The South Korean film Shiri marks the very first time I've seen a South Korean film, and was the last one which I saw Song Kang-ho play a role of an intelligence agent, and a supporting one at that. Fast forward till today, he is already an established actor who has taken on various roles in different genres, some times heroic, other times confused, some buffoony even. But one thing's for sure is the actor's charisma which defies any typecasting.
Here he plays Agent Lee Han-kyu of the National Intelligence Service, a bumbling one who's stagnated in his career which has them on the constant move and pitting their skills against the more cunning North Korean counterparts, who have infiltrated the South in order to carry out assassination orders by the North Korean leader on the many defectors from the communist state. Opening the film is a tense action sequence complete with high speed pursuits and spy versus spy stuff, with a group of sleeper cell assassins being activated through coded websites to take out Kim Jung-Il's second cousin, whose book published in the South is deemed as blasphemous.
Kang Dong-won plays Ji-won, a relatively new North Korean spy member who goes on that fateful mission under the watchful eyes of veteran assassin nicknamed Shadow (Jeon Gook-hwan), and because of his soft-hearted nature, he gets branded a traitor of the state for not willing to deliver killing blows to the enemies, and hence becomes a wanted man in his own country. And the mission proves to be a turning point for Agent Lee as well, with him being made the scapegoat of the botched operation and having to leave the agency in disgrace.
This pivotal event brings us forward 6 years later, where Lee is now a private investigator who specializes in finding runaway foreign brides, and the other being a foreman in a construction site. Soon the two once-adversaries meet, and strangely enough, the film then converts into a light comedy, since the both decide to lead a symbiotic relationship together, each wanting to be able to dish out some dirt on the other, so that they can redeem themselves and go back to the life they once knew. For Lee, it's the prospect of wanting to smash the sleeper cell that Ji-won belongs to in order to claim substantial reward money, and Ji-won to become the mole for the North Koreans since he's living in Lee's house and working as his PI agency employee, and to utilize Lee's experience to find his comrade-in-arms who disappeared since the botched mission, but little does both man know they no longer have active ties to their past.
Much of the mirth comers from each trying to second guess the other, and both actors put on fine performances as adversaries who will eventually find that inevitable path to friendship and trust. While Song Kang-ho is effervescent in his role of Lee in being bumbling but without being stupid, Kang Dong-won holds his own against his rival as the man whose good looks betrays the deadly skills he possesses in dispatching opponents, and fleshes out the more emotional of the two characters with aplomb. Their shared chemistry is what makes it believable that they have the potential to buddy up, although of course writer-director Jang Hun has other plans in order to spice up the plot in the final act to leave you guessing just who will be pushed over the edge based on their friendship, keeping in mind both potentially face treason for putting up the other silently.
All in, The Secret Reunion contains solid action sequences with themes on uneasy friendship and brotherhood, boosted by fine performances from the cast. The narrative may feel a little bit of sag in the middle act though, but ultimately, it gets the job done and its themes through.