Starring: Hwang Jung-min, Lee Sung-min, Cho Jin-woong
Director: Yoon Jong-bin
Running Time: 137 mins
The Spy Gone North is a South Korean film about the true story of a South Korean secret agent who, after being tasked with infiltrating North Korea’s nuclear facilities, became embroiled in a political conspiracy involving both countries’ leading elites.
Diving deep into the world of domestic Korean politics like few other films, The Spy Gone North straddles the border in style with an intriguing, albeit not quite thrilling espionage story. Based on real life, the insight that the film offers into the upper echelons of Korean politics at a significant moment in history for both countries.
Following a spy who finds himself deeply embedded among the North Korean elites, The Spy Gone North has all the ingredients of a cagey, tense thriller with the highest of stakes. Nuclear weapons, the democratic future of South Korea and so much more is on the line here, and you’d think that would make for a mouth-watering watch.
Unfortunately, the film is never quite as intensely exciting as it could be in that regard. There’s certainly a bubbling tension and intrigue throughout, but that comes more from the film’s topic and biographical nature rather than any emotional intensity borne out of its subject matter.
As a result, The Spy Gone North lacks a certain edge that could have made it an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride. However, that doesn’t mean it’s completely devoid of drama, and it’s fair to say that what the film lacks in emotional intensity it more than makes up for in gripping historical detail.
Not only does the movie offer a riveting insight into the inner workings of the North Korean government (albeit likely with a degree of poetic license taken by South Korean filmmakers), but it also takes aim at the elites of South Korea in the lead-up to a monumental election at the end of the 1990s.
With the prospect of the South Korean government changing hands for the first time in five decades, and increasing instability across the border in Pyongyang, this film goes all in as it details the drama and cagey intrigue that played out between the two countries’ highest authorities.
In that, you can watch The Spy Gone North more as a historical drama than a great thriller. Intriguing it certainly is, and you’ll struggle to find another film with the same insight and depth on this subject matter, even if it doesn’t quite manage to turn that into the world’s most exhilarating thriller. So, that’s why I’m giving it a 6.9 overall.