Sunday, July 16, 2017

Fantasia ’17: Confidential Assignment

Apparently, Cha Gi-sung must have assassinated too many of Kim Jung-on’s family members in airports, because he developed a taste for luxuries such as food while abroad. Disillusioned with the Kim Dynasty, Cha wants to live the good life and thanks to his security clearance, he knows how to fund it. Supposedly, the pariah state suspended its dollar counterfeiting project when it was embarrassingly exposed, but instead they doubled down developing a set of “super plates.” Of course, he left a trail of dead bodies all the way to Seoul. As a result, two wary cops from opposite sides of the DMZ will reluctantly team up to catch the rogue commando in Kim Sung-hoon’s Confidential Assignment (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Det. Kang Jin-tae does not trust his temp partner, because it makes no sense for the DPRK to go to such diplomatic trouble to catch a garden variety criminal. Likewise, Det. Lim Cheol-ryung distrusts Kang, because exposure of the super plates would badly damage North Korean face. However, he really doesn’t care about all that. He wants revenge for his wife and fellow unit-member, who was murdered by Cha during the plate heist.

Naturally, Kang and Lim spend most of the first act and a good part of the second spying on each other and trying to slip away. However, as Lim gets to know Kang’s incredibly cute family (wife Park So-yeon, sister-in-law Park Min-young, played by K-Pop idol Yoona, and young daughter Yeon-a), Lim starts to warm to his partner-minder. Kang also starts to care less about the geopolitics and more about bringing the murderous Cha to justice.

Basically, Confidential is Red Heat with more denial. At least it shows Lim getting tortured after Cha’s escape from the North, because that is how they motivate people up there. Regardless, the action is pretty good. In fact, the film was marketed in Korea as the action debut of Hyun Bin (so memorable in Late Autumn). He can certainly do strong and silent, so he carries off the shoot-outs and fight scenes rather nicely.

As usual, Yoo Hai-jin is definitely there to provide the comedy, but also effectively accentuates the Kang’s down-to-earth, everyman qualities, making him an easy figure to identify with. Yet, the film’s best asset is Kim Ju-hyeok, who plays Cha with Mephistophelean charm. Given his charisma and the legitimate basis of his grievances, audiences might start rooting for him instead (or maybe that’s just me).

Not surprisingly, Assignment manages to clock in just over the two-hour mark, but the pacing is still pretty zippy. Yoo and Hyun Bin develop some decent bickering buddy chemistry, while Yoona and Jang Young-nam deliver the human interest. Despite its le Carré-like suggestions of moral equivalency, Yoon Hyeon-ho screenplay can’t be accused of glamorizing the North. It is sufficiently entertaining, but the potential sequel teased at the end of the film has an even more intriguing premise. Recommended for fans of the fish-out-of-water buddy-cop action movies, Confidential Assignment screens this afternoon (7/16) as part of this year’s Fantasia, in Montreal.