Squid Game star Lee Jung-jae’s directorial debut is a razor-sharp thriller exploring the malleable nature of loyalty and shifting allegiances.
It’s 1983, four years after the assassination of South Korean president Park Chung-hee by the head of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA). Tensions remain high within the country’s government and its security division regarding a potential coup. KCIA foreign unit head Park Pyong-ho (Lee) is temporarily posted to Washington as part of the security detail protecting his president, who is attending a summit with his US counterpart. Also present is KCIA domestic head Kim Jung-do (Jung Woo-sung, The Good, the Bad and the Weird), who should have no jurisdiction on foreign soil yet attempts to gain the upper ground over his colleague. News that a potential shooter has been spotted in a building overlooking the South Korean president’s route back to his hotel mobilises the two men and their teams, but also sets off a chain of conspiracies, creating a cat-and-mouse game of suspicion and paranoia.
Lee proves himself an impressive director, increasing the stifling atmosphere of subterfuge between the government agents. The knotty screenplay constantly second guesses our assumptions about the central characters, while guiding us through the labyrinthine corridors of power. And the two leads make for convincing rivals, skilfully playing with our assumptions about the characters and who we should side with: a conspirator conniving to overthrow a country’s leader, or the dutiful officer defending the head of an oppressive military regime.