(Photo : movie poster)Big Bang rapper TOP has been making a name for himself in the South Korean entertainment industry - not just on stage or in the studio, but on the big and small screens as well.
The idol turned actor has appeared in a handful of successful films and television dramas, and his latest project, Commitment, opened in US theaters this weekend.
TOP, whose real name is Choi Seung Hyun, plays the film's lead character Myung Hoon, a young North Korean spy posing as a high school student in Seoul, sent there to finish his father's failed mission.
While the initial plot outline might suggest Commitment follows a cheesy, run-of-the-mill storyline, the final product is anything but.It is simultaneously an action flick and a heartwarming tale of a young man just trying to do the right thing.
The South Korean movie is set between 2009 and 2011, at the end of Kim Jong Il's life and reign over North Korea.
The film focuses on the complicated position of Korean millennials, who are a couple generations removed from the Korean war and the nation's split between North and South, but who are nevertheless affected by the continuing tensions.
For its intended South Korean audience, the plot was likely an easy one to follow, but for the average American in the theater, the complex relationship between North and South may have been difficult to grasp.
It begin's with Myung Hoon's father failing to complete his assignment in the South, losing his life and leaving his two children back in a Pyongyang labor camp.Myung Hoon is then given the opportunity to finish the mission himself and raise himself and his sister out of desolation.
Flash forward two years, and the now 20-year-old spy is ready for duty.
After posing as a defector who escapes to the South, Myung Hoon soon gets tangled in a web of deceit and betrayal among rival espionage rings.
Not surprisingly, North Korea was not painted in a particularly good light, but TOP's tender portrayal of the film's protagonist helped to provide a different perspective of and insight into the ongoing struggles between the two sides.
The North-South divide is a sensitive topic that could have been discussed to a much greater extent in Commitment, opening the entire script up for more twists and turns, but it is obvious writer Kim Soo Young opted to sway the conversation elsewhere.
Instead of focusing on the reasons why North Korea continues to utilize extensive organized spy networks in the South, Commitment follows the struggle for power among two groups of North Korean spies.
By diverting the focus almost solely on to the Northern players, the script allows for the Seoul police detectives to sweep in at the last moment and clean up the mess.
Plot aside, Commitment was filled with a steady stream of thrilling action scenes.The frequent fights were well done and interesting - almost as if the director's goal was to show the multitude of ways a North Korean spy could kill someone.
At first glance, TOP's Myung Hoon seems like a quiet, reserved individual whose incredible focus on the task at hand makes him appear insensitive and cold.But the character is much more complex than that.
TOP does an excellent job of portraying the complicated emotions of his character - a vulnerable young man who longs for a normal life and will stop at nothing to rescue his younger sister, but who must ultimately kill others to make that happen.
After finishing his duty, Myung Hoon discovers he has been betrayed by his country in one of the most heartbreakingly expressive and realistic scenes of the whole movie.
Perhaps what was most impressive about Commitment was the interaction between the different characters, making the film more of an introspective look at the humanity behind the fighting, and less about the actual shots being fired.
The brother-sister relationship is rather mundane until the girl is ultimately used as a bargaining chip to convince Myung Hoon to surrender.While his fondness for and desire to protect his little sis may be the motivation for all that Myung Hoon must endure, their relationship is far from the movie's most intriguing.
Three other characters' interactions with the spy form the backbone for the entire film.
The first, with his handler and direct supervisor in North Korea, serves as a metaphor for Myung Hoon's love-hate relationship with his country and the almost paternal role the government takes over his life.It becomes painfully obvious that the motivation and goals for why Myung Hoon does what he does and why the government wants him to do those things are very different indeed.
After his foster parents are heinously murdered, Myung Hoon frequently visits an elderly 'grandmother of the revolution' who is in charge of caring for the various undercover northerners.She helps fill the void left by the loss of both Myung Hoon's parents and final scene between the two is one of the film's most heart-wrenching.
There was the potential for a romantic storyline with Myung Hoon's classmate Hye In, but the writer chose not to go there, instead keeping their friendship platonic.Hye In is Myung Hoon's first and only friend, a relationship that is thankfully kept pure until the movie's final scenes.It was a refreshing change of pace and gave infinitely more meaning to their bond, rather than reducing it to hormonal urges.
The film ends with the unexpected passing of Kim Jong Il and a change in regime, suggesting that the battle between North and South is ongoing and ever-changing - continuing to affect the lives of each new generation in increasingly complicated ways.
The average open-minded American movie-goer will likely find intrigue in Commitment's plot, even with very little personal experience to draw on, and will undoubtedly be entranced by the unique character study the film presents.
Commitment opened in select US theaters on December 6.