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Spy games: Korean cold war gets celluloid makeover

They are handsome, daring, patriotic and multi-lingual elite fighters who dodge bullets while remaining loyal to their women and families. Meet the new heroes of South Korean cinema — North Korean spies.

Portrayed by Hollywood as merciless terrorists in films such as White House Down, South Korean film is increasingly depicting North Korean agents as conflicted action heroes whose personal struggles embody a divided Korean peninsula. Such films, unimaginable a few decades ago, have been embraced by young South Koreans who have no memory of the horrors of the Korean War and harbour less hostility towards their communist neighbour than older generations.
Both sides remain technically at war after the Korean conflict ended with an armistice six decades ago.

Tension along the heavily-fortified border erupts sporadically into deadly clashes, while both sides have sent spies tasked with assassinating key figures or collecting state secrets. For South Korean filmmakers, the North is a ‘perfect inspiration’ allowing them to mix fantasy with the realities of a neighbour that often threatens to turn Seoul into a ‘sea of flame’.

‘The North is such a mysterious, little-known nation that there’s ample room to use one’s imagination on top of the actual reality,’ said film critic Kim Sun-Yub.
The death of longtime ruler Kim Jong-Il in 2011 further inspired moviemakers, said Jang Cheol-Soo, director of the recent hit Secretly, Greatly. 

The tragicomic action film, seen by 6.9 million since its release in June, is the third highest-selling South Korean film so far this year.

‘No other characters can epitomise such turbulent and uncertain times like this than a North Korean spy,’ Jang told AFP.  The story of an elite spy sent to live in a Seoul shantytown with a mission to kill key figures, Jang’s film sees the young assassin pose as a village idiot to mingle with neighbours without drawing suspicion. 
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