The Berlin File

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The Berlin File
The Berlin File.jpg
Hangul 베를린
Revised Romanization Bereullin
McCune–Reischauer Perŭllin
Directed by Ryoo Seung-wan
Produced by Kang Hye-jung
Written by Ryoo Seung-wan
Music by Jo Yeong-wook
Cinematography Choi Young-hwan
Edited by Kim Sang-bum
Kim Jae-bum
Distributed by CJ Entertainment
Release date(s)
  • January 31, 2013 (2013-01-31)
Running time 120 minutes
Country South Korea
Language Korean
Budget US$9 million
Box office US$48,307,638[1]

The Berlin File (Hangul: 베를린; RR: Bereullin; lit. "Berlin") is a 2013 South Korean spy thriller written and directed by Ryoo Seung-wan.[2][3][4] Ha Jung-woo stars as a North Korean agent in Berlin who is betrayed and cut loose when a weapons deal is exposed. Together with his wife, a translator at the North Korean embassy in Berlin played by Jeon Ji-hyun, they try to escape being purged, with Ryoo Seung-bum and Han Suk-kyu playing North and South Korean operatives on their trail.[5][6][7][8][9]

The film was released in South Korea on January 31, 2013. It also had a limited theatrical run in 21 North American cities on February 15, 2013, including Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago, New York, New Orleans, Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.[10][11][12]


After a tense illegal arms deal in a Berlin hotel involving North Korean spy Pyo Jong-seong (Ha Jung-woo), a Russian broker, and a Middle Eastern terrorist goes wrong when disrupted by unknown assailants, Pyo narrowly escapes but encounters morass of conflicting evidence that may reveal why he was set up.

Also investigating the failed weapons sale, embattled South Korean intelligence agent Jung Jin-soo (Han Suk-kyu) goes after Pyo to uncover his identity, but is left trying to decode whether the North Korean "ghost" agent (whose information cannot be found on any intelligence database) is a double agent or taking the fall for a more insidious plot. Finding himself embroiled in a vast international conspiracy, Jung must determine the North's role in the deal, as well as the potential involvement of the CIA, Israel's Mossad, international terrorist organizations, and any other covert operatives lurking in Berlin's polyglot underworld.

Confronting the possibility of a double agent within Berlin's North Korean embassy where his wife Ryun Jung-hee (Jeon Ji-hyun) is a translator, Pyo discovers that Pyongyang security authorities have dispatched ruthless fixer Dong Myung-soo (Ryoo Seung-bum) to sort out potentially conflicting loyalties at the consulate. Dong's investigation quickly implicates Ryun and he gives Pyo just 48 hours to incriminate his wife, who is suspected of leaking information on the arms deal to South Korean agents trying to gain access to a secret multi-billion dollar bank account controlled by Pyongyang authorities.

Despite an apparently loveless marriage, Pyo is reluctant to betray Ryun, particularly after she discloses she's pregnant. He senses that she was set up by Dong and his father to gain favor with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. But when the North Korean ambassador makes an attempt to defect to the West, Pyo becomes incriminated as well. Narrowly escaping an assassination squad dispatched by Dong, Ryun and Pyo go on the run, with the rival Korean intelligence agencies closing in fast.[13][14][15]


  • Ha Jung-woo ... Pyo Jong-seong[16][17]
  • Han Suk-kyu ... Jung Jin-soo[18][19]
  • Ryoo Seung-bum ... Dong Myung-soo[20][21]
  • Jeon Ji-hyun ... Ryun Jung-hee[22][23][24][25][26]
  • Lee Geung-young ... Ri Hak-soo, North Korean ambassador
  • John Keogh ... Marty, CIA agent
  • Numan Açar ... Abdul
  • Pasquale Aleardi ... Dagan Zamir, Mossad agent
  • Choi Moo-sung ... Kang Min-ho
  • Kwak Do-won ... Chung Wa-dae
  • Kim Seo-hyung ... North Korean embassy secretary
  • Thomas Thieme ... Siegmund, German politician
  • Tayfun Bademsoy ... Assim
  • Werner Daehn ... Yuri, arms broker
  • Sinja Dieks ... restaurant waitress
  • Bae Jung-nam ... Myung-soo's agent
  • Baek Seung-ik ... agency personnel
  • Park Ji-hwan ... agency personnel
  • Seo Ji-oh ... agency backup personnel
  • Toni Varvasoudis ... Abdul's men
  • Matthias Günther ... Abdul's men
  • Oskars Lauva ... Abdul's men
  • Can Aiyden ... Abdul's men
  • Baek Dong-hyeon ... North Korean agent
  • Jo Ha-seok ... North Korean agent
  • Ji Geon-woo ... North Korean agent
  • Kwon Ji-hun ... South Korean agent
  • Kim Seon-woong ... South Korean agent
  • Kwak Jin-seok ... South Korean agent
  • Myung Gye-nam ... Dong Jung-ho, Myung-soo's father
  • Yoon Jong-bin ... South Korean field analyst
  • Lee Kyoung-mi ... South Korean office analyst


While preparing for the film, director Ryoo Seung-wan met with several North Korean defectors and shot the documentary Spies for Korean broadcaster MBC as part of a special series that aired in 2011, intending "to make a realistic, fast-paced, Korean-style espionage action film about South Korean agents discovering North Korea's secret accounts and how political dynamics between the two Koreas get involved." Ryoo said he wanted the film to be reminiscent of The Bourne Identity, and on an emotional level, to focus on the solitude and sorrow of those who live as secret agents.[27]

Budgeted at US$9 million, the film was produced by Ryoo's own production shingle Filmmakers R&K, and financed by CJ Entertainment. Seasonal aspects play an important part in the film; Ryoo shot the film almost 100% on location in Europe.[27] Filming began on April 16, 2012 on a film set in Namyang, south of Seoul, in Gyeonggi Province.[28] After wrapping there, cast and crew relocated to Berlin, Germany and Riga, Latvia in early May 2012, and among the locations were the roof of Berlin's Westin Grand Hotel, in Schöneberg, at the Hackescher Markt, and on Pariser Platz in front of the iconic Brandenburg Gate in full view of the American and French Embassies. The shoot involved a 15-person German crew from Film Base Berlin, but the majority of production elements and talent were Korean, including around 80 crew members who brought their entire equipment. Observing that Ryoo did the recces of the locations with the actors so that they could get used to the settings, Film Base boss Mathias Schwerbock described the director as "very thorough and precise in his preparations. They are fast at shooting and very efficient."[29][30]

Stunt coordinator Jung Doo-hong choreographed the film's action sequences.[31]

With over 40% of the film in English, American screenwriter Ted Geoghegan was hired to construct and polish the film's English dialogue, based on writer/director Ryoo's translated Korean text.[32]

Box office[edit]

The action blockbuster had a strong opening, drawing more than 2.8 million admissions (US$19 million) in just over a week after its release, with 1.53 million tickets sold during its first weekend alone.[33][34][35][36][37][38][39]

A scene in which Ha Jung-woo's character gobbles a baguette was not included in the final edit, and director Ryoo Seung-wan promised fans to make the footage public when the film exceeded 3 million admissions. The clip was released on February 7.[40][41]

The film reached 5 million admissions after 14 days of release,[42][43] and 7 million by March 5, 2013.[44][45] It took in US$48,146,202 at the Korean box office.[1]

Critical reception[edit]

Local critics praised the action set-pieces and acting performances, with the caveat that the film's overall quality was hindered by the overly convoluted plot.

According to Yonhap and Screen Daily, the film's highlights were "its spectacular and breathtaking fight and action scenes" and "secretive and gloomy atmosphere."[46][47] Film Business Asia stated that the film is "flawed by a finale that doesn't top the previous set pieces but otherwise contains enough superbly staged action and rich performances to keep any audience hooked for two hours."[48]

The Korea Times called the actors "superb," with special mention to how Ha Jung-woo "breathe(s) a layer of complexity into the shortest of lines," the "brilliant" Ryoo Seung-bum, and that Jeon Ji-hyun "deftly handles" her role. But though it opined that Ryoo "has never produced a more polished action movie" with its "tightly-packed and smartly-placed action scenes," it panned the script for being "preposterous and un-ambitious at the same time."[43]

The Berlin File received mostly positive reviews from major US media outlets during its North American theatrical release.[49][50]

The New York Times hailed its "exhilarating action set pieces," adding that Ryoo "brings his brand of muscular action and quicksilver agility to the shifting battleground of international espionage."[51]

The Hollywood Reporter praised the careful balancing of narrative tension, writing that "the film crackles with tense character conflict."[13]

Bloomberg gave it four stars out of five, saying, "the film offers just about all you could ask of a genre flick; poisoning, defections, a secret North Korean bank account, gloriously choreographed fights that go insanely over the top, febrile tension and doomy romance."[52]

The Village Voice said, "the enjoyable analog antics end with one character boarding the train bound for Vladivostok, but judging from the evidence, it's Hollywood where we can expect to see Ryoo Seung-wan appear before long."[53]

Awards and nominations[edit]

2013 Baeksang Arts Awards[54][55]

2013 Mnet 20's Choice Awards

2013 Buil Film Awards

2013 Grand Bell Awards

  • Best Cinematography - Choi Young-hwan
  • Best Lighting - Kim Sung-kwan
  • Nomination - Best Editing - Kim Sang-bum
  • Nomination - Best Costume Design - Shin Ji-young
  • Nomination - Best Art Direction - Jeon Soo-ah

2013 Blue Dragon Film Awards

  • Best Cinematography - Choi Young-hwan
  • Best Lighting - Kim Sung-kwan
  • Nomination - Best Film
  • Nomination - Best Director - Ryoo Seung-wan
  • Nomination - Best Art Direction - Jeon Soo-ah
  • Nomination - Technical Award - Jung Doo-hong, Han Jung-wook

2013 Busan Film Critics Awards

2014 Chunsa Film Art Awards

  • Nomination - Technical Award - Choi Young-hwan


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External links[edit]