02 August 2021

K Movie Review: Secretly, Greatly (2013) 4.4 || 4.4

I only realized today that we did not have any entry last month. We're watching two on-air dramas, one of which is ending this month, while the other one will end in September. Our "old" drama is a 50-episode one that we'll hopefully finish this week. Hence, the hiatus. It's timely that Oppa suggested a movie yesterday. 

I'm not sure if Oppa got this movie because this was where Kim Soo Hyun's Crash Landing on You cameo was based on. Whatever his reason was, I'm glad we watched this one even if we were quite wary about the slow start. 


Secretly, Greatly tells the story of Lt. Won Ryu Hwan, a member of a North Korean special force, who was sent to the South as a spy/secret agent. He was disguised as Bang Dong Gu, who was often referred to as a fool/idiot in the neighborhood where he settled. A couple of years after settling in the South, Dong Gu and his fellow spies receive their mission - to commit suicide and if they refuse to do so, they will be executed. The movie takes us through how Ryu Hwan/Dong Gu resolves his dilemma of obeying his country and turning his back against it when he finds out that it has practically abandoned him. 

Kim Soo Hyun as Ryu Hwan/Dong Gu

It's no secret that I love Kim Soo Hyun. After all, he's part of my list. I enjoyed watching him in Dream High and even his cameo in Hotel Del Luna

Secretly, Greatly showcased Kim Soo Hyun's weakness and strengths. 

Oppa and I are not huge fans of Kim Soo Hyun's comedy, which tends to be on the slapstick side. We first witnessed this in The Producers. And while we were already uncomfortable with the bit of slapstick in the drama, we were even more uncomfortable with his comedy in this film because the level of slapstick was probably twice as much as the drama version. 

However, I can gloss over that weakness because whatever he lacked in comedy, Kim Soo Hyun definitely made up for it with his outstanding performance in his dramatic and action scenes. 

I loved how Dong Gu gradually became integrated into the neighborhood and how he slowly crept into the lives of his neighbors - the naughty kids who would always make fun of him, the high school bully Yoo Joon (Choi Woo Shik of Summer Vacation, Youn's Stay, Parasite, Train to Busan, and Fight for My Way) and his sister Yoo Ran (Park Eun Bin of Hot Stove League and Dream High), the barber Mr. Park (Shin Jung Keun of Hotel Del Luna and Encounter), Ran (Lee Chae Young) who gave up her child for adoption, Dong Gu's foster brother Doo Suk (Hong Kyung In), and of course his foster mother Jun Son Lim (Park Hye Sook). 

To his neighbors, Dong Gu might just have been a village fool. But I felt that he knew them better than any other neighbor. And I absolutely loved how he repaid the kindness and attention his neighbors showed and gave him - helping find the older kid when they thought he was missing, finding the address of Ran's kid and giving her his savings so she can find her kid, saving the kids from danger, and rescuing Doo Suk from the gangsters. 

And while I already knew that Kim Soo Hyun was a great dramatic actor, I was pleasantly surprised that he can do action scenes so well too. His fight scenes were absolutely badass. 

I loved how Kim Soo Hyun showed us a little bit of everything in this movie (including his abs!) and how he did so well in most of his scenes. 

Park Ki Woong as Lee Hae Rang

This is the first time that we saw Park Ki Woong and I would have to say that he played the cool dude character really well. 

Hae Rang was also a North Korean spy who was one of Ryu Hwan's toughest competitors during their training days. He was sent to the South disguised as a musician. He was the illegitimate child of a high-ranking general from the North. 

I loved how Ki Woong portrayed the detached guy perfectly but it was evident that he actually cared about the people around him - he saved his people's families and helped them escape camp and he chose to sacrifice his life to save Ryu Hwan. 

Lee Hyun Woo as Ri Hae Jin

We're Lee Hyun Woo newbies too. But just like Park Ki Woong, he impressed us as well. 

Hae Jin was the youngest North Korean spy who had an undying loyalty to Ryu Hwan who took him under his wings when he was a kid. Disguised as a high school student, he wanted to protect Ryu Hwan at all costs - even if it meant giving up his life. And while I found his loyalty really admirable, it was just too tragic that he failed to see the bigger picture - how his life mattered more than the country that abandoned him. He opted to die instead of being under the control of the South Koreans. 

Son Hyun Joo as Kim Tae Won

I rarely have nice things to say about villains. I often become too attached to the main leads that I end up loathing the villains. But I have to make an exception for Son Hyun Joo. I will always have a soft spot for him since he was in one of the first K dramas I watched (Terms of Endearment) where he played the role of a battered, submissive husband. I loved him in Itaewon Class too where he was perfect as a loving and caring father. And that's why I was so amazed with his versatility. He was truly scary here as the leader of the special unit where Ryu Hwan belonged. Yes, the scar helped but his excellent delivery definitely made him the perfect villain for this film. 

Other Versatile Actors

Son Hyun Joo was not the only all-around actor in this film. 

Kim Sung Kyun delivered really well again as a South Korean intelligence officer. This role is quite different from his funny astrologer role in Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo, his stiff student character in Reply 1994, his funny dad role in Reply 1988, and his somehow serious priest character in Hospital Playlist. I just love how Kim Sung Kyun can play diverse roles and do well every single time. 

Although we only see Ko Chang Seok in supporting roles, it was nice to see him in something more serious this time - as a North Korean professor, disguised as a delivery guy, who opposed the creation of the special unit because he believed these spies could turn into traitors if they integrate well into the South Korean society. Again, this was different from his journalist role in 1987: When the Day Comes, his cameo in A Taxi Driver, his funny and protective character in Encounter, and his strict fatherly role in Reply 1988. Ko Chang Seok is proof that you can always choose to show your best regardless of the role you're given. 


As I mentioned above, the movie was off to quite a slow start. I felt that you can actually skip the entire hour and just start watching from the second hour. It didn't help that the agents' missions were unclear. But I knew I was not alone because even the spies themselves had no clue about what they really had to do. Ryu Hwan would often wonder if his superiors have forgotten him. But when the mission to commit suicide came, the story picked up. 

One of the things I loved most about this film were the fight scenes because they were well choreographed and executed. 

My main take away from the film is the danger of blind loyalty - yes, we need to be loyal to our countries but we also need to think critically, especially if the people who promote this kind of "patriotism" actually have evil intentions. Loyalty, by itself, is admirable. But doing it blindly is sad, scary, and even tragic. 

It was a tragic ending for the three agents, but most especially for Ryu Hwan. Until the end, he was willing to die for his country, so long as his mother was protected. But it totally shattered him when he found out that she was killed by the very same people to whom he entrusted her. He no longer had any reason to live. Probably, more than the pain of knowing that his mother was gone, the most painful thing for him was knowing that he gave his all for his country, yet it chose to abandon and even betray him in the end. 

I loved the poignant ending where as Ryu Hwan died that rainy afternoon, his neighbors were all looking at the rain quietly with most of them probably contemplating about the impact Dong Gu had in their lives. 

In the end, I liked the somehow positive tone that the movie tried to convey - helping others and being humane know no race. We can all co-exist regardless of our race, gender, political beliefs, etc., as long as we learn how to be kind and accepting. 

Oppa says...4.4.

Noona says...4.4.