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'The Berlin File' review: A wild dog running in circles

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The Berlin File


Now available on DVD (release date: December 24, 2013) from CJ Entertainment:

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Pyo Jong-seong (Ha Jung-woo, known for "The Chaser") is a North Korean agent without a record; in common terms he is a ghost. He's sent in undercover to investigate an international weapons deal, which goes south and puts a bullseye on Pyo's back. With Korea and Israel currently foaming at the mouth wanting Pyo dead, even Pyo's wife Ryun Jung-hee (Gianna Jun of "Blood: The Last Vampire" fame), a translator for the North Korean ambassador, is pulled into the mix. To make matters worse, another North Korean agent named Dong Myung-soo (Ryu Seung-beom, "Crying Fist") is sent in with his short temper and diabolical tendencies to clean up the mess Pyo now finds himself in. With a wife seemingly working for the enemy, his country doubting his abilities, and every other country out for his blood, Pyo must choose where his loyalties really lie even if he doesn't survive.

At the beginning of "The Berlin File," we see Pyo nursing his wounds before ripping some kind of medication from the innards of a dead fish he throws into a sink. Meanwhile, Korean agent Jung Jin-soo (Han Suk-kyu, "Shiri") has his entire operation dissolve from underneath him because of Pyo and is hellbent on bringing him in. The film is reminiscent of spy thrillers like "Enemy of the State" and "The Recruit." Nearly everything in "The Berlin File" falls onto the shoulders of Pyo, but his actions have repercussions that trickle down into other agencies from not only other countries but also his own and since Pyo answers to Ri Hak-soo (Lee Geung-young, "War of the Arrows"), the North Korean ambassador to Germany, there are political ties riding on the events that take place.

Ryu Seung-beom steals every scene he's allowed to be in. The South Korean actor is impressive in every outing including the likes of "Guns & Talks," "The Suicide Forecast," and "Doomsday Book," but he's arguably the best part of "The Berlin File." Dong is an agent who's not afraid to get his hands dirty. He injects this strange black liquid into his enemies and then takes pride in watching them squirm until they die. The apartment fight is the best action sequence in the film since it features an extremely hard fought and bone crunching battle between Pyo and a random goon followed by an extremely flashy glass sequence that gets a little too elaborate in its final moments.

The Ryoo Seung-wan ("The City of Violence," "Crying Fist") directed film has this ball and chain strapped to it that restrains it from being the edge of your seat thriller it attempts to be. Even though there's moments of exciting action and the reassembling of a government hierarchy violently taking place in front of you, "The Berlin File" is strapped to its restraints by its slow, meandering pace. It is really difficult to get absorbed in what's going on as you find yourself glancing at the clock wondering if the film's two hour duration is anywhere near its conclusion. The finale takes place in a wheat field, is completely chaotic and filled with bloody mayhem, and semi-satisfying, but is then followed up with this half-cocked cliffhanger that doesn't really solve anything. It's basically a slap on the wrist and everyone who's still alive still doing what they've always done. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

"The Berlin File" has moments of excellence that mostly reside in its hard to come by violent moments and Ryu Seung-beom's performance, but the film feels very sporadic, stretched out, and tiresome the majority of the time. Several government agencies may be turned inside out in "The Berlin File," but it's honestly just like watching a wild dog run in circles for 120 minutes.


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