Review: ‘The Berlin File’ is an Intense Spy Thriller with Heart

“The Berlin File” opens dramatically with an arms deal gone bad in this classic thriller that should absolutely be dug out of Netflix’s treasure trove of an archive. Trust us, you won’t regret it. In “The Berlin File”, bad only scratches the surface of a multinational rat’s nest of spies that slowly gets untangled throughout the film. Brothers Ryoo Seung-wan and Ryoo Seung-bum collaborate once again, this time focusing on the tension between North and South Korea.

“The Berlin File” boasts a roster of A-list actors such as Han Suk-kyu as a South Korean operative and Jun Ji-Hyun as a North Korean translator. Ha Jung-woo of the recent “Narco Saints” is Jun’s husband and he delivers an emotionally complex performance that won him a coveted Baeksang Arts Award for Best Actor. Ha and Jun together weave a moving love story that is both tragic and deeply felt.

Jun Ji-hyun and Ha Jung-woo are North Korean spies in “The Berlin File”

Berlin was well known as a den of espionage during the Cold War. In fact experts estimate that around the fall of the wall, more residents in Berlin were involved in undercover operations than not. If you enjoyed the Bond 007 series or Matt Damon’s Bourne Series, this is your movie. The intense hand-to-hand combat and thrilling gunfights do not let up here.

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. It was shot almost 100% on location in Europe and was the all-time highest-grossing Korean action film when it was first released in 2013.

The world situation is changing rapidly and it is many Koreans’ dream that the North and South be united as they once were. With four different languages being spoken and a storyline that proceeds with almost reckless speed, the film does get a bit confusing at times. But this tale of international espionage is lucky that an excellent cast somehow pulls off the story and leaves the audience eagerly anticipating its sequel.

“The Berlin File” now streaming on Netflix.


Ryoo Seung-wan

  • Ha Jung-woo as Pyo Jong-seong
  • Han Suk-kyu as Jung Jin-soo
  • Ryoo Seung-bum as Dong Myung-soo
  • Jun Ji-hyun as Ryun Jung-hee

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