Film review: The Berlin File, EIFF

IT SEEMS oddly appropriate that a Berlin-set, South Korean-produced espionage thriller should feel like a movie cleaved in two.



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Putting a Korean spin on classic Cold War spy films of old, The Berlin File spends much of its first hour laying out a convoluted – if not particularly sophisticated – tale of deception and betrayal, before unleashing a full-scale, beautifully choreographed action assault in its second.

Such unevenness makes it less immediately entertaining than a movie featuring Mission: Impossible-style exploding phones and low-tech Bond gadgets (one sinister North Korean bad guy uses a poison-dispensing pen to off his targets) really should.

It’s also hard not to scoff at the corniness of some of dialogue and performances (particularly the English-language ones) when the film is also clearly attempting to tap into the Euro-moodiness of the Bourne films.

Nevertheless, once director Seung-wan Ryoo – who made the impressively punchy The City of Violence a few years back – is done laying the ground work for his preposterously plotted film (which sees various intelligence community operatives attempting to get their hands on a secret bank account allegedly belonging to the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il), he certainly doesn’t stint on delivering maximum mayhem. Indeed, his strengths as a director of propulsive action come to the fore in a series of fluidly choreographed sequences that genuinely up the ante of the sort of close quarters, hand-to-hand combat and bullet-spraying gun play that has become ubiquitous in action cinema.

As he pinballs his antihero – a betrayed NK intelligence agent played with commanding authority by Ha Jung-woo – around the city, across rooftops and, at one point, off the side of a building (breaking his fall as he goes with plate glass and steel girders), Ryoo delivers a useful blueprint for anyone looking to make action scenes count again.

• Cineworld, Edinburgh, today, 6pm