The Berlin File Plot Synopsis
The Berlin File is an espionage thriller by auteur Ryoo Seung-wan from South Korea. The story-telling is pure Le Carré mould, and the genre and style are heavily inspired by The Bourne Identity. As the name suggests, the movie is entirely set in Berlin and deals with competing rival intelligence agencies and terrorist organizations lurking in the subterranean bowels of the German capital.
Espionage, secret weapons deals, and money laundering is the key here as Jung Jin-soo of South Korea and North Korea’s Pyo Jong-seong race against time to bring down the actual bad guy as they get caught in a trap.
Who are the agencies involved in the film?
The international players include various spy agencies such as the NIS (National Intelligence Service, South Korea), the RGB (The Reconnaissance General Bureau, North Korea), an Arab Terrorist Group (called the Anti-Imperialist Arab League), Russian Arms dealer, the Mossad (Israel) and the CIA.
What is Jung Jin-soo after?
In the South Korean camp, the NIS agent Jung Jin-soo finds himself in a difficult position. A victim of internal politics, he is squarely blamed for being unable to investigate the Russian-Arab arms deal in the beginning and for losing the North Korean agent involved — Pyo Jong-seong.
He is intrigued by Jong-seong but Jin-soo cannot find any information on the North Korean agent in any intelligence database. He labels him ‘ghost’ and strives to catch him. But along with catching Jong-seong, his team is also tasked with tracking down the previous North Korean ruler, Kim Jong-il’s secret account worth $4 billion which is believed to have been moved from Macau to Europe before his death.
Why does North Korea target Pyo Jong-seong’s wife?
The security authorities in Pyongyang believe that there is a traitor in their Berlin office and send one of their loyal officers, a ruthless fixer by the name of Dong Myung-soo (Ryoo Seung-bum) to Berlin to investigate. He tortures a German informant who implicates Jong-seong’s wife, Ryun Jung-hee (Jung Ji-hyun) who was the translator of the North Korean ambassador. Jong-seong gets 48 hours to get answers from her.
The loss of their infant daughter and the fact that the regime had ordered Jung-hee to prostitute herself for political gain had driven a wedge between her and Jong-seong. But when he confronts her as to why she lied to him about her whereabouts, he is stunned to learn that she is pregnant. She had in fact gone to visit her obstetrician near the US Embassy, not betray him.
Jung-hee assures him that it is his child, even though she fears, he may not believe her. She also confesses the disgust and misery that she had to go through to endure the orders from their government as she had no choice. Jong-seong has change of heart and he decides to save her.
How does Jong-seong realise that Myung-soo is the mastermind?
When the Ambassador, Ri Hak-soo is captured by Myung-soo in the subway tunnel (after he kills a CIA agent), Jong-seong has no choice, but to play along. The Ambassador is tied up for interrogation, and finding Jong-seong alone, he tries to convince him that it’s all a conspiracy by Myung-soo’s father to take over the Berlin office. Before he is killed, he also gives a cryptic line to Jong-seong, which contains a code to unlock the secret Kim Jong-il billion dollar account.
Immediately after Jung-hee reveals her pregnancy to Jong-seong, he gets a call from Myung-soo. He laughingly reveals that having Jong-seong report his wife was all a test to prove his loyalty. He is told to return to Pyongyang, where he’ll be rewarded and promoted in recognition of his loyalty.
But Jong-seong had never reported Jung-hee. He realizes that it’s a trap by Myung-soo to destroy them. When North Korean agents sent by Myung-soo enter his home to assassinate the couple, Jong-seong kills them and flees with Jung-hee.
Who is Myung-soo and what was his plan?
Dong Myung-soo is a psychopath and a ruthless killer. There’s also some old history between him and Jong-seong. The latter was Myung-soo’s senior and mentor, and there was some sort of an unspoken underlying rivalry between them. Myung-soo also happens to be the son of Dong Jung-ho, a senior Party functionary who was close to the previous Supremo, Kim Jong-il.
The account of the $4 billion-fund that the late Jong-il had left behind, and which the Ambassador had held as a hidden card is what everyone is after. After the dictator’s death, the authorities have to transfer the funds to the new leader, Kim Jong-un and change the people that manage the account.
But neither Pyongyang nor the Ambassador could trust each other. As far as the new faces in Pyongyang are concerned, the old diplomatic offices’ loyalty to the new leader is questionable. So, they decide to change everyone with those they trust including Pyo Jong-seong who was Jong-il’s man.
Except that, it’s not the government that wants to discard Jong-seong and Jong-il’s men. In actuality, the secret account is controlled by Dong Jung-ho and his allies. After Kim Jong-un comes into power, Jung-ho survives by lining the pockets of the new leader’s cronies with a share of the secret account fund and by profits from the illegal weapons trade.
When the Americans tracked down the Macau account, the Dongs had to clean up the mess in order to stay in the game. So, father and son hatched the conspiracy to get rid of the present functionaries, form an alliance with Jong-un’s men and take over the Berlin office.
Why do Jong-seong and Jin-soo team up?
When Myung-soo learns that Jong-seong has killed his agents and fled with his wife, he contacts Abdul of the Arab group and seeks his help to capture the renegades. They trace the couple to a small time hotel nearby and capture them. As they are leaving, Jin-soo, who’s managed to trace them while looking for Jong-seong, reaches there and a gun battle takes place in which Jong-seong escapes the Arabs but Jung-hee is spirited away.
Jin-soo had earlier managed to trace and intercept the Mossad operative, Dagan Zamir who had disrupted the arms deal and found out about the secret account conspiracy through a recorded telephonic conversation between Zamir and Myung-soo. When Jin-soo manages to catch Jong-seong, the latter is bruised, battered and on his knees, completely exhausted, having failed to rescue his wife. Jin-soo realizes that Jong-seong, though an honest patriot, is an innocent victim of party politics and feels sorry for his rival.
Jong-seong, desperate to save his pregnant wife, seeks the aid of his arch-enemy, promising to defect to the South and give up the intel on the secret billion-dollar account. Jin-soo seizes the opportunity to score big (and also out of compassion) and agrees to help. Unfortunately, his NIS counterparts refuse to send backup, so it’s left to the two men to take on Myung-soo and his hordes in a safe house, somewhere in the wilderness.
What really went down during the arms deal?
Just before dawn, Jong-seong surrenders to Myung-soo and offers his recorded confession of treason in exchange for their lives. Myung-soo cannot help but gloat over his success.
He starts playing the recording, but instead of the confession, it’s a recording of his telephonic conversation with Mossad where he’s conspiring to give Assim, the Arab agent and Yuri, the Russian broker over to the Israelis, in exchange for a botched arms deal which will give Pyongyang the justification to effect a purge in the Berlin office. The arms deal was supposed to fail right from the beginning, and Jong-seong would be the fall guy.
How is Myung-soo defeated?
The Arabs realize that Myung-soo is the man behind Assim’s death. His game is up, guns spring out; and a furious gun battle erupts between Myung-soo’s men and the Arabs, with Jin-soo participating as a sniper from the wilderness. Jong-seong and his wife manage to flee the safe house just as it blows up. And all are dead except Myung-soo.
The battle boils down to a hair-raising duel between him and Jong-seong, where the latter finally kills the psychopathic killer with his own medicine, a pen injection.
How does it end for Jong-seong?
There is, however, no happy ending – Jung-hee, who had caught a stray bullet while they were trying to flee Myung-soo’s hail of lead, bleeds to death in her husband’s arms.
Later, the South Koreans disown Jong-seong. Instead, as part of their negotiations with Pyongyang over a new gas pipe project, the senior NIS Inspector tells Jin-soo that Seoul has agreed to hand over the details of the secret funds account and Jong-seong to North Korea.
Jin-soo is further shocked to hear that Dong Jung-ho is one of the people behind the North-South deal. He realizes that the North Korean defector is a dead man. Disgusted with the turn of events, Jin-soo releases Jong-seong from captivity and tells him to run. Sometime later, we see Jong-seong in Latvia calling up Dong Jung-ho and telling him that he’s coming for him. We then see him buying a one-way ticket to Vladivostok where the old man is expected to be.
Read More: The Berlin File Movie Review