Cinema With Seoul: Secret Reunion (2010, Dir. Jang Hun)

Secret Reunion - Dong-won Kang and Kang-ho Song

I went into Secret Reunion not knowing or expecting anything. In fact, before the Korean cultural society had announced their lineup for the Jang Hun + 1 series, I had never even heard of it. What I had expected to be a ghost-murder-romantic-comedy turned out to be an action-packed delight, filled with highly developed and lovable characters, outrageous fight scenes, and a plot which spanned the entire spectrum of human emotion. I would say Secret Reunion made me laugh and cry, but I’m pretty sure I’m too full of hate to feel anything.

The film opens with Song Ji-won (played by Dong-won Kang of Duelist,) sitting patiently at his computer in a small, sparsely furnished room. He’s reading a bedtime story to his unborn child over the phone (the mother is holding the phone up to her pregnant stomach, so get those sick ideas out of your head), and you can tell from these brief few seconds he truly cares about and misses his family. It’s a brief, yet touching scene which cleverly coaxes you into painting a mental portrait of this character’s life. Perhaps he’s a student, a courier, or soldier stationed away from his family, working as hard as he can to provide for them, and on some level, it opens up a connection to the audience.

Yet then the film snaps into action, immediately dragging us along with it. Song Ji-won receives a code via email. He abruptly hangs up on his wife and furiously begins to decode it in such a swift and emotionless change of face that the viewer is forced to disregard everything the film had made you believe about him. Through the following sequence, the viewer is introduced to Lee Han-kyu, a south Korean intelligence officer (Kang-ho Song of Sympathy for Mr. Vengance and The Host) decoding the same message received just seconds earlier by Song Ji-won. What ensues is a tale of espionage, betrayal and friendship.

This introduction really set the pace of the story that follows, a slow start to a bit of character development will be contrasted with a sudden full throttle, hyper-action sequence, the film weaving comfortably back and forth between emotional and action driven. Motives and intentions are often sudden, shifting, or obsolete. In one moment, Song Ji-won is a loving father or a moral friend, and in the next, he is a bloodthirsty spy on the loose, saving the national armada.

While at times a bit schizophrenic, I found Secret Reunion to be extremely fun and engaging. Throughout the film Hun manages to weave together scenes of silly slapstick and horrific brutality in a truly captivating way. Characters are dancing in a bathroom, then murdering women in cold blood. Song Ji-won and Lee Han-kyu’s relationship develops like two lovers in a rom-com, and then they’re stabbing and shooting one another.

And don’t forget the fighting. While Song Ji-won’s fighting reflects his slight frame, sleek, efficient, and sexy, Lee Han-kyu is a lumbering golem, sloppily and effectively barging his way through his attacks. Kang-ho Song’s demeanor and physique betray his talent, and because of this he always creates surprisingly rich characters with unexpectedly complex qualities. If you’ve seen Thirst or The Show Must Go On, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

In the end Secret Reunion is a must see. The action is intense, the story is engaging, and the production is top-notch. This film definitely wins Cannes.

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