Hit spy comedy tackles the tragedy of divided Korea

Wed Jul 3, 2013 10:49pm EDT
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By Michelle Kim and Daum Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - A trio of elite, but bumbling, North Korean spies has won the hearts of southern compatriots in a blockbuster South Korean film that views the tragedy of the divided peninsula through the unusual prism of comedy.

The record-breaking success of "Secretly Greatly" - which scored a million viewers in just 36 hours after its release early last month, a first for a domestic film, and will debut in the United States this month - testifies to the fascination the North holds even 60 years after the end of the Korean War.

In that conflict, North and South Korea and their allies fought each other to a standstill and never signed a formal peace declaration. The world's most heavily militarized border still separates the two and free travel is impossible.

"It is my wish that everyone, including our current leaders, watch this movie to see how the younger generation is affected by our tragic division," said director Jang Cheol-soo at the premiere of the movie, which was based on a hit internet comic.

Main character Won Ryu-hwan, a spy fluent in five languages who has 98.7 percent accuracy with a gun - echoing late North Korean ruler Kim Jong-il's reputed 11 holes in one at golf - is dispatched to the South, and told to disguise himself as a fool.

He later meets two comrades, one pretending to be a rock star despite poor guitar skills, and the other a naive high school student. Bored by ordinary life in the South they yearn for a grand mission that they hope will turn them into legends, in order to return to the Fatherland.

The issue of spies in the South is a serious one and has spawned a cottage industry of analysts and thinktanks poring over Pyongyang's every move. About 43 covert operatives have been rounded up in the last decade, says a source in the National Intelligence Service.

It has also been a popular topic for movies, such as "Shiri" in 1999 and "The Berlin File" in 2012, both of which were high-grossing, hot-topic films.   Continued...