Shiri uses the deep divide between North and South Korea as a backdrop that's ripe for plenty of espionage, deceit and some highly kinetic action between these two nations that are constantly on the brink of war with each other. Leader of the North Korean 8th Special Forces Park mu-Young has been training soldiers to become sleeper agents that will wreak havoc throughout South Korea, and his most promising student is Lee Bang-hee, a sniper. For six years the elusive assassin 'Hee' has terminated many prominent South Korean government officials as the two agents in charge of taking her down, Yu Jong-won and Lee Jang-gil are always one step behind this ghost. However when the 8th Special Forces launches an especially audacious attack on South Korean soil stealing a volatile explosive known as 'CTX' on the verge of an especially important reunification soccer match between North and South Korea. On top of everything else, Yu is in a relationship with a recovering alcoholic and fish shop owner named Yi Myung-hyun, but is forced to keep his 'day job' a secret from her.
North Korea talks of reunification, but of course their idea of reunification doesn't include assimilating with South Korea, it includes reducing South Korea to ashes and moving in. Despite the simple motivations of a faction of the North Korean's, I don't believe it was ever made clear if the 8th Special Forces was acting on behalf of the North Korean government or not. Still, they made an effort to excuse the actions of these North Korean's as if South Korea had forced them to live under the squalid conditions that they did. If Park wanted to blame anyone, he should have been blaming the North Korean government, not the South. There's no reason the North couldn't be as prosperous as the South was, but Park blamed the South. The evil democratic and capitalistic establishment of the South was to blame for all their ills, not the totalitarian and communist run North.
Politics aside, the action was loud, chaotic and intense, but it was sometimes hard to follow because of the hand held cam, not shaky cam. But it did feel immersive, as if I were there in the firefight. The hand held style was used to great effect I thought, but it was too close during the shootouts a lot of the time too. The realism of Shiri was quite refreshing. I don't mean the realism of the shootouts, but just of the movie itself. All real locations, shot on film, real blood squibs, things like that. Though a lot of that appreciation probably comes from last having watched 'The Monkey King' that was probably shot in a single studio full of green screens. I'm not criticizing green screens or the movies that utilize them either, far from it. I'm just saying that it's nice to see some palpable authenticity as well.
Thanks to all the emphasis on verite in Shiri, it did feel like I was witnessing a genuine terrorist attack at times, which I imagine was the intent of the director. The shootouts were impressive, I bet a lot of planning and wiring went into some of those scenes. I felt like they made a sincere effort to avoid the "unlimited ammo" trope that's rife in action movies. Seeing them counting the bullets, reloading and then running out of bullets, but it still wasn't enough. There just had to be one explosion where they were running away from a bomb and were blown through the air, surviving the blast, of course. But at least they weren't shown walking away from an explosion without even looking back, as cool as ice. So they did show a fair amount of restraint, comparatively speaking.
Shiri also had a relatively engaging 'race against time' aspect to it, though it felt very early 90s Hollywood-ish to me ie "Broken Arrow". Nevertheless, it all unfolded rather well, though admittedly fairly predictably. From a narrative perspective Shiri really cut itself off at its knees. The fact that the plot twists and ending were telegraphed so obviously from the start diminished most of the suspense and undermined most of the momentum of the movie. Less foreshadowing and more mystery would have done a lot more for Shiri in this case. Some of the editing made no sense either. It was really rough in some places. People would just pop up out of nowhere so often you'd think that everyone had mastered the instant transmission or something. The acting was a bit spotty, but Choi Min-sik was a good antagonist and served as a memorable adversary for Yu. It's easy to see how Choi Min-sik has become such a legend in Korean cinema.
Even though I had most of the story figured out in advance, there were still a couple of surprises to be had, though nothing too Earth-shattering. It's said that Shiri was the first of the 'new wave' of Korean movies, so even with its flaws, it's quite an admirable effort in that regard. The violence in Shiri wasn't as hyper-stylized and as over the top as someone like John Woo and his (usually) flashy 'gun-fu' would have made it, Shiri was more hyper-realistic and gritty.
The plot, while being mostly predictable, kept me interested, and it had a bit of a Mission Impossible vibe going on as well, but I wasn't particularly engaged emotionally. The main trio needed to get more character moments and interactions with each other. They had a fair amount, but needed a bit more. If they wanted to elevate this beyond a simple action movie, which I think they wanted to do, then there needed to be some more development between the main trio. It's still a great movie for action connoisseurs, and kudos on the somewhat bold and unpredictable ending too.
Written by - The Sentry - 25/09/2016
Written by - The Sentry - 25/09/2016
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