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While the attack on Pearl Harbor has been depicted in films from the American and Japanese perspective, few people know of North Korea ‘s involvement in the events that took place on Dec 7, 1941 . Now the efforts of Haan Kil-Soo, an unsung hero of World War II, finally comes to light in a Korean import from director Lee In Soo. While the historical events leave little doubt of the film’s tragic outcome, the movie is nevertheless an engaging look at a man whose contributions to the United States have been largely overlooked by history.
The titular Haan Kil-Soo (or “Han Gil Su”, according to the film’s International title) immigrated to Hawaii from Korea when he was just five years old, and eventually grows up to take a position working for the Japanese consulate in Honolulu. But that isn’t his only job — Haan is really a double agent, spying for the United States with whom his true loyalties lay. While working in the consulate, Haan discovers Japan ‘s intent to attack Pearl Harbor and destroy America ‘s Pacific Fleet in a surprise attack meant to cripple the U.S. Navy. Haan attempts to warn the Americans, but is put off and his dire warnings apparently ignored. As the date of the attack looms, can he stop a surprise attack that will cripple the United States Navy?
“Han Gil Su” is buoyed by Ahn Jae Mo, a famous television actor in Korea who makes the seamless transition to the big screen. Mo convincingly conveys the difficulties of living a double life, pretending to serve one master while working for another, and the constant danger of being discovered. He also displays the frustration of helplessness as a catastrophe to his adopted country creeps ever closer and he is powerless to stop it. Mo doesn’t just use his voice to convey his character’s raw, conflicted emotions, but employs subtle slight facial expressions and body language. Also effective in her role is Im Yoo Jin, playing a Japanese woman who risks her life to help Haan even though it goes against her own loyalties.
Director Lee In Soo wisely approaches “Han Gil Su” as a spy thriller, a decision that makes the film far more interesting to watch than if it had been a dry docudrama based on actual facts. Although the audience is well aware of the eventual outcome ( Pearl Harbor was bombed, thousands of Americans died, and the Pacific Fleet was indeed crippled, but not destroyed), In Soo still managed a good amount of suspense. He also keeps the action moving at a brisk pace, and keeps the running time at roughly 90 minutes to prevent things from being too drawn out. The cinematography is also excellent, adding visual flair with crisp colors. The musical score is never overpowering, and serves to accentuate the action instead of threatening to overtake them.
“Han Gil Su’s” only flaw is the lack of historical information available to the filmmakers, for the simple reason that there is little written about Haan Kil-Soo in the history books. This results in a cautionary approach to the film, as one can’t really know for sure if how much of what we see onscreen is fact-based and how much is artistic license. That is true with any film based on a real person, but with so little information available about the actual Haan Kil-Soo, it would have been a plus to know more about the man himself. One would think that the true story of the man’s life, and what he was attempting, could certainly have held an entire movie together without the need for conjecture.
In the final analysis, “Han Gil Su” succeeds by entertaining as well as educating. The film, rather most of it is based on fact or made up for the purposes of a good movie, nevertheless sheds light on an unknown hero of the Pearl Harbor attack. Because of this, “Han” will not only appeal to history buffs, but any moviegoer that appreciates a finely crafted thriller that takes a new angle on a story that has been told many times in many different ways. The perspective in “Han Gil Su” is one you definitely haven’t seen before.
Lee In Soo (director) / Lee In Soo (screenplay)
CAST: Ahn Jae Mo …. Han Gil Su
Im Yoo Jin ….