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“Secret Couple” (a far better title than the rather familiar and misleading “My Girlfriend is an Agent”) is basically a Korean take on the recent Hollywood action couple comedy thriller “Mr and Mrs Smith”. Strangely enough, the film was directed by Shin Tae Ra, whose previous efforts were the intense, grisly serial killer horror “Black House” and the offbeat “Brain Wave”. Here, he turns his talents to an entirely different form, backed by an appealing pair of leads in the form of genre favourite Kim Ha Neul (also in the likes of “Lovers of Six Years”, “My Tutor Friend” and “Ice Rain”) and Kang Ji Hwan (recently excellent in “Rough Cut”), who last worked together on the television series “90 Days, Time for Love”.
The film begins with the nerdy Jae Joon (Kang Ji Hwan) leaving the country after tearfully dumping his girlfriend Soo Ji (Kim Ha Neul) due to her deceitful ways, not realising that she was in fact covering up a dangerous secret life as a government agent. Fast forward 3 years, and he himself is a rookie now working for a similar group, on a case involving Russian spies and a deadly virus. Conveniently enough, Soo Ji is also trying to track down the same villains, and it isn’t long before their paths cross, reawakening old feelings and reopening old wounds as they try to keep the truth from each other at the same time as saving the country.
Although Jae Joon is an agent too, he is a pretty useless one, and is basically still the bumbling male loser type so common in this type of comedy, with Soo Ji being confident, aggressive and spending a fair amount of the running time either shouting at him or beating him up. Thankfully, he does man up as the film progresses, losing his womanly scream in the process, and the film never slips into shrieking “Sassy” territory or undermines the central premise by making his character too much of a figure of fun to make for a convincing action man.
This is certainly helped by the fact that both Kang Ji Hwan and Kim Ha Neul are on good form, with a genuine chemistry between the two that makes their bickering relationship somewhat more believable. The film does show more attention to character than is usual for the genre, fleshing out the two leads somewhat, and they have a more interesting dynamic than many of their peers. This also makes things more involving, if not actually moving, and distracts from the predictable plot, which needless to say plays a very distant second place to the hi-jinks, despite a couple of fairly bizarre twists towards the end.
Perhaps more importantly, director Shin Tae Ra does make an effort to inject a little more action and pace into the proceedings than might have been expected, with plenty of set pieces, most of which are generally well handled and exciting. There are quite a few good chase scenes, in particular the opening sequence, which sees Kim Ha Neul looking rather fetching in a hiked-up wedding dress pursuing bad guys on a jet ski The film also contains surprisingly little sappiness, with just a few sob story montages, and it bucks the usual trend in that instead of the final act taking a nosedive into romance and melodrama, it packs in more shoot outs and suspense. The comedy actually works quite well too, with some good capering and misunderstandings, underscored by the inevitable slapstick. Although it would be going too far to call the script clever, it is at least quite inventive in its nonsense, and there are a few very amusing gag scenes.
This makes “Secret Couple” far more entertaining than it might otherwise have been, and one of the few films of its type to successfully mix romance, comedy and action. Although the film doesn’t really offer anything new, Shin manages to keep things light and entertaining throughout, and thanks to the blend of genres and general lack of melodrama, it is likely to appeal to guys as well as girls, making for a perfect date film.
Sin Tae-ra (director) / Cheon Seong-il (screenplay)
CAST: Kim Ha-neul, Kang Ji-hwan, Ryoo Seung-yong, Jang Young-nam, Kang Shin-il