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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.

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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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