There has been a steady stream of South Korean action & thriller films over the past few years with differing levels of quality and success but hunting through the many releases there are a number of gems and this year’s London Korean Film Festival provided at least one such gem. Secret Reunion, Bestseller & Moss all screened under the banner Spotlight: Action/Thriller and you can find my thoughts on this loosely related trio below.

Secret Reunion

Directed by Jang Hun Secret Reunion is a hard film to easily pin down. In many ways it is a action orientated buddy movie but it also contains a lot of comedy, thriller elements and even melodrama and all are blended expertly. This successful meshing of genres and the resulting tonal shifts help make Secret Reunion a really interesting and compelling film.

Secret Reunion opens with a thrilling sequence in which two North Korean spies, Shadow and Ji-won (Kang Dong-wan) carry out a hit in South Korea. Arriving on the scene to arrest them is detective Lee (Song Kang-ho) but the two spies escape resulting in the disgrace of Lee. The film then cuts forward six years and Lee, now a bounty hunter, happens upon Ji-won. The two both recognise eachother but do not reveal it at first and despite this central deception the two end up actually developing a very sweet if fragile friendship. This central part of the film sees the pair bond and eventually become quite dependent on eachother, before the film shifts back to the tone of the opening epilogue for a thrilling climax.

Jang Hun shows real skill at directing the action, comedy and drama in Secret Reunion with the only clunky aspect being a few twee moments between the two, especially in the film’s coda. Secret Reunion is a surprisingly dense film and the way in which the complexities in the relationship between Lee and Ji-won mirror the North/South relationship in Korea are fascinating and maturely handled.


Perhaps best known for his Public Enemy trilogy, Woo-Suk Kang has chosen to now tackle the adaptation of the popular internet comic Moss. The story of Moss is built around an intricate series of secrets and lies that are uncovered by Hae-guk (Park Hai-il) following the death of his father. Traveling to the village where his father passed away Hae-guk encounters a strange group of shady characters led by the villain of the piece, Yong-deok (Jung Jae-young) and slowly the hermetic creation of Yong-deok is pulled apart.

The film mixes present day scenes with flashbacks  to help reveal elements of the mystery and flesh out the characters more. Because of these flashback scenes the actors are aged considerably for the present day sequences and Jae-young is particularly remarkable as both the young and old Yong-deok.

He is one of few highlights in Moss though which relies heavily on a twisting and turning narrative that just isn’t interesting enough and ends with a reasonably predictable and slightly lazy finale. Before getting to this finale though there are two and a half hours of plodding story to get through and there is nothing that really creates the intrigue that the film so desperately needs. At 163 minutes the film is actually probably too short though, condensing too much plot and character development to suit the cinematic adaptation of what is most probably much longer and richer material. Woo-Suk Kang needed to either commit more condensing the source material significantly and effectively to create a tight film or spreading the story out over more films or perhaps even a TV series.

Dealing with interesting themes such as the clash of the new and old South Korea, highlighted by the countryside/city clash and the feudal reference points, Moss unfortunately also only touches on what could have made for a fascinating thematic underpinning.


Bestseller is the debut film from writer/director Jeong-ho Lee and for the most part he plays it safe with this enjoyable but lightweight thriller.

Eom Jeong-hwa stars as Hee Soo, a successful writer whose life is torn apart after her recent bestseller is revealed to have been plagiarised from another book. The film begins with a montage of sequences that reveal this before cutting forward two years. Hee Soo travels with her daughter to a villa in a small village where she begins writing a new book. Desperate for ideas she ultimately writes a book based on a story that her daughter tells her after hearing it from a mysterious friend. Everything though is obviously not quite as it seems.

From the very beginning Hee Soo is in the midst of a breakdown and clearly unhinged and herein in lies one of the biggest problems with the film. By introducing the audience to a character already highly strung, hysterical and on the edge she is a difficult character to engage with and despite her presence in almost every scene she still comes across as a distant and entirely a created character rather than a genuine person. Jeong-hwa works hard in the role though and despite the unconvincing writing behind her character her performance is certainly noteworthy.

Jeong-ho also works hard on the technical aspects of the film, clearly determined to hit all the right thrilling beats but this occasionally leads to him getting a little carried away. One scene that gets a little ludicrous involves Hee Soo consulting a therapist and while the two speak the camera constantly shifts position to an almost comical degree. Jeong-ho is more successful though in other areas and there are moments where he manages to pull off some genuinely creepy scenes.

Much like in Moss, Bestseller draws on the division between city life and small villages but does so with a touch more subtlety and this is certainly one of the film’s strengths. This is for the most part though its only act of subtlety as in Bestseller Jeong-ho has created a pretty slick but heavy handed thriller much akin to a large number of  popular American thrillers. Judged on this basis though Bestseller is reasonably competent and enjoyable but this is in many ways just a somewhat distracting blockbuster thriller.