Korean spy film screens at Cannes while real-world plot thickens

FILE PHOTO: 71st Cannes Film Festival - Photocall for the film The Spy Gone North (Gongjack) presented as part of midnight screenings - Cannes, France May 11, 2018. Cast members Hwang Jung-min, Lee Sung-min, and Ju Ji-hoon pose. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo

By Natasha Howitt

CANNES, France (Reuters) - "The Spy Gone North", the tale of a South Korean who infiltrated North Korea in the 1990s, is full of plot twists, but the movie might be outdone by the news, as efforts to resolve the nuclear stand-off face a real-life cliffhanger.

The spy thriller was shot between January and July 2017, around the time when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered a series of missile and nuclear tests, rattling neighboring nations and the new U.S. administration.

Since then, relations have thawed and the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival days before the North and South were due to hold high-level talks to discuss the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

But hours before the talks were due to start on Wednesday, the North called them off, complaining that the United States was pushing it for "Libya-style" denuclearisation.

Hollywood Reporter critic Deborah Young said: "... for sheer topicality, the film is hard to beat, and to find a full-blown entertainment yarn in Cannes ... that’s partially set in newsworthy North Korea is rather astounding."

The script is based on the personal notes of a South Korean spy, Park Suk-young, known as "Black Venus", who posed as a businessman to infiltrate the North and get information on its nuclear program.

For the South Korean cast and crew of "The Spy Gone North", current events were never far from their minds.

"When I read the script for the first time, I made a joke to the director, saying: is it possible to actually produce this movie?" said actor Lee Sung-min who plays an aide to the North's former leader, Kim Jong Il.

"Since then, the relationship has improved, but if tensions had remained as they were before, this movie could have been a very problematic one," he told Reuters in an interview conducted before the cancellation of Wednesday's talks.

Hwang Jung-min, who plays Black Venus, said he hoped the film would help foreign audiences understand Korean history, and how there is no "fun" in and "no need" for political war games.

Asked if he thought Kim would watch his movie, director Yoon Jong-bin replied: "It would be nice".

The Cannes Film Festival runs to May 19.

(Writing by Robin Pomeroy)

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