2017’s Fantasia Film Festival runs July 13th through August 2nd.
Original plots in films are few and far between, so it’s always nice when you come across one. Barring that though you hope that a familiar narrative will at least be executed with skill to the point that the lack of originality becomes an afterthought. Confidential Assignment is not the least bit original, but happily it’s an absolute blast anyway delivering exciting action, big laughs, and charm for days.
Im Chul-ryung (Hyun Bin) is a North Korean censor guard who works hard for the supreme leader without question, but his priorities shift when a high-ranking officer goes rogue, kills several countrymen, and escapes to the South with counterfeit plates worth millions (and guaranteed to cause an international incident if discovered). Im is dispatched after him in the guise of a Northern detective seeking a simple criminal for extradition back home, and he’s paired with a Southern detective named Kang (Yoo Hae-jin) in the pursuit. Both countries are lying to each other and holding information back, and the two men follow suit — at least at first.
Director Kim Seong-hoon‘s film is familiar from beginning to end, most notably in comparison to Walter Hill’s 1988 action romp, Red Heat, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Belushi, and the story ultimately holds few surprises. But some minor CG quibbles aside the familiar is crafted into something fresh through sheer willpower resulting in a movie that rarely falters in delivering on the entertainment.
Bin and Yoo have terrific chemistry even as men who differ physically — the former is fit, attractive, and deadly serious while the latter hasn’t seen any of those traits in years — and clash in attitudes and ideals. The well-worn concept of cop partners who are opposites is played here to the hilt, but the actors sell both the divide between them and the common needs that draw them together as begrudging friends. Much of the humor is found in their banter and situations, but it’s never overplayed at the expense of the drama or danger.
And there’s plenty of danger to be found as the film delivers action on a regular basis in the form of sharp, brutal fight scenes, vehicular fun, and one hell of a foot chase, all captured with attractive efficiency by cinematographer Lee Sung-je whose memorable work on The Chaser and The Yellow Sea has left him well-versed in his art-form of choice. The fights, particularly those featuring Im, hit hard with sound design that lends weight to each impact. They’re well-choreographed but intentionally lack a grace — these are people fighting to survive, and while the moves impress they’re exist more in a world of necessity than style. The foot chase blends the best of ones found in Point Break and The Presidio while adding an athleticism all its own.
The differing values between the North and South are equally criticized for the differing disservices they do their citizens, and while it’s clear the former is the more villainous this isn’t a film setting out to blindly slam the actual populace. It recognizes a distinction between those in power and those being made to feel powerless but never devolves too heavily into the seriously dramatic implications.
As mentioned the script is overflowing in the familiar, but more egregious is its dismissal of female characters as little more than nagging family members and crying hostages. It’s too often the norm in the genre, and recent films like The Villainess and Atomic Blonde prove once again how unnecessary it is. They earn laughs and work as character motivation, but it’s lazy all the same.
Confidential Assignment doesn’t flip the script or reinvent the narrative wheel, but it’s never less than engaging in its tale of two men from opposite sides of the wall finding common ground. Fans of films like The Suspect and Secret Reunion will find this to be every bit as much fun. Which is to say… a lot of fun.
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