was something like a Korean Operation Anthropoid. In 1923, the demoralized
resistance pulled off a spectacular bombing of Japanese police headquarters. It
turns out, it was an inside job. Hwang Ok, a Korean officer on the despised
Japanese constabulary turned yet again. Frankly, even his thinly fictionalized analog
is precisely sure where his loyalties lay in Kim Jee-woon’s The Age of Shadows (trailer here), Korea’s official
foreign language Oscar submission, which is now playing in New York.
a Korean on the Japanese force, it is Lee Jung-chool’s job to be a rat. His
former friend, the high-ranking resistance agent Kim Jan-ok makes that
explicitly clear when he opts for death rather than capture. The incident so
rattles Lee, it leaves him receptive to the overtures of Kim Woo-jin, a rising
star in the Righteous Brotherhood—or so Kim thinks.
having Hashimoto, a ruthless counter-insurgency copper, constantly looking over
his shoulder, Lee manages to play both sides and keep his options open
throughout the first two acts. However, the longer he goes without busting his
new pal Kim Woo-jin, the closer he comes to switching sides, like Captain
Renault in Casablanca. This becomes
uncomfortably clear to Lee when all parties end up on a Hitchcockian train
bound from Shanghai to Seoul, with a huge shipment of explosives stashed in the
Age does not exhibit the exquisite
lunacy of I Saw the Devil or The Good, the Bad, the Weird, Kim
Jee-woon still clearly delights in tweaking and amping up the conventions of
the historical espionage thriller. His convoluted plot makes a John le Carré
novel look simplistic and he certainly hasn’t gotten shy about staging a shootout.
It is not quite the all-out action Nirvana of Choi Dong-hoon’s Assassination, but it still delivers
plenty of bang for your buck. The titular echoes of Jean-Pierre Melville’s Army of Shadows are probably not
accidental either. There are so many double and triple crosses, Lee essentially
loses track of whose side he is on.
superstar Song Kang-ho (looking pretty trim) is terrific as the conflicted Lee.
He really humanizes the dilemma between pragmatic but dishonorable survival and
the patriotic idealism that would most likely get him martyred. Gong Yoo
(recognizable from the monster hit Train to Busan) also gives flesh-and-blood dimension to the earnest Kim Woo-jin.
Han Ji-min further boosts the glamour and the tragedy as Yun Gye-soon, the secretary
to charismatic resistance leader Jung Chae-san (Lee Byung-hun in a memorable
cameo) and Kim’s secret love interest.
viewers are okay with the deaths of dozens of characters we come to know and
root for, then Age of Shadows is tons
of fun. Most likely it will be way too much fun for that stick-in-the-mud
Oscar, but there is no reason we can’t enjoy it. Enthusiastically recommended
for fans of period action and espionage films, The Age of Shadows is now playing in New York, at the AMC Empire.
Labels: Kim Jee-woon, Korean Cinema, Song Kang-ho