THE SPY GONE NORTH is a straightforwardly directed, but nonetheless gripping spy thriller set in mid-1990s South and North Korea that both educated me about political corruption on both sides of the border AND actually had me in tears by the end! Directed by Yoon Jong-bin using a script by Kwon Sung-hui, the film is a fictionalised retelling of the Black Venus saga - wherein a South Korean spy posed as a businessman and ended up fencing North Korean antiques to fund the regime and even got to meet Kim Jong-Il! The aim was to win the trust of the North Koreans so that he could scout out their alleged nuclear facilities to see if they were really active. So far so John le Carre. The weirder part of the story - or perhaps the more resonant in this age of Russian election interference - is how Black Venus uncovered his boss' plot to fix the SOUTH Korean elections in favour of the 50-year long ruling party. Apparently, every time the left-wing opposition looked likely to take power, the South would pay the North to launch a military incursion to scare Southern voters into voting for a right-wing strong man!
There's nothing not to like in this film. I was utterly invested in the mission of Park Suk-young and his unlikely friendship with the North Korean trade emissary, Director Ri. I loved the director's audaciousness in depicting the Supreme Leader. And I also loved his courage in showing us the cost of the Kim regime - famine, children picking over corpses. These scenes are rightly disturbing, and while the South also has its corruption, they prevent the viewer from drawing any false equivalences.
THE SPY GONE NORTH has a running time of 137 minutes. The film played Cannes 2018 and was released in the USA in August. It does not yet have a UK release date.
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