Despite relations warming somewhat over the past couple of years, North and South Korea has been in a state of war since 1953. In reality, this has taken many forms, but the cult of propaganda and the art of espionage have played a major role in their hostilities. Whilst the Cold War may have ended between the US and Russia, there’s still that sense of tension and suspicion on the Korean Peninsula. Jong-bin Yoon’s The Spy Goes North fictionalises one of the more dramatic moments in these two nations’ history.
During the 1990s, in an audacious bid to insinuate himself into the confidence of the North’s ruling class, secret agent Suk-young Park (Jung-min Hwang) quits his job, hits the bottle and gambles himself into a pile of debt before re-imagining himself as a tea-total businessman. Under this guise he goes to China to try and instigate a daring cross-border business deal and advertising contract. His real target is to infiltrate the enemy at the highest level and gain access to their nuclear weapons plans.
Whilst The Spy Gone North feels like a classic espionage thriller which could easily have come from the pen of le Carré, it’s actually inspired by the events surrounding a real spy codenamed ‘Black Venus’. Yoon mixes mystery, conspiracy and politics to create a web of intrigue and deceit whilst Hwang is outstanding as usual. The script eschews action in favour of twisting drama and subterfuge, ensuring danger is only one step away.
The Spy Gone North screens at London Film Festival on 16 October.