Secret Reunion (also known as Blood Brothers) is a buddy movie which also manages, for the most part, to have an edge. Agent Lee Han Kyu (Song Kang-Ho) was once a senior cop in the National Intelligence Agency, until a tip-off led him to stage what ultimately becomes a botched attempt to prevent a mysterious North Korean assassin, known only as “Shadow”, from killing a defector who has written a book critical of the Pyongyang leadership. Unorthodox in his approach and fiercely anti-communist, Lee finds himself kicked out of the Agency by senior management and branded a liability. The same incident saw another North Korean spy, Song Jiwon (Kang Dong-Won), branded as a traitor when he prevented Shadow from killing the defector’s child. Six years on, Lee and Song stumble across each other. Lee is now working as a private investigator tracking down run away mail order brides, when he wanders onto a building site and nearly gets beaten to death by a pack of Vietnamese migrant labourers. Only Song’s intervention – he has been on the run all this time and is working on the site – saves him. Lee hires Song to help him in his work. Recognising Song as a communist agent, Lee hopes he can use the North Korean to track down others spies and earn his rehabilitation with the Agency. Song, whose fervour for the North Korean cause is starting to waver, starts spying on Lee in the hope that he can get back into Pyongyang’s good graces and return to his wife and child. Neither is aware the other is secretly plotting against them.
Hence the scene is set for unlikely partnership. Although the two men have diametrically opposed worldviews, both are exiles, cut off from former careers and families. Lee is divorced and pines for his daughter now living in London. Song’s wife and child are on the other side of the border. There’s also a quirky Odd Couple element to the tension. Lee is fast-talking hustler living a messy, shambolic life, in contrast to the largely silent and aesthete Song.
While Jang works Secret Reunion for laughs, this is leavened by a couple of bloody shoot-outs, the second of which occurs when Song is reactivated by a much older Shadow to assist in the killing of another defector. Not only does this provide the opportunity for the bloodthirsty assassin to meet his end, it is also a chance for Song to prove he is a changed man and a real friend to Lee. The predictable nature of this ending is not a problem, so much as the slightly glib way it is executed. Jang spends nearly two hours building up tension and conflict between his central characters only to have all of it easily resolved within minutes.
The second highest grossing film in South Korea in 2010, it’s easy to see why Secret Reunion was so popular with audiences. At its core, the story is about how, despite their different political systems, the people of the two Koreas are not all that different. Secret Reunion was the second feature for director Jang Hoon. His first, Rough Cut in 2008, dealt with a gangster who wants to be an actor.
Secret Reunion was shown as part of Korean Film Festival in Australia. More details are available at www.koffia.com.au
Andrew Nette is a writer and film buff based in Melbourne, Australia. His blog Pulp Curry focuses on crime fiction and film from Asia and Australia.