is hard to get more Zeitgeisty than a film about North Korean purges. You can ask Kim Jong-un’s uncle about it, if
you have a Ouija board in your pocket. A
teenager recruited out of Yodok prison becomes a pawn in Kim’s brutal
succession plan in Park Hong-soo’s Commitment
screens for free this coming Tuesday in New York, courtesy of the Korean Cultural Service.
Myung-hoon had always done his duty as a sleeper spy, so he expected to return
home to his son and daughter, right on schedule. Unfortunately, the Communist regime does not
give out gold watches. Instead, they
betray Ri’s father and imprison his family.
Since he is a real chip chiseled off the old block, a crafty old
spymaster offers Ri a chance to save his sister Hye-in. Posing as a defector, he will hunt down the
assassin from a rival North Korean spy faction killing members of his sleeper
maintain his cover, he will also spend some time in high school, where he meets
Lee Hye-in. Besides her name, something
about her reminds him of his sister. As
a disciplined undercover operative, he valiantly resists the urge to lay a beat
down on the bullies that torment her, but it is obviously just a matter of
time. Likewise, the plots in Pyongyang
will soon embroil Ri and nearly every other sleeper.
is easy to see why Commitment’s blend
of action and tragic teen angst would be popular with Korean audiences, but it
is also a rather astute reflection of the current geopolitical climate. Although Park served as assistant director on
Jang Hun’s wishful thinking unification thriller Secret Reunion, Commitment is
more closely akin to Ryoo Seung-wan’s neo-Cold War spy drama Berlin File. It clearly implies Kim Jong-un is a ruthless Machiavellian
and forthrightly addresses the plight of political prisoners. On the ROK side, the most sympathetic figure
is Cha Jung-min, an unreconstructed Cold Warrior, whereas his “keep the lines
of communication open” superiors are portrayed as craven opportunists.
rapper T.O.P. (a.k.a. Choi Seung-hyun) is surprisingly credible in his
considerable action scenes. When it
comes to high school drama, he certainly broods well enough. As Lee Hye-in, Han Ye-ri also projects a somewhat
reserved screen presence, so they feel right together, even if they do not burn
up the set. Amongst a strong supporting
cast, Yoon Je-moon’s Cha hits the right note of rumpled exasperation, while Kim
You-jung is arrestingly fragile as sister Hye-in.
Despite several nifty fight scenes, American
audiences would probably prefer a higher action to teenage angst ratio. Still, it is probably the best spy film since
maybe Berlin File. Often smart and tense, Commitment is a fascinating example of the ever shifting manner the
two Koreas are depicted in the cinema of the ROK. Recommended rather highly (especially for
free), Commitment screens Tuesday
(1/14) at the Tribeca Cinemas, thanks to the Korean Cultural Service in New
Labels: Korean Cinema, Korean Cultural Service, North Korea, Spy dramas