I never saw the Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy film Spy from a couple of years back. Not really my bag, so strange that I thought this South Korean film, with a similar-yet-different-premise, might be.
Part-Time Spy stars Chae-Ah Han (Marry Him If You Dare, Bridal Mask) as a woman who has numerous small jobs whilst trying to pass her exam to get into the South Korean NSA. She consistently fails the entrance exam whilst doing these other jobs, such as a taxi-driver, dog trainer and lots of others.
One day she finally receives word that she’s passed the exam, she’s in! Her two-year contract runs-through quickly and, with just three-months to go, she is told she has to be let go due to budget cuts. She also learns that her boss, who’s just fired her, has fallen for a phishing scam and given half-a-million pounds of government money over. To save her job, she volunteers to go undercover to get the money back for him, hopeful of a job at the end.
This teams her up with Jae-yoon Jo (Working Girl, S.I.U.), who is also undercover but from the police. These two, this odd-couple, must put aside their differences to get to the bottom of this phishing scam and, of course, Chae-Ah Han’s numerous previous jobs come in handy throughout.
Part-Time Spy is not a classic, let’s get that out there from the start. It’s a bizarre and way too long, just shy of two-hours, movie that never really gets into top gear. Chae-Ah Han plays the role of the bumbling-quiet-shy, desperate to please her boss NSA agent well although it’s a very understated performance than perhaps we’re used to from our Hollywood stars.
Jae-yoon Jo meanwhile is the tough, career girl who is fighting all sorts of stereo-type issues at work and a slight anger-management issue and she plays the role well, probably the stand-out. Most other characters are peripheral and a little too cliched to be of note.
This is director Deok-Soo Kim’s first feature film and he doesn’t do a bad job behind the camera. However, and there’s not really an easy way to put this, it appears our director is a fan of a certain aspect of Quentin Tarantino, and probably not the one you think. Yes, it appears Kim is a fan of the female foot.
There are some shots, which as shots go are fine, but are out of place and don’t seem to be in there for any reason except to show Jae-yoon putting heels on. Or when the pair are discussing their ‘secret’ identities, we jump to a shot of a pair of high-heels, and pan-up to reveal one of the co-workers who has overhead them. However, this never goes any further, she doesn’t appear to use this information in any way, shape of form. There are a few of these.
Whilst Part-Time Spy is not great, there was something about it that made me keep watching. I’ve had a while to try and think about what that was. Part of it (and apologies is this is chauvinistic) is that Jae-yoon is absolutely beautiful, that helps. But actually, I think the reason is Chae-Ah Han’s portrayal of this bumbling character.
You want to find out how it all turns out for her, that she grows in confidence, who she turns into. Sadly, we don’t really get to see that as the transformation is as subtle as some parts of the film.
Yes, there are really, really silly moments, the type you only see in Korea/Japanese comedies, but the rest of Part-Time Spy comes across as subdued and gentle, it flows along and occasionally bursts into life. Perhaps it was this that kept me watching.