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Go featuring a CG animated gorilla, from the director of 200 Pound Beauty and Take Off. As the film opens, North Korean intelligence officer Pyo Jong-seong (Ha Jung-woo, Yellow Sea, The Terror Live) is negotiating an arms deal with a band of Middle Eastern terrorists. Many domestic viewers compared the film to the Jason Bourne series, but despite a few superficial concession to the latter's fragmentary style, The Berlin File is a throwback to the "serious" espionage thrillers of '60s and '70s, films such as The Quiller Memorandum (1966, also set in Berlin and written by Harold Pinter), A Dandy in Aspic (1968) and Three Days of Condor (1975).

(Written on April 11) Reviewed below: The Berlin File (Jan 30) -- How to Use Guys with Secret Tips (Feb 14) -- New World (Feb 21) -- Nobody's Daughter Haewon (Feb 28) -- Jiseul (Mar 21) -- Very Ordinary Couple (Mar 21) -- Horror Stories 2 (Jun 5) -- Cold Eyes (Jul 3) -- The Terror Live (Jul 31) -- The Face Reader (Sep 11) -- Our Sunhi (Sep 12) -- The Russian Novel (Sep 19) -- Hwayi: A Monster Boy (Oct 9) -- City: Hall (Oct 24) -- Blood and Ties (Oct 24) -- The Commitment (Nov 6) -- Steel Cold Winter (Nov 7) -- The Fake (Nov 21). Ryoo, who also penned the film's unusually (for him) taut screenplay, again seems to have achieved what he does arguably better than almost any other Korean filmmaker: to come up with a film firmly grounded in the Euro-American genre conventions and at the same time in the unique features of the Korean historical experience-in this case, a bona fide Cold War espionage film entirely bereft of nostalgia, for the simple reason that for North and South Koreans of today the Cold War still remains an unassailable "reality." I initially approached The Berlin File with some trepidation, since what I had heard through grapevine about the film made me anticipate something on the order of a commercialized hybrid between The City of Violence (2006) and Park Chan-wook's Joint Security Area (2000), in which the North-South relations, perhaps in the form of a macho male-bonding between Northern and Southern agents, would be at the center stage.

Another film that drew much notice was the low-budget feature Jiseul, about 1948 massacre of civilians on the island of Jeju.

Shot in Jeju dialect, the exquisitely crafted film won the top prize in the World Dramatic Cinema competition at Sundance before opening in Korea in March.

In the end, exciting and beautifully rendered as they are, I cannot help wonder if the movie really needed these head-spinning action set pieces.

All in all, The Berlin File is a flawed but terrific and gutsy espionage film.

Here, his casting of Ha Jung-woo and Jeon Ji-hyun is excellent.

Ha may not be as brilliant as, say, Song Kang-ho, in conveying tormented psychological inner workings of the outwardly taciturn warrior, but he still commands the screen with bristling charisma (one of his best-known, pre-stardom stage roles, by the way, was, appropriately, Othello).

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Lee originally learned boxing as part of her preparation to act in a TV drama, but then she continued training and eventually won several amateur boxing championships in the 48kg weight category.

Oh is a theater actor who has appeared in many supporting roles over the years, but his performance in this film has earned him special attention.

Despite being the object of ridicule in numerous scenes, his underlying, offbeat charm runs constant throughout the film.

fter a record-breaking box office run in 2012, Korean cinema continued to flex its muscles in the early part of 2013.

Theatrical admissions for local films in the first quarter of 2013 were the highest of any three-month period in Korean film history, thanks to hits like Ryoo Seung-wan's The Berlin File, gangster epic New World and especially the sentimental comic drama Miracle in Cell No. The latter film, featuring an ensemble cast led by RYU Seung-ryong, became the third best-selling Korean film in history with close to 13 million admissions.

Praise is also due to the veteran Park Young-gyu (Attack the Gas Station), who plays the video salesman and appears as the presenter in the video segments themselves.

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