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Carlos Prime [Celluloid 10.06.16] Republic of Korea thriller history

The life of espionage depicted in film legacies like James Bond, Jason Bourne, Jack Bauer, and I’m sure countless other “J.B.”-initialized spies is deceitful at best. When given dose after dose of flamboyant and extravagant spy-thriller films, it’s nice to see something that’s heartbreakingly realistic when you pick apart the nitty-gritty details of what it must be like to be a spy. Sure, the overwhelming majority people who ever existed have never been spies, but we like to think we know what we’re talking about when we order martinis, okay?!

When you think about what it’s got to take to lie for a living and on top of that, keep company with other liars and wonder who’s lying about what, there’s an immeasurable reaction of anxiety and stress. Kudos to the people who can keep up false pretenses and obtain classified dossiers and all that. It’s movies like these that prove most people don’t have the stomach for this kind of work.

Opening with a lithe and dynamic chase sequence, the latest violent escapade from Kim Jee-woon (I Saw the Devil) sinks its teeth in early and thrashes you around its maw from scene to scene with very little rest. Set in Japanese-occupied Korea, Age of Shadows is a gut punch of espionage reality. Allegiances can shift with the wind, depending on the objective, and we see some of the best noir in years when we get to see people play each other like fiddles.

What stands out from the get-go is the set design in this film. Immersive lights and pagodas with eaves pull you into the scenery so you can almost smell the butcher shop on the corner mixing with the smoke from the hand-rolled cigarette made of bootleg tobacco. Turn-of-the-century automobiles and crisp 3-piece suits bathe the viewer in how cool the Golden Age of espionage really looked.
And that’s about as nice as it gets.

Korean-born Japanese police chief Lee Jung-Chool (Song Kang-Ho) gets his loyalty tested again and again by the Koreans who stoke the fires of his national pride and the Japanese who are paying him a lot of money to capture and kill rebellious Koreans. Getting into close encounters with sabotage, rebellion, tyranny, torture, and the general high anxiety that comes with that sort of work, Lee gets batted around mentally and physically by the sides demanding his fidelity.

Plenty of spy movies can feel like they’re a lot longer than they are because it’s a difficult genre to pace, I get that. But the exact opposite of that happened when I left Age of Shadows, after almost 2 ½ hours. I wanted even more. Hell, there was even a sequence I was convinced was the epic climax of the film and it was the bloody halfway point.

Breathtaking chases, impeccable acting, and menacingly tense situations only scratch the surface of this insane film.
Attending Fantastic Fest and appreciating what he saw before his film’s premiere, Kim said before the film started, “I’ve seen some of the other films playing here and, had I known you were this okay with torture, violence, and killing, I would have put a lot more in this movie.”

Frankly, I don’t know if our hearts would have been able to take it, Mr. Kim.

If Song Kang-Ho played both main roles in The Departed, but Boston was still under British rule.

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Genius (5 years ago) Reply

Looks fantastic I'll buy it when it is out. Filled with big actors too! Lucky you saw it!

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