will
take care of the beloved mother he has not seen for years. Right, do you want the bad news first or the
really bad news. Regardless, his old
commander Kim Tae-won has been dispatched to personally handle the three newly
on a web-comic, Secretly is unusually
forthright about the nature of the Communist North. Characters often refer to work camps as a
punishing fact of life. Yet, it also
portrays the soul crushing impact of the lifetime of propaganda Won has
absorbed and still desperately clings to.
Nevertheless, the first half of the film mostly hits comedic notes,
often approaching outright slapstick.
course, when the DPRK turns on its former heroes, the film pivots into much
darker territory. When it is finally go
time, action coordinator Park Jeong-ryul delivers some spectacularly cinematic
but seriously down-and-dirty fight scenes.
Bear in mind, Secretly was a
blowout hit at the Korean box office, so you can also expect some tragedy down
the stretch, but that is also rather realistic.
Pyongyang does not do happily-ever-afters.
Soo-hyun fully commits himself to Dong-gu’s cringy humiliations, perhaps even
overdoing it a tad. Still, he is a
credible action figure when Won gets down to business. Park Ki-woong is a bit more restrained as would
be rocker Lee, while Son Hyun-joo is all kinds of badness as the conspicuously
scarred military heavy. Although is a
small supporting role, Lee Chae-young also has some fine moments as the town
tramp, nicely bringing out Dong-gu’s inner tensions.
has no illusions about the dehumanizing nature
of the DPRK, but it is not so crazy about the ROK government either. Arguably, the most sympathetic figure of
officialdom is Kim Soo-hyuk, the unreconstructed but fundamentally decent cold
warrior charged with capturing the sleeper spies. Altogether it is a strange mix of broad
comedy, gritty action, and cynical intrigue that works far better than it might
sound. Recommended for fans of spy vs.
spy beatdowns, Secretly Greatly screens
this coming Tuesday (9/10) at the Tribeca Cinemas, free of charge, courtesy of
the Korean Cultural Service in New York.
Labels: Korean Cinema, Korean Cultural Service