I watched this 2013 film, The Berlin File, about a shipment from Macau to Berlin. A film about arms deals, spying, assassination and defection. And it’s set in Berlin. The CIA, the Mossad, Arabs, Russians, North Koreans, and South Koreans are all a part of the story.
What or who is missing? Right, there’s no sign of Jason Bourne the man, but certainly present are the Bourne style fights.
The Berlin File comes to us from South Korean Director Seung-wan Ryoo. He’s gathered some of Korea’s top action actors along with female star Gianna Jun.
The film opens in the midst of an arms deal being discussed. We are in The Westin Hotel in Berlin. Someone is attempting to infiltrate the meeting. And from the looks of him and from what follows, he’s the hero. Or is he?
While ostensibly an action thriller, this is also a terrific spy film. It’s not so much about spycraft, coded messages, electronic surveillance, and dead drops, although we do have some of that. Instead we are asked to consider that loyalties change. The character we penned as the hero turns out to be working for the North Koreans. The character we deemed as the villain, apparently is working for the South Koreans.
And then there’s a third guy who could be working for either side. If you aren’t familiar with the actors, it does take a while before you can figure out who are the black hats and who are the white hats.
But wait, there’s more. One of the characters is apparently betrayed. Was it his wife, or was he sold out by his own country.
Okay all of the above means you do have to concentrate; you can’t doze off and expect to be awakened by the next gun fight. The action is quite fierce and exciting and I mean the the roof top chases, the shoot outs, and the hand-to-hand fighting.
Now I’ve seen a rather large number of films from Hong Kong that are about the triads, gang-warfare, financial crimes, and cops chasing down crooks. I’ve also watched a number of films from Japan that involved the Yakuza. But this one is my first Korean action film. I must admit that the action is superb, but there are more than a few negatives.
Guns are apparently the weapons of choice, but everyone’s marksmanship is horrible. But even with that, targets are hit, yet they struggle on – this film contains very little in the way of kill shots – at least for the principal actors.
Even more incredible is the almost total absence of the Berlin Police. On occasion we do hear a police siren signalling the approach of the police, but by the time we hear these sirens = the escapes are already in motion. You’d think that if there was major shootout at a top rated hotel like The Westin – the police would be all over it.
This film isn’t quite in the same neighborhood as a John Woo Hong Kong bullet ballet, nor does it have the intelligence of a LeCarre spy mystery, and as expected – none of the three male leads impact you like Jason Bourne did.
While Borne had a history, and a severe case of amnesia to both attract us and gain our sympathies, we can’t feel the same about these guys. They are all driven by their job and not necessarily unsure of themselves, so we haven’t as strong a feeling about any of them.
The film also is slow between the action set pieces which then seem to hurtle at you. Admittedly, the action is breathtaking, and on that factor alone, I will recommend the film ( a DVD is available and Netflix has it via streaming), but I think a three-point two five is as high as I can go.
Have a look at the trailer: