No one is currently doing movies that combine moments of horror, comedy, action and drama like the South Koreans in my opinion and the leader of the pack in cross-theme movies is actor Song Kang-ho. He somehow makes the character trait of bumbling-but-oddly-proficient seem like it makes sense. In Hun Jang’s The Secret Reunion the focus is the cold-conflict between the North and the South spies. North Korea has sent assassins into South Korea and Lee (Song Kang-ho) is a special agent tasked with bringing down the insurgents.
Lee’s main target is the assassin Shadow (Gook-hwan Jeon). Unfortunately Shadow has been hard to track despite a penchanct for broad daylight shoot ‘em ups. Lee has figured out that he might be able catch Shadow by capturing one of the newer assassins who is working with Shadow. Ji Won (Kang Dong-wan) is the younger comrade tasked with assisting Shadow in killing Kim Jong-Il’s cousin who has defected from North to South. The Secret Reunion starts right off with Lee rushing in with his team to try to capture Ji Won and all hell breaks loose. Lee’s team ends up being decimated during the chaotic shoot out with both the Shadow and Ji Won getting away. The consequences that follow are that Lee is fired and the Shadow believes that he was set up by Ji Won who is forced to go into hiding.
Six years later Lee is now trying to make a living by tracking down foreign wives who have left their husbands for various reasons. When he is given the chance for a special bounty job he runs into Ji Won. Both men recognize each other but both pretend to not. Lee offers Ji Won a job tracking down the women as he hopes that Ji Won will still lead him to the Shadow and thereby finding some form of redemption. Ji Won on the other hand teams up with Lee with the hope of making some quick money and starts to feed information back to North Korea believing that Lee is still an agent for the South Korean government.
On it’s most basic level we get the standard story from distrusting partners not working together partners into a true friendship, like a weird cross between Infernal Affairs and Rush Hour, but there really is a lot going on between the two. The relationship of the two is strained not just by the distrust between the two but also by the roles that they have taken upon themselves. They both see themselves as doing the right thing but both really have lost something due to the chaos of six years ago. Eventually they are able to work through things but the Shadow returns and their lives are thrown into chaos. It would be very easy to say where the movie ends up but that would remove half of the fun in watching it. I will say that I had at least one discussion about how the movie does go quite dark at times which does make the film feel different than the standard buddy cop movie.
The acting and action are both top notch. Song Kang-ho continues to be my favourite South Korean actor and Kang Dong-wan does an excellent job playing the straight man to Kang-ho. Just like Jean Reno’s cleaner character from La Femme Nikita Gook-hwan Jeon is wonderfully threatening as the driven older hitman. The action is brutal and nasty at times and also lighthearted and fun at other times and yet just like the rest of the movie it never feels schizophrenic which often happens when movies try to be both light and serious at the same time.
In many ways The Secret Reunion is a lark of a film. One could watch it just as a summer action blockbuster with a strong sense of humour but for me I believe it is tries to and succeeds at saying something deeper about the differences between the North and the South – and it does this with a healthy degree of absurdity. The nastiness of what Lee and Ji Won live through has keeps them apart and not being able to trust each other but when it really comes down to it they are both good men and if they are able to leave politics behind they could actually be “brothers”. While The Secret Reunion may not be the strongest South Korean movie it is still an excellent addition to the collection and well worth checking out if you get the chance.