"The Berlin File" is a South Korean version of action-thrillers with conspiracy and spy elements and twists in the key of "The Bourne Identity". The entire movie takes place in the German capital Berlin which gives the whole thing a more international flair even though some parts were clearly filmed in Latvia's capital Riga which feels a little bit goofy.
The strongest points of the movie are the action scenes and in particular the brutal hand to hand combats. The special effects are also decent. The fast paced fighting sequences, the intriguing locations and the overall rather dark atmosphere of the movie quickly get you hooked.
The acting is of an average quality. While the actors are good, the characters lack depth due to an average script quality. My favourite character is the evil North Korean agent because he really incarnates an unpredictable psycho that has a unique way to act and talk. The two main characters including a loyal North Korean agent and a rather straight South Korean agent are rather faceless on the other side.
The weakest part of the movie is the conspiracy plot. The first thirty minutes of the film are pretty much confusing and introduce us to too many random different characters and stereotypical organizations: snobbish CIA agents, corrupt German politicians, brutal and closed- minded Islamist terrorists, intimidating Mossad agents, emotionless, loyal and silent on one side and loyal and pitiless North Korean agents on the other, bitter anti-communist agents from South Korea, Russian arms dealers and so on. The high amount of characters hides the fact that there isn't all too much going on concerning the story itself. The first half of the movie seems really promising but especially the last forty-five minutes are rather weak and mix overlong chasing and shooting scenes with wooden tearjerker moments.
In the last five minutes, the movie pulls out a twist like a rabbit out of a hat. Usually, I like twisted endings and especially the South Korean cinema has come around with some promising closures in the past. This one here feels pretty much constructed though and only seems to be there to give some room for a possible sequel. I hope South Korea won't go this stretched Hollywood way.
In the end, I expected a much more original and twisted conspiracy thriller from a country that has come around with the world's most innovating movies in the past fifteen years. "The Berlin File" is though only a good average to good action-thriller that can't mess with the status of the James Bond or Jason Bourne series. The clash between North and South Korean agents has been portrayed in more detailed and convincing ways in movies such as "Shiri", "Joint Security Area" and "Typhoon" for example. These three films are all above the quality of this one. I would still recommend this movie to faithful fans of international action-thrillers but this film had the potential to be much more than just easy entertainment. My final rating would be situated somewhere between six and seven points.
"2009: Lost Memories" is a science-fiction-thriller inspired by the famous novel "Looking For An Epitaph" by Bok Geo-Il in 1987 even though the author didn't want to have anything to do with this adaption. One must keep in mind that the novel is more than twenty-five years and that the movie is already twelve years old as well because some things predicted in the plot are mildly amusing nowadays such as the potential reunification of North and South Korea in 2008. Many people argue that this film is too patriotic and that Koreans didn't get over the things the Japanese did to them during their invasion. Obviously, the film depicts Japanese as greedy megalomaniacs that have no respect for Korean culture. It would have been pleasant to see a few more sympathetic Japanese in this flick to give the movie a more open-minded approach. On one side, I can perfectly understand the greed many Asian peoples still feel towards the Japanese. On the other side, Korean and Japanese actors collaborate in this movie and show us that these nations can appreciate each other and perfectly work together nowadays. The reality is obviously not as dark as some government officials want to suggest us and it's a far call from this dystopian movie as well. I don't see this film as a propaganda movie or a political statement and one shouldn't analyze it all too much. It simply is a dystopian film settled in an alternate history where the failed assassination of a Japanese governor leads to a dramatic turn of events where the Japanese would win World War II and still occupy the Korean peninsula in the present.
The plot is obviously nothing really new but fans of dystopian science- fiction movies like "1984", "A Clockwork Orange", "Fahrenheit 451", "Soylent Green", "Rollerball", "Battle Royale", "Equilibrium", "V For Vendetta" and even "The Hunger Games" or "Divergent" should like some parts of this movie. In this film, a mysterious Korean resistance group called "Hureisenjin" steals museum artifacts to open a portal that should help them to travel back in time and change the course of Korean history back to normal. This radical group that is ready to sacrifice itself and the life of others to fight for Korean independence faces an institution called the Japanese Bureau of Investigation where two friends, a Korean and a Japanese cop, try to arrest them. The Korean cop denies and even despises his Korean culture as his father was a cop that betrayed the JBI and abandoned his family to help the "Hureisenjin". The investigation has personal issues for this cop and he soon starts to lose his tempers and his neutrality. When he is about to discover the fact that he is living a big lie in an alternative timeline and that the Japanese manipulated history to control the Korean peninsula, his Japanese superiors suspend him from the case. The Korean cop though continues his investigations that lead him to important historical events that took place in China and Russia. As he gets closer to the secret and is about to change his mind about his origins, he gets attacked by an assailant in his apartment. When his mentor gets killed instead and the cop survives, he gets blamed for the murder by his superiors and realizes that he is the victim of an incredible conspiracy. The cop seeks the help of the "Hureisenjin" and ends up being a key element in their quest to change history back to normal.
The story is intriguing enough to carry this movie but the acting is only of a good average quality. Some characters could have been depicted in a more profound way such as the Japanese cop and his wife or the mysterious female leader of the resistance group. I think that the movie should have focused on the difficult friendship between the Japanese and the Korean cop because this is by far the movie's strongest element. The weird visions and the strange connection between the main character and the female leader of the "Hureisenjin" are rather stereotypical, wooden and ultimately a letdown. Some parts of the movie are a little bit too melodramatic as well such as the slow motion scenes where a young boy gets killed during an assault. It seems to me that the movie focuses more on the predictable and supposedly tear-jerking elements instead of using its true strengths. I must also admit that the atmospheric first half of the movie around the investigation case is much more original and tense than the predictable and lengthy second half where all secrets are quickly revealed. It would have been more interesting to make an out-thought mini-series of this plot than a movie where the intriguing elements are cut off to focus on annoying mainstream passages.
Fans of dystopian movies and all those who are interested in Japanese and Korean cinema will still like many parts of this movie. It's not the masterpiece it could have been but still watchable enough to get entertained rather well. The promising elements in the first half of the plot definitely made me want to read the original novel in the end.
We are used to the greatness of contemporary South Korean cinema by now and "The Devil's Game" is another excellent addition to the collection of any serious movie maniac. The film is basically a mixture of a drama and a thriller with a few minor science-fiction elements that kick the story off. The movie is atmospheric, well acted and includes a major twist in the end. It includes many artistic elements. Just the choice of the impressive paintings shown in the movie is excellent. The philosophical inspirations and the intense ending give you a lot of food for thoughts. As many contemporary South Korean movies, this films also critically explores the differences between rich and poor in the country. This some sort of a slow cultural change as elders and billionaires are usually much respected in that country. This movie is not the first one that depicts the old and rich as dominant and ruthless and the young and poor as naive and pure. Watch the remake of "The Housemaid" or "The Taste of Money" for example.
The greatness already lies in the story but you have to observe closely to understand all the issues in this movie and it's maybe even worth to watch it twice. A rich old man who has controlled, exploited and manipulated all his life is about to die but dreams of eternal youth. He sets up a twisted game and somebody happens to choose an ambitious, poor and young artist as his opponent. The game is simple. The old and the young man call a random number and must guess if a man or a woman answers the call. The old man offers the young artist to become a billionaire if he wins. On the other side, the young has to offer something of an equal value. The naive artist believes that he has to become the old man's servant or slave but the price he has to pay is much higher. In the beginning, the young artist refuses to play the game and leaves the mansion but when he sees that his girlfriend and her family are beaten up because of some serious debts, he changes his mind and accepts the challenge. After several tumultuous events, the young artist dramatically loses the bet and realizes that he has an incredible price to pay. He has to offer his body to the old man to realize his dream of eternal youth. In a complicated surgery, the old man's brain is put into the young man's body and vice versa. When the old man in the young body awakens, he feels strong again and quickly starts to repeat the mistakes of his past life. He also tries to get close to the young man's girlfriend as well and pays off her debts. In the end, he really seems to fall in love with the woman who realizes that he is acting strangely. The young man in the old body awakens and feels sad and weak. He knows that he has only a few months to live. In the beginning, he seems to abandon but with the help of his uncle and a woman that had been betrayed by the old man as well, he starts to look for a way to get his former body and his girlfriend back.
The movie then introduces us to strong acting parts and a few promising plot ideas. Sadly, not all ideas are well employed and some of them quickly go nowhere or are not further explained towards the end. The movie has some lengths in the middle part where we see an arrogant, lonely and superficial old man in a young body and a desperate, insecure and whining young man in an old body. These parts between the thirty and sixty minutes into the movie include too much repetition in my opinion but the tense second half of the movie and especially the creative ending are worth the wait.