Friday, May 02, 2014

Secretly, Greatly (Korean Movie)

From Wikipedia:

Secretly, Greatly (Hangul: 은밀하게 위대하게) is a 2013 South Korean action comedy-drama film starring Kim Soo-hyun, Park Ki-woong, and Lee Hyun-woo, who play North Korean spies who infiltrate South Korea as a village idiot, a rock musician, and a high school student, respectively. They assimilate to small town life while awaiting their orders, until one day, due to a sudden power shift in the North, their mission turns out to be an order to commit suicide The film is based on the 2010 spy webtoon series Covertness by Hun, which has received over 40 million page hits.

Review and Thoughts

The trailers looked interesting and it helped that the leads were good looking (haha). But beyond the façade and the obvious little details (e.g. way a highly trained soldier would end up as a village idiot and why that particular was chosen etc...), I think the story was well crafted and the ending, while sad and somewhat open, ended the way it should and was bittersweet (in a nice way). There were many parts to the movie and it was a rollercoaster ride of emotions from happy, to sad, adorable, to angst and heartwarming towards the end.

While some might think that the storyline was weak, I think of it this way: the whole premise of the mission was not really into the spy-conquer-the-world-and-kill-the enemies-infiltration (e.g. Won Ryuhwan being the village idiot), but rather an experiment, an experiment by the mad scientist Professor Seo Young-guk, who wanted to proof that the whole concept of the 5446 Corps was a failure and that when it comes to survival, survival outweighs the prospect of death and loyalty is a farce. It is a movie after all, and sometimes to go in with too high an expectation would only lead to greater disappointment. Since you know the storyline and what it is about, given the short time that a movie has to portray everything, sometimes that time is not enough and you just have to go with the basics (and just not think too much).

Now on to the characters (and spoilers)… 

Kim Soo-hyun - Lieutenant Won Ryu-hwan / Bang Dong-gu
Kim Soo-hyun in his role as Won Ryu-hwan, who has the ability to read people and is fluent in 5 languages, was convincing as he alternated between his idiot persona and his normal one within the confines of his room. Each of his calculated missteps, leading to his daily fumbles and little ‘accidents’, added humor; even more so when his inner thoughts are played out to what he is really thinking about the people he pretends to fool. He starts off as a cold hearted killing machine with only one purpose in life, that is to accomplish the great mission (though he doesn’t know what it is) and to bring glory to his country.

His childhood had propelled him to want need to become the best, having to literally kill others to get into the position he is today (and to essential just stay alive). But despite being trained to kill and be heartless, Ryu-hwan is somewhat a naïve character (he really believes that his mother is still alive and taken care of – his main motivation for staying alive to accomplish the mission) with really bad interpersonal skills. He tries not to get to involved and attached to the village people he has come to live with over the years under his guise, but as trouble brews back home with a plan to kill all the 5446 Corps and the introduction of 2 other spies (who turn out to be his friend and fan respectively), Ryu-hwan’s cold exterior is soon melted as he starts to care about the people around him and gets (too) involved in their lives; learning the meaning of relationships and treasuring those around him and the value of life.

Ryu-hwan originally planned to follow the order to kill himself, but when he found out that his mother – his sole purpose for living – had been killed, he wanted to get back at the organization that raised him and was practically on a death mission. Knowing that it might be a mission of no return, he ties up things as nicely as his can within the village (e.g. bidding farewell to his adopted mother and telling her to visit the doctor, givinga n airplane ticket to Ran to go and find her son etc…). There could have been some hope of his survival if he had cooperated with the South Korean agency, but his pride would not let him (to collude with the ‘enemy’ - the power of propaganda indeed). Towards the end of the movie, as he was about to give up on himself, he saw the bankbook that his adopted mother placed in his pocket and his purpose to live was renewed. Alas, it was not to be as he soon met his end because he wanted to protect Hae-jin from the onslaught of bullets.

Park Ki-woong - Rhee Hae-rang / Kim Min-su
Although Hae-rang is the son of a high ranking North Korean official, Rhee Moo-Hyuk, with skills as good as Ryu-hwan, he was born out of wedlock. And since his mother was not the main wife but a lowly concubine, his status is actually not as high as some might think. He understands more about the world than Ryu-hwan and always tries to show off his superiority to Ryu-hwan (when in actuality he cares for respects Ryu-hwan as a friend).

His guise is a singer-wannabe, and it is hilarious to know that he can’t play the guitar for peanuts (at the beginning). And it was even funny seeing Ryu-hwan trailing him to his audition (wanting to find out what his ‘great mission’ was) only to discover that Hae-rang cannot play the guitar. The embarrassment that ensues was hilarious. However, Hae-rang soon puts a lot of hard work into learning how to play the guitar and he soon (midway towards the end of the movie) manages to play a simple tune.

I personally believe his mission was the most relaxed and easiest – being a wanna-be-singer. And I guessed it could have been his father wanting to spare him a life of hardship as much as possible. But I could be wrong.

Past his worldly playboy-ish exterior, it seems that there is more to Hae-rang as it is revealed towards the end of the movie that he used his position and actually helped smuggle many people out of North Korea to safety. He is somewhat disillusioned with life and knows that the life that he leads can be easily snuffed out, so he intends to live life to the fullest and end it with a grand bang (which he literally does at the end of the movie when he futilely sacrifices himself hoping that at least the others can live).

Lee Hyun-woo - Rhee Hae-jin
Rhee Hae-jin is the youngest secret agent in North Korean history. He is an excellent sniper and has a ‘crush’ on Ryu-hwan his hero and someone he looks up to. His sole purpose of becoming a sniper and maturing so fast was so that he could meet his idol - Ryu-hwan. It is adorable seeing him going all puppy eyes, yet denying his admiration for Ryu-hwan, whom he would so willingly kill for. It is a ongoing gag from the moment Hae-jin enters the movie with 'Should I kill him?' (Hae-jin asking Ryu-hwan is he should kill a person simply because he was being mean to Ryu-hwan) 'No!' (Ryu-hwan’s somewhat horrified face and reaction).

Hae-jin’s sole purpose of living is Ryu-hwan, and so when he is captured by the South Korean agency, he volunteers to assist them only if they let Ryu-hwan live. Despite being injured, he escapes from his shackles and takes down the North Korean snipers that are shooting at his precious Ryu-hwan. His perspective of the world is very simplistic, only black and white exist, there is no grey. This is also the reason why he naively though that the South Korean agency were going to kill them no matter, so he fired the first shot which soon led to his and Ryu-hwan’s deaths.

Other Characters
The characters in the village from Ryu-hwan’s adopted brother and mother, to the resident pretty girl next door and her brother, Ran – the smokaholic with a sad past (and assets to be reckoned with), and the two resident little boys who often ‘bully’ Ryu-hwan (in his idiot mode) all tie in nicely into the development of Ryu-hwan’s character into becoming a more warm-hearted person who learns how to care for others.

Actually there was an ex- the 5446 Corps who had defected and wanted to help them live (seeing them being so young); he even went against orders to not meddle in the issue. But this movie was meant to have a tragic ending, so tragic it was, but at least there were some kind intentions.

It was sad, but it was ambiguous at the end (a hint which tells his adopted mother to take care and not get sick) which might indicate that Ryu-hwan is still alive (who knows?). Minus the lack of a real plot (just don’t think too much into the plot and go with the flow), the character development of the 3 spies worked out somehow and the ending, while sad, wasn’t as tragic as it could have been; a lingering bittersweet aftertaste that was somewhat satisfactory (it fit the storyline and direction). If there was a drama series with more backdrops on the spies characters and more of their fun banter and interactions, there would have been more time to explore all the emotions and storylines that this story had to offer. But for now, I think this movie did a pretty good job, it might not have been stellar but it was good enough. 

Rating: 3.5/5


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