Covertly, Grandly? Maybe not all that Covert

Do I even have to say spoilers?  Just assume everything I may write contains spoilers, okay?

Okay I am going to hit the bottom line here from the get go,  because so many people seem to have been shocked or disappointed in the ending:

The main characters were North Korean spies. Who in the world would think this movie would end with a happy ever after?  I mean seriously, spies, communist, hello, and it’s a Korean film so you know shit will get real weird real quick.   Koreans have the monopoly with messing with your head with comedy and then just as you are laughing, someone loses a limb.

And no to the eternal optimists, there was no way anyone survived.

There were no surprises in this film, other than a certain metaphor, which I was totally not expecting.  More about that in a bit.

There was a message here that the North Korean ideology is futile, and  that communism is its own worst enemy.   But I think the film  humanized the three characters that could have easily become stereotypes or unlikable, without totally compromising their honor or the spy plot (no one likes a traitor, period).  That the villagers remembered them, and the convenience store mom refused to think of Won Ryu-hwan (Kim Soo-hyun) with any animosity reflected the three as people, human beings, not defined by politics. The sympathetic agent also served a purpose:  the character represented the idealistic and romantic South Korean message, that despite the conflicting political ideologies, South Koreans see the North as family, and wish nothing more to see conflict end.

I felt the comic bits, that a top-notch NK soldier was posing as the village idiot was simply part of the message of both the futility of the NK ideology, and applied to the metaphor (that I will discuss in a bit), that some people in society live a double life.  Which leads to:

Homo-eroticism=Absolutely intentional.  Did Won Ryu-hwan use it to manipulate Ri Hae-Jin (Lee Hyun-Woo)?  Oh, the hat scene, so classic mind fucking.  So yes, absolutely, it was a spy movie, hello, and it was used just as would have happened if they were of opposite sex. The plot made sure to let us know that Won Ryu-hwan was not impervious to female assets, whether the boob thing, or his little crush on the village girl, because you know, we must have a manly hero (that was sarcasm) and to misdirect  maybe, fly under the radar on the homoerotisim in a mainstream movie?

The “romance” between the two spies would have been an amazing thing to watch unfold. The thought of the level of emotion those two actors could bring to the table, it’s a crying all night shame that it did not happen.

I thought the shooting scene “little death” dance, well, wow,  that this made it in the film.  Maybe they think most of the audience would not get it?

We have two reasons for the homoeroticism in the film:

1) The homoeroticism added sexual tension to the movie.   The film was not going to invest in a romance with the village girl because it negated the character development of WRH. If Won Ryu-hwan was the perfect soldier and spy, he would only use romance or sex for the purpose of the mission. Also, “they” could not compromise the honor of a “good South Korean” girl with being the romantic/sexual dupe of a NK spy.  And no girl spies around to get busy with, right?  Did not anyone else notice that there were no girls allowed in the spy club?

2)  The communist spy thing was a metaphor for closeted homosexuality.  Not only is NK ideology outdated, so is the cultural stigma of homosexuality.  These covert spies were living a double life, not being who they really were, going through motions of life.  No one knew who they really were, in NK or as spies in SK. They always wore masks.   The conversation, the flash back to the boys for one small moment in time, allowing themselves to be real, speaking how they like to live well in a normal life.

I would have loved to see more character development with Lee Hae-rang, because as usual, Park Ki-woong put in a stellar performance as the cynical, pragmatic one of the bunch. I thought the cast was great all around.

I had a few issues with the whole “village idiot” thing in this day and age, but as far as I am concerned the goofiness was completely tolerable as Kim Soo-hyun’s smile is such a wondrous thing to behold, he could have stayed the village idiot the entire movie and I’d probably have been mesmerized.


The movie was interesting to watch, and has layers, and something to say, and really great plot and a good cast with great chemistry.  It just did not have time to develop the characters.  Many people have commented this would have made a great drama.  I am not sure I’d go that far, 16-20 episodes is a lot to invest to watch people die.  But, a mini-series, maybe 6 episodes, I could see that.  Me, I’d definitely focus on the relationships.

This is a fan made cut of the movie that really boils down what is easy to miss between Won Ryu-hwan and Ri Hae-Jin amidst all the drama.  I am not a fan of taking scenes out of context, which many fan vids do, but there are only a few instances of such in this fan vid,   It’s a bit sentimental, but it gives an overview without me going in and capturing segments/making gifs, which for some reason I have totally forgotten how to do.   I appreciate the effort the fan made in putting this together.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Caitlyn Burton
    Oct 15, 2013 @ 07:04:21

    The problem with Covertly Grandly is that they just didn’t develop anything enough. The ending would have been fine if it wasn’t so long. Cut that short, develop the characters more, and it might have been a bit better.

    I don’t know if they should’ve just cut out the comedy, or made it funny all the way through. It was just such an odd mix, which works in some movies but didn’t in this one. The sympathetic Agent needed to be explained better as well. He might have been representing the South Korean wish for peace and family, but they didn’t portray him as that, they didn’t portray him as anything. He was just a random agent who didn’t want to kill people. I think the movie probably had a lot to say but I don’t think they actually managed to say it.

    You’re right, an actual drama would probably be too long but definitely a mini-series would have been good. Or a 10 episode cable drama (shorter episodes). I can totally see it as a cable drama, actually. They’d play up the homoeroticism more as well, lol. That was so cute, I would’ve loved to have seen more of that.


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