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Originally published January 9, 2014 at 3:10 PM | Page modified January 11, 2014 at 2:59 PM

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‘The Suspect’: South Korean spy thriller fires up popcorn fun

A three-star movie review of “The Suspect,” a South Korean spy thriller about a defector (Gong Yoo) eluding a manhunt while seeking his wife’s killer.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie Review 3 stars

‘The Suspect,’ with Gong Yoo, Park Hee-soon, Cho Seong-ha, Yoo Da-in. Directed by Won Shin-yun, from a screenplay by Lim Sang-yun. 137 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Alderwood Mall Cinemas; Century Federal Way.

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The photo is not Gong Yoo, it's the co-star Park Hee-soon. MORE


It’s only January, yet perhaps not too soon to call “The Suspect” one of the best popcorn movies of the year.

A South Korean spy thriller that plays like “The Bourne Identity” on steroids, this relentless chase film gets a little Byzantine in its plotting. But the gist of the story — involving everything from a purge of political enemies by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to a father’s search for a missing child to the emergence of a possible superweapon — is all one needs to know to get into the spirit of things.

Gong Yoo stars as a laconic, appealing antihero, Ji Dong-cheol, a highly trained intelligence operative who defects from North Korea after Kim’s ascendance to power nearly costs him his life.

Keeping a low profile in South Korea, Ji is framed for the murder of an important industrialist, launching a massive manhunt managed by a former enemy (Park Hee-soon) but controlled by a higher authority (Cho Seong-ha) with a secret agenda. This intrigue handily folds into Ji’s personal mission to find the assassin who killed his wife and took his young daughter.

Pace and scale are everything in “The Suspect.” If director Won Shin-yun can capture a moment of action from 12 different angles on land, sea and sky, he will do so to overwhelm an audience with awe and urgency.

For those been-there-seen-that-already action movie aficionados, Won even has a few original treats, including a backward car chase down a flight of steps and a crowd of police cars scattered like bowling pins by Ji’s fleeing vehicle.

The heart of “The Suspect,” though, is a satisfying story of various adversaries gradually becoming allies as they pursue a common justice.

For all its frenetic energy, “The Suspect” is finally a tale (above all in a poignant, can’t-miss coda) of relationships and trust.

Tom Keogh:

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