Shiri Brings Korean Cinema to the Forefront

Directed by Je-Gyu Kang

Action/Thriller
Rated R for violence
$22.46 at Amazon.com

Written by Jon Minners

Korea does not get enough play when it comes to quality movies.  The Asian market seems to belong to Japanese action films or Chinese Kung Fu movies, but after seeing the well-produced, well-written and wonderfully acted Shiri, that could all start to change.  Taking hints from American and Hong Kong productions, Shiri was a wonderful blend of everything right in movies and did enough to break the ticket sales record in Korea held by Titanic.  Now Americans have their chance to see what the hype is about. 

The movie is set in Seoul and focuses on two police detectives; Ryu, played by Suk-Gyu Han and Lee, played by Kang-Ho Song, as they attempt to track a North Korean hit-woman Hee, who is just one element of a terrorist organization known as the Special 8th Force, which is trying to bring about the unification of Korea through very violent means.  This part gets confusing to me, because to me, it appeared Korea is heading toward a unification of some kind with the two leaders meeting at a big soccer match between the countries.  It makes little sense why terrorists would want to use a deadly liquid explosive CTX at this big game, but it could have to do with the uneven economic status between the two countries that is effectively discussed by the terroristís leader Park, played rather strongly by Min-Sik Choi

That tiny bit of confusion aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this film.  The two cops were very likable and sympathetic heroes especially as you watch what happens between Ryu and his girlfriend Hyun, a fish store operator played by Yun-Jin Kim.  Keep in mind that a strange and intriguing plot twist makes her role very important in this film and ties all the key points of the movie together; the search for the hit woman and the inner-turmoil of a leak in the police department.  Both added some intense suspense as the two officers begin to suspect one another of leaking information to the terrorist group. 

Of course, in this type of politically inspired action film involving terrorists, there is going to be violence and a lot of it, but the filmmaker does a wonderful job of peppering it throughout the movie without overdoing it.  Each action sequence takes on a different tone, including brutal hits, surprise attacks and normal police activity, but the violence reaches a crescendo in one of the best shootouts that reminded me of the American film Heat, and to think there was still more to come.  Yes, the big shootout is just a prelude of the do or die battle at the end that could result in a devastating situation if police cannot find the bomb hidden somewhere in a giant soccer stadium.  The suspense alone will keep you guessing from the beginning right until the very end; over two hours of thrilling intensity. 

While the film was a bit long, I never found myself bored.  There was enough action, detective work, suspense, character interaction and plot development to keep the viewer entertained.  This is just a very cleverly created film, even down to its title, named after a fish that is found in the waters of both North and South Korea.  The fish can travel between both countries freely, unlike the people residing there.  Itís a definite call for unification.  The title, the story, the characters; Shiri just does it all right and it follows the number one rule of what makes  for a good film.  If you have an interesting story to tell, people will pay to see and hear it.  Simply said, Shiri is money well spent. 

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