Korean director Kim Jee-Woon made a name for himself in horror, with films like A Tale of Two Sisters and gruelling serial killer thriller I Saw the Devil. From there he’s made outlandish Western The Good, the Bad, and The Weird, not to mention reintroduced Schwarzenegger in US mad action caper The Last Stand. Age of Shadows is his latest film and follows the exploits of Korean rebels seeking to overthrow Japanese invaders during the 1920’s
After an exhilarating opening the film launches straight into an exhilarating, freight train of espionage. Train to Busan‘s Yoo Gong plays a rebel attempting to secure the aid of a high-ranking Korean-born Japanese officer played by the fantastic Song Kang-ho (Snowpiercer, I Saw the Devil, The Host), a performer already known extensively in his native South Korea and abroad. The charisma of both men keeps things watchable, but this is almost entirely Kang-Ho’s show. The weight of the film’s dialogue lands on his shoulders and he bears it without a whimper.
Looking back over Jee-Woon’s CV, this could be his most ambitious film to date. Its a big sweeping story with the style and substance to match. The production design is excellent, the camera work floats omnisciently through action set pieces giving much of the violence a sombre, inescapable tone. If Jee-Woon has managed anything in the structure of the war film, it is to make any form of violence seem like a messy waste. He’s aware not to let things stray into Bond territory and become too light, it’s a tough story with still-felt ramifications, things are handled with care and heart. But that’s not to say it can’t be slick or enjoyable, it’s a well-constructed thriller with a great balance of tense shoot-outs and quiet character moments.
War films can too often reduce war to a simple point ‘n’ click adventure between goodies and baddies. That’s a dangerous game of “us” and “them”, the kind of self-fulfilling propaganda that starts the scraps we dramatize. Age of Shadows is a fresh-faced war film, full of cloak-and-dagger scenarios, attacks on both sides of the fence, and the kind of quietly cynical consideration for nationalism many war films could benefit from. An engrossing, well-told, period caper.
Dir. Kim Jee-Woon
Stars: Lee Byung-Hun,Song Kang-Ho, Yoo Gong, Sin Seong-rok