With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

South Korea spy thriller COMMITMENT available today

Well Go USA
Commitment / Dong-chang-saeng
Directed by PARK Hong-soo
South Korea, 2013, 130 minutes

Commitment is the most recent South Korea spy thriller to become available in North America. It becomes available today, March 11th, on Blu-ray, DVD and digital (video-on-demand, electronic sell-through and streaming) courtesy of Well Go USA.

Myung-hoon (right) and his sister Hye-in

In 2009, after his father, a North Korean spy, is thwarted from returning from his mission in the South, eighteen year old LI Myung-hoon (Choi Seung-hyun) and his younger sister Hye-in (KIM Yoo-jeong) are put in the Yoduk Labor Prison Camp. Colonel MOON Sang-chul (Jo Sung-ha), of North Korea's Unit 8, informs Myung-hoon that his becoming an agent is the only way for him and his sister to get out of the camp alive. Of course, Myung-hoon agrees and two years later he "defects" to the South where he is adopted by a childless Korean couple in Seoul. They, not surprisingly, are themselves North Korean agents.

"Dae-ho" and his classmate LEE Hye-in

Myung-hoon adopts the name KANG Dae-ho, which the "Making Of" featurette informs us is a Seoul-style name, and enters high school where he is assigned a seat next to a a quiet girl who, like his sister, is named Hye-in (HAN Ye-ri). A would-be dancer, Hye-in is bullied by both boys and girls. Drawn to her both because she shares his sister's name and because, like him, Hye-in is an outsider, "Dae-ho" comes to her rescue when her male assailants go too far.

Meanwhile, he tools around town on a super-hot Ducati motorcycle tracking down the North Korean agent from Section 35 who is killing members of Unit 8's sleeper cells. Seems that there's an internecine rivalry and power struggle going on between these two agencies. As things heat up, Dae-ho finds himself the target of the NIS (the South Korea's intelligence agency) and of Northerners who are sent to eliminate him. Furthermore, both Hye-in, his school-mate and would-be dancer, and his sister Hye-in, who is brought South as a bargaining chip, are put in harms way. Protecting them will put Dae-ho's skills and commitment to the test.

Choi Seung-hyun, who has a number of films to his credit, is best known as a member of the Koran K-pop boy band Big Bang. Here he acquits himself quit admirably in both the dramatic and action sequences, particularly the ones involving hand-to-hand combat.

I did find the film to be a bit overwrought and somewhat overly melodramatic at times, but not excessively so. Certainly not so much as to spoil the overall viewing experience.

On the disc, either a 5.1 or 2.0 Korean soundtrack is available, both with optional English subtitles. Bonus materials include a "Making-of" featurette (10:31) and a trailer.

ACF Rating: 3 out of 4 stars. A good action thriller, solidly recommended.

For a somewhat similarly-themed film, check out Secretly Greatly (also 2013). It's about three young North Korean spies who infiltrate the South, and has a lot of comedic elements, whereas Commitment is pretty much a straightforward drama. Both films were screened for free in New York courtesy of the Korean Cultural Service's outstanding Korean Movie Night film series. Secretly Greatly played in September 2013 and Commitment was shown this past January.