This movie was an unexpected delight. I’m always a little leery of making a long trip for a Korean spy thrillers because the political stuff can be quite hard to follow. But it usually pays off pretty well, as we saw with The Spy Gone North—a movie The Flower still talks about and thinks should be remade for American audiences. (Yes, so that someone has to sneak into Canada.) But this was a political thriller like Air Force One is a political thriller: A goofy action film with a very broad “message” (Korea = Good, Everyone Else = Varying Degrees of Less Good). And it features a tremendous performance by Angus Macfadyen (Braveheart, Saw V) which was really the highlight of the film for us.
The premise is that Japan and the U.S. are doing military movies in the nearby, oft-contested waters between Japan and Korea, which is provocative to China, and which South Korea doesn’t usually get involved with. But the U.S. is coercing South Korea to join in this time, and it’s all at the behest of the devious Japanese (OBVIOUSLY) who are planning to set up North Korea to start a war with China that will require the U.S. to be on their side. The provocations was to be North Korea launching a nuclear missile at South Korea, I believe.
I had a hard time buying it. Actually, the kids and I were giggling through this whole thing, the political caricatures were so broad, and I was frankly a little bored of the whole South Korean shtick where they’re the mature adults in the room trying to negotiate peace with the childish North Koreans and Americans.
Regardless, the monkey in the wrench is that during peace treaty talks between South Korea, North Korea and America, the three leaders are kidnapped by the rogue North Korean group planning the nuclear strike. They’re taken as hostages aboard the submarine the Japanese want to launch the missile against the Koreans. Well, these North Koreans are bastards but they’re not rat bastards, and they’re going to launch a missile all right—but they’re going to strike Japan. They’re not rat bastards, but they’re also not very bright because striking Japan would necessitate a US counter-strike on North Korea and/or China.
In the midst of this supreme silliness we have the silliest thing of all: Angus Macfadyen as the United States President Smoot. I assume this is a reference to Reed Smoot (of the Smoot-Hawley Act) and not, say, the scientist/”Who Wants To Be A Millionaire”-winner George Smoot, or Oliver Smoot of the “smoot” unit of measurement, but I could be wrong. Either way, it’s just a dead on Trump parody.
President Smoot is belligerent, childish, narcissistic, cowardly, gluttonous and greedy. He’s rude to the (very svelte!) Chairman of North Korea (a Kim Jong Un stand-in) and talks so fast his translators can’t keep up with him. And he’s also clearly a metaphor for America. He’s aware of the plot, though not of the double-cross, but the moment of finding out is what turns the tide on this portrayal. Held captive by the rogue submarine captain and injected with a truth serum, he yells something to the effect of:
“Your weak communist drugs are no match for my American blood!”
So they hit him with another dose. And we get, eventually, an acknowledgment of the fact that while “South Korea wasn’t a signatory to the cease fire”, it wouldn’t even exist without America. And when the North Koreans say they’ve captured Smoot as insurance against the US destroying them, he laughs and says (again, paraphrased):
“Do you know how many people want me dead? The Republicans would look the other way. The Democrats would probably throw a party. The neocons are convinced we’re going to war with China anyway. I’m the only person standing between your country an annihilation.”
And when things start going down, and the two little Korean dudes are trying to block the door, Smoot picks up a desk that is bolted down, rips it out of the floor and barricades the door, securing the room.
Go figure. It’s like the opening where the Japanese villain behind the plotting tells the story of how evil America cut off Japan’s oil supplies forcing it to go to war in self-defense, ending when those awful bullies bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I get the Korean bias—but I’m pretty sure that’s how WWII is frequently portrayed in Japan. The Koreans don’t like America, but they do at least acknowledge our historical usefulness.
Anyway, Smoot gets to abscond with Slim Jong Un, leaving the South Korean President to figure out how to save the world, and this works pretty well, though honestly as soon as Macfadyen is off-screen, the movie gets a lot less fun and interesting. Anyway, it presented a really clear and interesting ranking of the human species:
- South Koreans
- North Koreans
- Rogue North Koreans Willing To Launch Nuclear Missiles Without Provocation
I’m ticked by the fact that they apparently rank Chinese over Americans, but everybody’s kissing China’s ass these days, which will work out fine right until it doesn’t.
It’s complete nonsense, but it’s kind of fun, and everybody is redeemable as long as they’re not Japanese. If you’re not overly sensitive about it—and we weren’t, we were howling—it’s actually a fun time.