The Berlin File – Superb Korean Spy Thriller

For fans of Korean films, the new action thriller The Berlin File is definitely not to be missed.

Written and directed by the talented Ryu Seung-wan with a dynamite cast comprising of Ha Jung-woo, Han Suk-kyu, Ryu Seung-beom and Jeon Ji-hyun, Berlin File makes for an extremely riveting two-hours.

A beautifully crafted, fast-paced, intense movie with a fiery, touching finale, Berlin File was more proof that my commitment to Korean films was not misplaced.

A complex spy thriller set in, of course, Berlin, The Berlin File is packed with multiple layers of deceit, betrayal, corruption, espionage, duty and love beautifully woven into the film.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il has died and his son Kim Jong-un is the new supreme leader of the country.

In this uncertain period of shifting loyalties, changing political alignments and suspicion of the old guard, a colorful hodgepodge including Russian arms dealers, the CIA, Mossad, North Korean and South Korean spies and the Arabs vie for advantage.

Superb Cast

Ha Jung-woo (of Yellow Sea and Chaser fame) plays a ruthless North Korean spy Pyo Jong-seong stationed in Berlin, a key European spy station previously involved in stashing away billions of dollars of the late Kim Jong-il’s ill-gotten wealth.

Whether as the maniacal sadistic killer in Chaser or the out-of-his-depth cabbie in Yellow Sea, Ha Jung-woo is a volcano demonstrating a gushing lava of talent.

Ha Jung-woo is no less impressive in the Berlin File, as he furiously battles multiple enemies while maintaining a steadfastย  commitment to his country and its all-powerful Communist party in the face of tremendous odds and constant treachery.

Nothing is as they appear to Pyo Jong-seong, not even his wife Ryeon Jung-hee.

Betrayal is an omnipresent threat.

The divinely beautiful Jeon Ji-hyun, the saucy star of the charming 2001 Korean romantic super-blockbuster My Sassy Girl, has a short but important role as Ryeon Jung-hee, wife of the North Korean spy.

Jeon Ji-hyun is not only drop-dead gorgeous but a remarkable actress.

Her soulful looks and fine performance melted and sent SI into paroxysms of delight.

Ryu Seung-beom (brother of director Ryu Seung-wan) is amazing as Dong Myung-soo, the cold-blooded, calculating, maniacal North Korean rival of Pyo Jong-seong.

A virtuoso performance so amazing that you actually begin to loath Dong Myung-soo by the end of the movie!

Han Suk-kyu plays the South Korean spy Jung Jin-soo relentlessly on the trail of his deadly North Korean foe Ha Jung-woo with great elan.

Folks, The Berlin File is not a Bourne or Double O’7 film with a monomaniacal focus on a single, souped up character flaunting fancy gadgets.

The Korean film is a much richer, more luscious spy thriller given its many characters and layers.

Thrilling Action

The writing is top-notch and the action scenes choreographed beautifully.

Reportedly made on a budget of $9 million (big by South Korean standards but chump change in Hollywood), The Berline File marks another triumph for the Korean film industry.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a gazillion times. South Koreans know the art of making movies and they’re getting better every year. Not like the Indian chutiyas, where (almost) every movie is worse than the previous one. heartily recommends The Berlin File to all lovers of high octane spy thrillers.

The Berlin File (with English subtitles) is playing in select theaters in the U.S. including at AMC 25 in Times Square NYC.

Related Posts: Reviews of Korean Films

13 Responses to "The Berlin File – Superb Korean Spy Thriller"

  1. Madmax673   March 1, 2013 at 1:15 am

    The trailer looks great!

    Unfortunately I am 250 miles away from AMC 25.

    If I get a gig around NYC I’ll watch it.

    Hoping it still plays.

    Or else I’ll have to wait until it comes out on Netflix. Responds:

    Check Fandango or Movietickets…it might be playing in one of the AMC, Regal or indie theatres in your area!

  2. Madmax673   March 1, 2013 at 11:00 pm

    Found one at Fairfax, VA (2:40pm). Not as long a drive to NYC. Less than half of it. Thanks. I’ll see if it’s worth the drive.

    And there is a good Thai restaurant closer at Falls Church. ๐Ÿ˜‰ No Dum Biryani there though. ๐Ÿ™ Responds:

    You’re never far from DumB Biryani on the East Coast! There are some Dum Biryani places in Fairfax, not far from Falls Church.

    Which is the Thai place in Falls Church?

    • Madmax673   March 2, 2013 at 2:54 am

      Elephant Jumps!

      This is a bit embarrassing coz…my last trip I tried getting there and I completely got lost and ended up at “Panda Express” (due to time constraints). I realized later that I was way too close to it and missed it.

      “Drunken Noodles”!!!

      I won’t miss it this time. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Responds:


      • Madmax673   March 4, 2013 at 12:20 pm

        Enjoyed this espionage flick. Thanks. Definitely worth the drive ๐Ÿ˜‰

        This Ha Jung-Woo guy is slowly growing on in me as a hero. From a villain – to an often ‘sandwich eating’ character role – to a fast action hero. The BG score supported the action scenes very well. I think they’re gonna make a sequel.

        I found the ‘nail popping’ scene to be a little gratuitous as I found myself fiddling with my nail for quite a while.

        I was wondering why the Korean chick wouldn’t get rid of her darn shoes while trying to escape. But I guess it later helps her to kick the guy in front driving the van. Smart Koreans ๐Ÿ˜‰

        BTW, Elephant Jumps was delicious!!!! The restaurant was fully packed that I had to wait for 15 minutes to get one seat. One of the most authentic ‘Drunken noodles’ I’ve ever had here. Good for hangover ๐Ÿ˜‰ Responds:

        1. I can’t for the life of me recollect the ‘nail popping’ scene that you mention.

        2. Ha Jung-woo was maniacal as the serial killer in The Chaser (on Netflix).

        3. I wonder why Thai restaurants don’t have buffets like Indian restaurants. ๐Ÿ™

        • Madmax673   March 4, 2013 at 4:08 pm

          SI: I canโ€™t for the life of me recollect the โ€˜nail poppingโ€™ scene that you mention.

          When Dong injects the “thingy” into the guy tied down to the chair. His nail breaks open scraping the armrest.

          SI: Ha Jung-woo was maniacal as the serial killer in ‘The Chaser’.

          Yeah, I saw that one. I think that’s the only movie I’ve seen Ha Jung – woo smile. Maybe coz he portrays a twisted serial killer!?

          It’s interesting that the director made him and Kim Yoon – seok kinda swap their roles in “The Yellow Sea”.


          Yeah, now I remember…the Ambassador!

          He was good too.


  3. Vinith   March 2, 2013 at 4:57 am

    Just returned from The Attacks of 26/11

    While it wasn’t bad, I wouldn’t praise RGV either because the movie is incomplete and there were a few factual inaccuracies too.

    Incomplete because RGV, for some unknown reason, chose to completely omit Operation Black Tornado by the NSG unit that ultimately put an end to the ordeal. The movie shows the events of the first day until the capture of Ajmal Kasab and then ends with his hanging.

    The movie is less than 2 hrs long. RGV could have made it 2.5 hrs and portrayed the entire incident instead of an incomplete picture.

    Several key events were left out and the movie paints an incomplete picture of the entire incident..

    The attacks on Leopold Cafe and the Taj Hotel(again, the attack on the Taj is incomplete) were portrayed with brutal reality and I was quite… well, I don’t have a word to express what I felt. Just can’t imagine how agonizing it must have been for the victims.

    If not for the slow motion and the stolen bgm from the game Max Payne, the attack on CST would have been equally shocking. The use of slow motion was unnecessary in my opinion. Responds:

    Was keen on seeing The Attacks of 26/11 but a drive of 170 miles is too much for any Indian film…unfortunately Naveen is also preoccupied this weekend.

    Hence no review of The Attacks of 26/11 on SI. ๐Ÿ™

    • Vinith   March 3, 2013 at 11:03 am

      It’s definitely not worth such a long drive.

  4. Vinith   March 2, 2013 at 5:16 am

    Btw, I saw Vanayudham yesterday.

    Very disappointed. The only saving grace was the depiction of Operation Cocoon, to nab the brigand. That was done quite well.

    It takes too many cinematic liberties and I didn’t quite get the feeling that I was watching a biopic of a man who eluded the police of three states for more than 2 decades.

    BUT, we need to keep in mind that it’s a much censored version that was released. So many audio portions are muted and several scenes chopped off, including Veerappan meeting Muthulakshmi and their marriage.

    The biggest problem is there’s no character development. We are never shown what kind of a person Veerappan was. The film portrays him as a ruthless criminal who doesn’t hesitate to kill. While Veerappan was indeed ruthless and never hesitated to kill, the man sure would have had a character and we never once see it in the film. Maybe it’s because the director wasn’t allowed the creative freedom he needed. Or maybe he was just lazy.

    It’s the second half depicting Operation Cocoon that saves this film from going into the hopelessly mediocre category. I just have the feeling the movie would have been at least decent if the director was given the freedom he needed, but who knows. Responds:

    It looks like but for Thupakki and Vishwaroopam, most Tamil films are kissing the dust.

    • Vinith   March 3, 2013 at 11:17 am

      Thuppakki was better than some of Vijay’s previous movies like Sura. The benchmark of comparison is just Vijay movies.

      Vishwaroopam seems to be a huge success and I’m not surprised one bit.

      If reports are true, then the sequel will be released later this year. Responds:

      Made by a thieving swine, Thuppakki is the kind of shit that only Tamils will love!

      • Vinith   March 5, 2013 at 12:46 am

        Agree. Vijay fans had been raving about the movie and his ‘extraordinary’ acting.

        I personally felt the movie made a mockery of the army and I didn’t think his acting was a big deal either, although it was a welcome relief that there weren’t any stupid punch dialogs.

        The reason I felt it was better than Vijay’s previous movies was that I expected it to be a Himalayan disaster and feared it would make me completely lose my sanity. Thankfully, I was sane when I walked out of the theater.

        I guess some Bollywood film makers show some talent and variety in genre than these clueless buffoons in the south. Although monstrosities like Dabangg 2 and Zila Ghaziabad do hit the screens, there are movies like Kahani, Ishqiya, Kai Po Che and others that leave us with some hope.

        Btw, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before. If you can understand Malayalam, you seriously need to watch some movies made in the state of Kerala. Although they aren’t of a high standard, many of the movies made there have a certain class. You can start off with Ustad Hotel, starring Dulquer Salman (son of the veteran actor Mamooty), Nithya Menon and the late actor Thilakan. Responds:

        1. I think a lot of these fan comments etc are rigged, sponsored by the stars/producers to create buzz and lure the idiots into the movie hall.

        2. Ustad Hotel looks interesting but I can’t get access to the DVD here.

        3. Nithya Menon has a certain class that eludes most of her peers! ๐Ÿ˜‰

        • Vinith   March 5, 2013 at 2:56 am

          “Nithya Menon has a certain class that eludes most of her peers!”

          If you’re referring to beauty, I agree. She looked so beautiful in Ustad Hotel.


          You write: If you’re referring to beauty, I agree.

          Class transcends beauty!

          • Vinith   March 5, 2013 at 9:53 pm

            Since you had used the wink emoticon, I thought you meant something else ๐Ÿ˜€


            No, I just meant that Nithya Menon has a certain je ne sais quoi about her that’s unusual among Indian actresses.

          • Vinith   March 6, 2013 at 7:13 am

            Yes, most Indian actresses are just beauty with zero talent.

            Rare exceptions are people like Vidya Balan and Tabu.

            Among the current crop, Nithya Menon does have some class.


            10 Indian actresses who also pack class – Shobana, Vidya Balan, Tabu, Nithya Menon, Preity Zinta, Meera Jasmine, Anushka Shetty, Konkona Sen, Kamalinee Mukherjee and Richa Gangopadhyay.

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