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‘The Berlin File’

by Kaori Shoji

When you think about the impact the Cold War had on spy films, it seems downright wrong that movies about North and South Korea are hardly ever made and when they are, they rarely reach multiplexes in the West. “The Berlin File” tackles the North/South monster and comes out tops — it’s a sound, well-crafted sample of the political spy genre, combining the brain-teaser aspects of the “Bourne” series and the kinetic muscle ballet of John Woo. South Korean director Ryu Seung-wan pays tribute to his neighborsin the Hermit Kingdom by installing a North Korean undercover agent as the heroic centerpiece, and plopping him in that romantic city of spies: Berlin.

Prepare to sympathize for the plight of protagonist Pyo Jong Seong (Ha Jung-woo), an honorable but unimaginative North Korean agent who dons the standard spy garb of trench coats and black jackets. He’s up against the Mossad, the South Koreans, the Russians and possibly his wife (cutiepie Gianna Jun), who’s a translator at their embassy in Berlin and is herself pursued.

As double-crossings abound, attention centers around the titular file. What’s in it? No one seems to know, but they’re panting to get their hands on it. Ryu’s desperate, abs-and-fists fight scenes keep you occupied as a small but significant truth hits home: muscles are more beautiful than guns.