Review: Our Lifeline (2002)

What struck me most about Our Lifeline, an actually pretty good espionage thriller with a couple of cute twists in its tale, was how old the film looked. I sat through Part 1, which clocked in at around 1 hour 20 minutes and wondered when this film was made. Obviously judging by the aesthetics it had to be around the 80s, but when I couldn’t be certain.

Jo Yun Chol looking thoughtful

After searching IMDb.com and wikipedia to no avail, I googled it and was genuinely shocked to find it was made in 2002. Of course, it was set in 1950 but the framing sequences at the beginning and end took place in “modern times” and it still looked like a film from times past.

The plot follows that of an idealistic school teacher who was orphaned during the Japanese occupation of Korea. When approached by the intelligence bureau and asked to join the course to help protect Kim Il-sung, Jo Yun Chol is at first aprehensive, but after realising that “… safeguarding our national leader is our lifeline” he joins the good fight.

The action sequences are (reasonably) well staged. When I get around to learning how to edit videos I’ll upload it to youtube because it’s something to behold.
The rest of the action makes for a reasonably sophisticated film, where the characters are developed beyond a two-dimensional level – Yun Chol (played by the dashing Rim Yong Ho) is a doe-eyed and honourable servant to the cause, but he is still troubled by a duty to the woman he wants to marry and her family.Kim Thae Son is the leader of a rebel faction looking to assassinate the deputy director of the intelligence bureau, and there in lies the exposition. This film actually ranks up there as one of the best North Korean films I’ve seen. Part 2, which is available in DVD, will surely tie up the remaining loose ends which the film leaves, and I have to admit I’m willing to give it a go.One strange footnote, in the book Korean Film Art, there is a whole section dedicated to espionage and counter-espionage thrillers. As I delve further and further into North Korean cinema I can imagine I’ll see a lot more of this type of movie pop up…

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