Korea (2021) Dir. Kim Hyeong-Joo
Getting involved in international espionage requires physical excellence, nerves of steel, the ability to improvise and of course intelligence. Fall short on any of these, especially the last one, and your career will be very short indeed. Thankfully, such incompatible people working for such organisations only exist in the moves. I hope…
When a gang of Chinese criminals hijack a gun shipment and send them to South Korea, the Chinese MSS realise an undercover investigation would be dangerous. To get around this, they decide to dispatch rookie agent Wong Iring (Lee Su-bin) under the Korean pseudonym Yoo Da-hee to do it for them, figuring she was expendable. Da-hee is sent to liaise with top agent Mirage (Kim Tae-Hoon) but being hit by a car prevents him from showing up at the meeting.
Instead, Da-hee finds the office proprietor, down on his luck private detective Woo Soo-Han (Kim Young-Kwang), who sees no reason to correct her mistake when she shows up with a huge wad of cash to cover expenses. Da-Hee fills Soo-Han in on the mission and they get to work on their targets, except the first one is killed under their noses. As the body count grows the police begin to take notice and suspect Da-Hee and Soo-Han are the culprits.
The spoofy title should be sufficient in letting you know what kind of film Mission: Possible is, as if it could be anything else. Fortunately, this isn’t a direct lampooning of the classic 60s TV series resurrected as a film franchise by Tom Cruise, but does follow the basic template of similar Korean/Asian comedies of this ilk, with a nod or two to Jackie Chan’s Rush Hour trilogy with the odd couple partnership.
First time director Kim Hyeong-Joo appears to have paid close attention to the genre not just through sticking faithfully to the comedy-action drama formula but in some of the more subtle references worked into the script, like a great Indiana Jones riff in lieu of a big fight showdown. Kim doesn’t just throw these things in as if this was a Scary Movie type spoof, they are slipped in where they will work, not just for the sake of a gag.
But first, Kim misleads us with a serious opening featuring a shoot out and assassination as dark as any Korean thriller you care to name. Once that is out of the way, the next portion is largely comedic whilst laying some groundwork for future plot points. These might be a little too tacitly dropped in to the story for being left alone for a good portion of the film, before a loose explanation is offered, which isn’t always the case.
One example is the police officer (Park Ji-Yeon) with an ill son Doo-Ho (Lee Joo-Won) whose connection with Soo-Han is revealed piecemeal until the significance is revealed at the end. Or, the client who shows up at Soo-Han’s office to have him find her missing dog Dorothy – we think nothing of this but without giving anything away, it is more relevant than we thought, but would anyone actually remember something this minor from 90 minute earlier?
Returning to the main story and Da-Hee may be a rookie but she is no idiot which is one trope thankfully subverted. It isn’t her fault she gets involved with the wrong man since she wasn’t to know Soo-Han would be in the office, when Mirage sublet from him. Soo-Han is culpable for keeping up the pretence once he saw the money at Da-hee’s disposal and negotiated a 10,000,000-won pay day for his troubles; yet Da-hee didn’t ask any questions to confirm Soo-Han’s identity either.
So, six of one, half a dozen of the other as the pair clumsily get started in sniffing out the criminals due to receive a gun shipment. Their first target takes tango classes so the pair have to sign up to get close to him, so of course cheeky Soo-Han encourages Da-hee to dress for the part which she does (and looks great) but the joke feels too cliché to work. However, the mid-dance routine stealing of the target’s phone and clumsy attempt to return it do hit the spot.
Luckily, the chemistry between the two leads carries the film in both the drama and the comedy. They may be a typical chalk-and-cheese bickering couple who learn to work together, but any hint of romance between them is never hinted at, one convention long overdue for being shelved. They make a pretty good team, partly due to Soo-Han being more than meets the eye and Da-hee being no damsel in distress, including the fight scenes.
Not as frequent as in Jackie Chan films, but there are some nifty martial arts punch-ups, one set in a hotel kitchen which twists the gags from many similar sequences is a lot of fun. Things get brutal in the final act to allow Soo-Han to show off his skills against both Chinese and Korean gangsters in a series of nifty weapons assisted scrapes, with Da-hee getting to kick a few backsides too.
Kim may have got the action scenes and comedy parts down well enough for a debutant but his scripting needs some work, in particular creating to depth to the story and the motives of the criminal gangs. The former, as noted earlier, is largely left to be forgotten and doesn’t help Soo-Han’s character evolve much, the latter is relegated to a last minute rant from the Korean crime boss claiming to have altruistic intentions.
Along with the mostly ignored moral subplot of Da-hee being sent to die there are plenty of ideas to give the drama of Mission: Possible the gravity it is lacking, but Kim seems more intent on having fun than telling a coherent and focused story. However, the game cast, decent laughs, and hard-hitting action are enough to distract us from Kim’s rookie flaws, which he will hopefully learn if the teased sequel happens.