Director: Lee Suk Hoon
Cast: Hyun-Bin, Yu Hae-Jin, Lim Yoon-A, Daniel Henney, Jin Sun-Kyu, Jang Young-Nam, Park Hoon, Im Sung-Jae, Yoon Sang-Hwa, Park Min-Ha
Duration: 129 mins.
From Paul Bramhall
In 2016 Yoo Hae-jin and Hyun Bin played a South Korean detective and a North Korean agent who team up to track down a rogue North Korean general in Confidential assignment. Somehow a harbinger of the trend of films portraying friendly relations between the South and North once President Moon Jae-in took office just a year later, the production itself was an easy-going but light-hearted affair. An enjoyable mix of comedy, action, and light drama wrapped up as a pleaser for the commercially inclined crowd, 6 Years Later is the kind of film that has quite possibly slipped the minds of most who have seen it (unless I’m not just speaking for myself). It goes without saying that it’s debatable whether anyone was clamoring for a sequel, but in 2022 that’s what we got in the form of Confidential assignment 2: international (perhaps the first and only sequel to draw inspiration from the ill-fated 4th entry into Men in black franchise?).
Replacing director Kim Seong-hoon is Lee Seok-hoon, for whom the sequel marks something of a comeback vehicle. The last time Seok-hoon was in the director’s chair was before the original Confidential assignment was released, with the 2015 mountaineering drama The Himalayas. Before that he directed 2014 Pirates and a handful of romantic comedies, testing himself be a solid if insignificant commercial director. If anything, just like the original, solid if unremarkable is also the best way to describe the sequel.
Although the title hints at the possibility of a globe-trotting adventure (although, if you think about it for more than a few seconds, you realize that it is impossible for Hyun Bin’s North Korean agent), the sequel takes place for the most in Seoul just like the original. The whole “international” angle mostly comes in the form of an American agent who turns the pair of Hae-jin and Hyun Bin into a trio – but can their friendship survive a third wheel? The American agent is played by Daniel Henney, who has had success on screen in both Korea (Seducing Mr. Perfect) and in the United States (The Origins of the X-Men: Wolverine). The son of an ethnically Korean American adoptive mother and an American father with British and Irish roots, Henney was a role model who transitioned into acting, only learning Korean when he was in his 20s.
He is Henney’s agent whom we meet at the opening of the New York set, where we are also introduced to the villain of the piece played by Jin Sun-kyu (Space sweepers, Svaha – the sixth finger), whose wardrobe and hairstyle make him look like he just stepped off the set of a 1970s taekwon action movie. Like the villain of the original, Sun-kyu is also a North Korean who has apparently developed a taste for capitalism, and after the authorities thwart a drug deal he finds himself extradited to Pyongyang. Enter Hyun Bin, whom the regime has sent as his escort. Things go awry however when their vehicle is intercepted on the way to the airport, leading to an impressively staged shootout on the streets that clearly tips the hat to Heat, complete with that decidedly satisfying echo of machine-gun fire. Sun-kyu later escapes and heads to Seoul with a billion dollars in stolen funds intended for the North Korean government.
All of this takes place before the title even hits the screen, with the setup providing the perfect excuse for both Hyun Bin and Henney to keep warm on Sun-kyu’s tail, leading everyone to converge on Seoul where the rest of the game takes place. plot. It is also where various events take place which sees the pair team up with Yoo Hae-jin, who after too many things has been demoted from major crimes to the Cybercrime Complaints Bureau. Sensing an opportunity to redeem himself, after no one else volunteers to work with Hyun Bin due to the events of the original, Hae-jin steps forward, hoping an opportunity presents itself to get reinstated in serious crimes. The rest follow the usual tropes, as the trio reluctantly find themselves working together and gradually put their differences aside to take down the villain.
Even more so than the original, the sequel looks like a throwaway affair, not unlike direct-streaming movies of the West Red alert AND Ghost. Despite the 6 year gap, there’s virtually zero development when it comes to the pair Hae-jin and Hyun Bin characters we met in the former, and several scenarios simply recycle the same setups as the original. Again Hyun Bin ends up staying with Hae-jin’s family, of which the original cast all comes back – Jang Young-nam (Wolf Hunt Project) as feisty wife, Yoona as flirty sister-in-law (Exit), and Park Min-ha as his now-teenage daughter (who notably hasn’t appeared in anything since the original). Only this time Yoona’s obsession with Hyun Bin seems rather tired and contrived, not to mention a little outdated, as her character is given little to do other than record makeup tutorials on YouTube, apply makeup to Daniel Henney and pass out on both.
Speaking of obsolete, there is an undeniable pre-John Wick feel to the action, which risks dividing the audience according to their preferences. Very similar The matrix Put an end to the era of muscle-bound action heroes throwing barns at each other, then by John Wick the popularization of the ultra-efficient one-shot kill has largely seen the traditional shootouts of action movies, where the bad guys are unable to hit a single target, become a thing of the past. Confidential assignment 2 it brings back this action aesthetic with a vengeance, with a series of scenes containing villains firing bullets in every direction, yet seemingly completely unable to land a single shot on any of our three leads. With the exception of the opening shootout in New York, the result is that it never feels like anyone is in danger, even when the bullets are flying.
What is clear is that director Seok-hoon is a fan of The matrix itself, as the finale features a couple of scenes that aren’t so much inspired by the action classic as directly from it. In one sequence the villains save Sun-kyu, who is strapped to a chair on the top floor of a skyscraper, causing a helicopter to hover directly out the window, unleashing a barrage of blows that essentially replicates Morpheus’s own saving of Morpheus. Neo. Anyone who has seen The matrix will no doubt also acknowledge the destruction of the pillar in slow motion through a hail of bullets, replicating the same aesthetic employed in the famous atrium shootout scene, just without the stunts.
The sequel’s biggest problem though is Sun-kyu’s villain handling. Unlike many recent Korean thrillers, his North Korean rogue agent actually has clearly defined motives and legitimate reasons to be angry, however the lack of screen time means it is never effectively conveyed convincingly. His reasons are also largely personal and really have nothing to do with our trio of protagonists, so the revenge factor behind the villain’s capture that drove the original narrative here feels sorely lacking. It’s basically a trio of comedic good guys joking about being Korean through their cultural differences, while trying to catch a bad guy who stole some money. A little more time to give the trio of Hae-jin, Hyun Bin and Henney some motivation to capture him as well as the fact that their work could help add at least a pinch of gravitas to their mission.
As well as, Confidential assignment 2: international gets about the same as the first. There are some genuine laughs to be had, a smattering of decent action (and some not-so-decent ones too, including the whole rooftop finale), and functional dramatic beats to keep things going. If it were still 2010, I’d probably think better of this sequel, but as a product of 2022, when Korea is churning out similar genre efforts like The rundownSeok-hoon’s return to cinema feels more than a little lazy, offering up the bare minimum and not an ounce to spare.
Rating by Paul Bramhall: 5.5/10