The Spy Gone North (Gongjak)

The Spy Gone North


In the mid-1990s, a loyal South Korean secret agent is caught in a political vortex plotted by the ruling classes of North and South Korea.

Title The Spy Gone North
Director Yoon Jong-bin
Director of Photography Choi Chan-min
Runtime 2 h 17 min
Release Date 8 August 2018
IMDb Id tt8290698

Korea was divided into two parts as a result of World War II when the Soviet Union occupied the North and the United States occupied the South. As the cold war came in, the USSR and USA failed to reunite the Koreas; by 1948 the Republic of South Korea had been created, which in response led to the creation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the North. Soon after in 1950, North Korea invaded the South to try to reunify the two countries under its own flag. The failed Korean War ended in 1953 with an unresolved situation that still exists today.

Loosely based on true events, Suk-young Park (Jung-min Hwang) gets recruited by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service in the early 1990s to spy on North Korea’s nuclear programme. He creates a cover for himself as a highly indebted business man who will do anything for money. His mission is first to get close to the director of the North Korean Economic Council Myong-un Ri (Sing-min Lee), who has Kim Jong-Il’s trust. Park patiently works to build his credibility and finally gets closer to Ri, after which the true spy games begin. At some point, Ri introduces Park to Kim Jong-Il to propose a business scheme that will generate much needed cash for the North.

Along the way, we learn that South Korea’s ruling party has previously intervened in the elections with the help of North Korea, and is planning to do so again, which introduces its own set of power games that may interfere in the south Korean’s spy agency and therefore risks Park’s position and progress with Ri.

The story is told well and the movie is confidently directed. Hwang is great in the role of Park; he plays the patriot with a moral compass as well as he plays the ‘second hand car salesman’ seemingly opportunistically working his way through the North Korean echelons. Lee is his well-matched counterpart Ri, and the bond they develop makes for a satisfying story arc.

Supported by a suitable atmosphere, strong cinematography and a subtle score, this movie is worth your time, even if it it does lose some focus on Park’s original mission along the way. Perhaps that is actually a key part of the message: what is the reason for and point of the continuing hostility between the two Koreas again….?


The Spy Gone North (Gongjak)
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