Jeong-ae (Yun In-ja) is such a bad girl that she pretends that she's a hooker as a way to cover up her much-worse role in society: She's a North Korean spy! As bad luck would have it, she falls hard for Shin Yeong-cheol (Lee Hyang-ja), a dock-worker/penniless-student who's working his way up the ladder of the South Korean military. Neither knows the other one's secret life outside the tawdry apartment that she's decorated with weird dolls, cheap curtains, and an owl clock that shifts its eyes left and right with every second. As the wise old owl knows, eventually their time of bliss will be over. Tick, tick, tick.
All those booze-fueled flirtations, the shopping sprees that snagged him a nice suit and her a well-dressed piece of arm candy, those sleepovers in which they've inexplicably spent the night fully clothed in a twin-sized bed are about to become troublesome memories. Is it love that kept the other so close or something else? Has she been double-crossing him since day one? Was she actually under constant observation by him night after passionate night? Is the pure love that each continually professes a complete ruse?
This is melodrama built on the idea that when romance unravels, drama heightens. After numerous scenes punctuated by silences that feel either unintentionally modernist or patiently waiting for the actor to say the next line, The Hand of Destiny culminates in two pretty engrossing shootouts on a mountaintop -- one with her hiding just a few feet behind him, the other filmed inside a cave that suggests they, and her bullying secret agent boss (Ju Seon-tae), have been transported to the moon. Indeed, the best cinematography in director Han Hyeong-mo's The Hand of Destiny makes the most of otherworldly shadows and angles so that household objects like a wicker purse or a circular mirror look somehow familiar and strange.
Although historically important for having the first big screen kiss in Korean movie history, The Hand of Destiny's most riveting love scene is actually a death scene, too, in which the femme fatale looks to be experiencing a near-orgasm of death as she begs her former lover to kill her once and for all. As endings go, it's a pretty entertaining one. As an oldie-but-goodie, it's really so-so.