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A K-pop idol goes undercover in “Commitment”, an espionage thriller that marks the debut of director Park Hong Soo, who previously worked with Jang Hoon on his blockbusters “The Front Line” and “Secret Reunion”. The superstar in question is T.O.P (Choi Seung Hyun) of Big Bang fame, who follows up his supporting roles in the recent “Iris” and “71 – Into the Fire” with his first crack at headlining a film, taking on the role of a teenage North Korean agent who gets sent on a deadly mission to the South. With support coming from other top up and coming talent, including actresses Kim Yoo Jung (“The Moon That Embraces the Sun”) and Han Ye Ri (“As One”), the film is the latest in a line of North-South Korean dramas that focuses on young protagonists not even born during the early years of the conflict but caught up in its complexities and violence.
T.O.P plays Ri Myung Hoon, the film opening with him and his beloved younger sister Hye In (Kim Yoo Jung) stuck in a grim labour camp after their spy father was apparently killed in the South for traitorous behaviour. Desperate to win his sister her freedom, Myung Hoon enlists in an espionage program run by army officer Moon (Jo Sung Ha, “Helpless”) and is sent to the South, where he poses as a high school student while carrying out surveillance and assassination missions. A power struggle in the North sets different spy factions against each other, and Myung Hoon is tasked with tracking down a ruthless killer who has been knocking off other agents. Though he’s told that doing this will save his sister, he meets a bullied schoolgirl with the same name (Han Ye Ri), and his growing feelings for her start to make things more complicated.
“Commitment” has obvious similarities with Jang Cheol Su’s hit “Secretly, Greatly”, and the two films certainly cover a lot of the same subject matter, with young, good looking actors making for rather unlikely spies and hitmen. Park Hong Soo does take a slightly different route, his film being a somewhat darker affair, with more in the way of plot and politics, recalling Ryoo Seung Wan’s “The Berlin File” in its focus on rival spy teams and conspiracies. This works well, and though the film does occasionally get dragged down by its more melodramatic elements, Park shows restraint and keeps the relationship between Myung Hoon and the southern Hye In largely in the background.
The film is definitely at its strongest when dealing with shadowy schemes and undercover work, and has an effectively grim and downbeat take on loyalty and nationalism. While there are a few moments of humour here and there, it’s a weightier and more grounded affair than “Secretly, Greatly” and manages to convince as a serious spy thriller despite its teen idol vehicle premise.
Partly this is due to the fact that Park includes a fair amount of surprisingly bloody and brutal violence and a respectably high body count, with lots of beatings, stabbings, shootings and murders. The action and fight scenes are all well-handled, and made more effective by a ruthless script that’s not afraid to kill off sympathetic characters from early on, adding a certain edge to the proceedings. T.O.P does a solid job in the lead role and is at least vaguely believable as a spy and highly skilled enforcer and executioner, spending most of the running time alternating between moody glaring and angry angst. The rest of the cast are similarly fine, and there’s a semi-sweet chemistry between him and Han Ye Ri, with the veteran supporting players like Jo Sung Ha adding a touch of welcome grit and grizzle.
Though ultimately nothing ground-breaking, “Commitment” is a lot better than expected, and offers far more carnage and intrigue than the average K-pop idol showcase. It’s a decent debut for Park Hong Soo and an entertaining spy thriller that’s up there with, if not particularly different from most other recent genre entries.
Hong-soo Park (director) / Soo-young Kim (screenplay)
CAST: Seung Hyun Choi … Ri Myung-hoon / Kang Dae-ho
Ye-ri Han … Lee Hye-in
Ho-bin Jeong … Big Dipper
Sung Ha Jo … Moon Sang-chul
Yoo-Jeong Kim … Ri Hye-in