The Spy Gone North Movie Poster

Trivia for The Spy Gone North

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  • The code-name of South Korean military intelligence army major Seok-young Park (Jung-min Hwang) was "Black Venus".
  • Decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Cold War spy thrillers have long since started to show their age. But not so on the Korean peninsula, where the Cold War lives on uninterrupted into present times. Arriving at a time when North-South Korean relations have been as dramatic as ever, 'The Spy Gone North' tells one of the most surprising untold stories of the Cold War, set during the crisis that gripped the Korean peninsula in the 1990s when word leaked of the North Korea's clandestine nuclear program. Against this backdrop, one man was trained as a spy, and managed to infiltrate even the very top levels of the North Korean hierarchy.
  • The film marked the return to the Cannes Film Festival of award-winning director Jong-bin Yoon. Over a decade ago, his theatrical feature film debut, 'The Unforgiven' (2005), secured a prestigious selection in the 'Un Certain Regard' section of the Cannes Film Festival. in 2018, 'Gongjak' (2018) (aka 'The Spy Gone North' (2018)) was selected to screen out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival.
  • The movie contains its share of surprises. Adopting a realist approach, the film blends fascinating historical detail, striking shots of Pyongyang, and other North Korean locations.
  • Both director Jong-bin Yoon's debut feature 'The Unforgiven' (2005) and 'The Spy Gone North' (2018) both provide insight into Korea's situation as a divided nation.
  • The "NIS" acronym in the film stood for South Korea's "National Intelligence Service".
  • This spy movie is loosely based on the true story of real-life South Korean agent called Park Chae-seo, who was code-named 'Black Venus', and who infiltrated North Korea's nuclear facilities during the 1990s. Director Jong-bin Yoon read Park Chae-seo's auto-biography and decided to make a movie about it by fictionalizing it as a spy film.
  • Fifth theatrical feature film directed by South Korean director Jong-bin Yoon.
  • Actor Jung-min Hwang, who plays the South Korean spy with the code-name 'Black Venus', said of the emphasis of playing his central spy character of Seok-young Park (aka Suk-young Park) in this film: "I spent a lot of time discussing his character with the director [Jong-bin Yoon], and we decided to approach it almost like two separate characters, so that the acting for Park Suk-young would be different for that of 'Black Venus'. For example, when operating in China or North Korea, he is 'Black Venus', not Park Suk-young. He has his own distinctive look, actions and speaking style. I tried to portray 'Black Venus' less as a spy, and more as a kind of businessman. In general, 'Black Venus' and Park Suk-young speak different dialects, the South-eastern Gyeongsang dialect and a standard dialect, so we can think of them as different people."
  • Director Jong-bin Yoon's official Director's Statement for this film reads: "The starting point for 'The Spy Gone North' was my curiosity about the spy called 'Black Venus'. My interest in his activities, which can be seen as the most successful operation in the history of South Korean espionage, soon evolved into a desire to make a realistic spy film that doesn't exaggerate the facts. I felt confident that this story set in the last place on earth where the Cold War still reigns, where two nations of the same people face off against each other, would result in something new within the spy genre. I'd like to ask a similar question to that posed by the great spy novelist John le Carr?: 'For decades we've treated each other as enemies and fought. But what have we been fighting for?'. Through this film about 'Black Venus' and the people he met on both sides of the border, I hope to motivate viewers to think about this question."
  • Cameo: Lee Hyori as herself.
  • This South Korean spy movie has been nominated in six categories with seven nominations at the 27th Buil Film Awards. These include: Best Film The Spy Gone North ; Best Director - Yoon Jong-bin; Best Actor -Hwang Jung-min and Lee Sung-min; Best Supporting Actor - Ju Ji-hoon; Best Screenplay - Kwon Sung-hwi & Yoon Jong-bin; and Best Art Direction - Park Il-hyun.
  • Taiwan doubled for both North Korea and Beijing in China for some parts of the movie which are set there.
  • Though the film is partially set in both North Korea and Beijing in China none of the movie was actually filmed in China or North Korea.
  • The name of the city in North Korea where the nuclear plant was allegedly situated was "Yongbyon".
  • According to 'The Korea Times', the film became a box-office hit there with about two million people going to see it there in its first five days of release.
  • Of the adapting of the 'Black Venus Case' for the screen in this movie, this film's director Jong-bin Yoon said: "Around 2014, I was researching the National Intelligence Service [NIS] and I came across a reference to a spy called 'Black Venus'. I was intrigued. After the NIS and the American CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] received intelligence in 1989 about the North Korean nuclear program, one man had his identity washed and was sent to North Korea as a spy. I was curious to find out how a spy operation of the type we usually see in films or novels might have played out in reality, and what was happening on the South Korean side."
  • This film's director Jong-bin Yoon said of his intention with this movie was "in general, spy films fall into the action genre and are centered on the completion of a mission, conflict with an antagonist, and thrilling action set pieces. But at the same time, I also thought one could tell an interesting story about human nature through a film about a spy. Spies need to infiltrate a nation to obtain information, but to gain an advantage they also gradually come to see things through the eyes of the other."
  • The directorial perspective of how the approach to this work was different from the previous films of this film's director Jong-bin Yoon was stated by him as: "This is my first time adapting a real-life story. But what's most different is that I tried to tell this story in a different way from ordinary spy films or action movies. I didn't want audiences to be able to predict what course the story would take from scene to scene. So what was most important was to maintain that tension throughout the film of not knowing what would come next."
  • According to this movie's director Jong-bin Yoon, what distinguishes this film from other ordinary spy movies, is: "Western spy stories set during the Cold War are centered around conflict and competition between two ideological systems, but what most distinguishes the case of Korea is that the two systems are made up of the same people. It's a very unusual situation that a single nation becomes divided into two separate systems. Korea is also the one place on earth where the Cold War still exists. Because of this, the emotional texture of this film is different from other spy movies. I wanted the audience to feel the tension that results from this sort of highly complex operation and subtle battle of wits, so I worked with the actors on expressing slight shifts in the atmosphere, on portraying situations where the characters' faces may be smiling, but undercurrents of suspicion flow between them."
  • Of this film's cinematography and its emphasis, this movie's director Jong-bin Yoon said: "I used many more close-ups than I have in the past. I followed one principle when shooting 'Black Venus', that I always shot separately the dialogue that he speaks as part of his outward role, and the moments that express his inner thoughts or feelings. It was through close-ups that I tried to capture the subtle facial movements and tension that show how even when he is deceiving the people in front of him, he is experiencing some sort of nervousness inside."
  • Of the movie's filming locations, this picture's director Jong-bin Yoon said: "I had the ambition to show audiences images that they have never seen before. But since it's based on a true story, I thought viewers had to recognize the spaces. It's not possible to shoot in North Korea at this time, so I was concerned about how to present Pyongyang, Guryong River, the outdoor market, etc. in a realistic way. We solved that problem through various means: foreign locations, CGI, and building open sets in South Korea. I wanted viewers to feel like what they were seeing was really North Korea, so I devoted a lot of attention to creating realistic spaces."
  • The back stories to the movie's casting of its cast were as follows as outlined by the film's director Jong-bin Yoon: "Hwang Jung-min was the first actor I thought of for 'Black Venus'. I wanted an actor who did not fit the typical image of a spy, but who could still carry off the rough and straightforward look of a soldier. I needed a face that could not be easily read, but which contained both good and evil within it. So Hwang Jung-min was the one who came to mind. The character of Ri Myong-un is a complicated one, someone whose inner thoughts can never be read, whose actions cannot be predicted. A North Korean who nonetheless projects an intellectual air and sense of humanity. I thought Lee Sung-min was the perfect match for that role. As for Director Choi, he is in charge of all North Korean espionage activities, and I wanted him to give off the air of an officer. Besides, many key figures in the NIS [National Intelligence Service] were originally officers by training. The actor Cho Jin-woong gives off that kind of aura. In particular, I didn't want Director Choi to come across too easily as a malevolent character, and I didn't want to show him using malicious means to hold onto his power. The actor who I felt could best express the inner logic and motivations of this character was Cho Jin-woong. Jong Moo-taek was the last major role to be cast, and in terms of overall balance I thought Ju Jihoon could bring a very distinctive air to that character. In North Korea, which you can think of as a hierarchical class society, this character is someone with privileged origins who rises to a high rank at a young age. I thought Ju Ji-hoon's cool demeanor would be a good match for the role."
  • Actor Sung-min Lee, who plays Myong-un Ri, the Director of North Korea's External Economic Council, said of how he came to joining the production: "The key reason for me was director Yoon Jong-bin. I worked with him on his previous film, and it was quite a meaningful experience, so that was the deciding factor. Last year he visited the theater production I was acting in and told me about his screenplay, which seemed quite fascinating and new. In particular the dialogue felt fresh. The conversations between characters had real impact, like physical action. So I felt that in this film, the dialogue could function almost like action sequences."
  • Actor Jin-Woong Cho (aka Jin-woong Jo), who plays Hak-seong Choi, the Director of South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS), said of his experience of working with the other cast members on this movie: "It was my first time working with Hwang Jung-min, so it was exciting and I learned a lot. He's a role model for me in many ways, so I actually felt a bit shy. What I felt from Hwang Jung-min, Lee Sung-min, and Ju Ji-hoon can be summed up in the word "intense". The film itself is intense, and the situations it portrays have a real concentrated impact, so I felt a deep intensity to the acting. And it may be surprising to hear, but Ju Ji-hoon was very cheerful and good natured on set, bringing us all together and helping to maintain a good balance."
  • Actor Ji-Hoon Ju (aka Ji-hun Ju), who plays Mu-taek Jong, the Section Chief of North Korea's State Security Department, explained of how in a genre sense, this film is different from other previous spy movies: "If most spy movies place an emphasis on action, 'The Spy Gone North' is more concentrated on psychological depth. It tries to capture the battle of nerves that happens when, in order to achieve their goals, characters present a false image of themselves, and continually try to unmask each other."
  • The character of Myong-un Ri (Sung-min Lee), the Director of North Korea's External Economic Council in the film, which is Beijing-based in China, is a true power broker in North Korea, and one of the few people who take part in face-to-face meetings with Kim Jong-Il (Ju-bong Gi).
  • According to 'The Korea Times', North Korea has made a rare comment on this movie but indirectly. The publication reports that North Korea's state-run Korea Central News Agency, "highlighted South Korean news agency Newsis' recent interview with Chung Dong-young, who is known to have met Park [Park Chae-seo] in late 1990s as an opposition party member. Chung was a presidential candidate and is now leader of the minor opposition Party for Democracy and Peace. The movie's main focus is on the 'Black Venus Case' in which Park was allegedly involved in an attempt to sway voters using the 'Northern Wind', the North's political influence on the South."
  • The period of principal photography on this picture ran for about six months running from about late January 2017 to around late July 2017.
  • One of at least two major espionage movies debuting in the year 2018 which have a title prefix of "The Spy...". The two pictures are 'The Spy Gone North' (2018) and 'The Spy Who Dumped Me' (2018).
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