The Age of Shadows (2016)

Director: Kim Jee-woon
Starring: Song Kang-Ho, Gong Yoo, Han Ji-Min, Um Tae-Goo, Shingo Tsurumi, Shin Sung-Rok, Seo Young-Joo, Kim Dong-Young, Park Hee-Soon, Lee Byung-Hun

I do like a movie that has the audacity to start you off in the middle of action, something this movie does in spades before it even tells you who the main characters are with a crazy chase across the rooftops with people firing and a resistance fighter being cornered and trying to be talked into surrendering by Captain of the Japanese police in Korea Lee Jung-Chool (Sang Kang Ho).

While his character’s motives may seem murky at the start, it gradually becomes clear he is actually trying to help the resistance while still appearing to do his job. This is made much harder when his superiors decide to give him a Japanese partner Hashimoto (Um Tae-Goo) who goes full attack dog and scares off the group.

The resistance fighters are a varied group and it is difficult to follow all the names at times. I do recognise some of them from other Korean movies though and they do play off each other well as some of them are working on their own agendas.
The differences in Lee Jung-Chool and Hashimoto’s approaches are most apparent when they are ordered to pursue the group to Shanghai and stop whatever they are up to. Hashimoto rushes around like a mad dog and Jung-Chool decides to go right up and meet the head of the resistance at his cover pottery factory.

As with several recent Korean movies there is a significant portion of the movie set on a train with the best scenes in the movie taking place in this scene. I particularly liked the breaking of tension in one scene with a baby’s shitty bum. Considering the torture scenes that happen later in the movie it is a welcome relief. Also I have heard that in the slapping scene where Hashimoto is admonishing his agents for letting people get aware there were 28 slaps in one scene, meant to be more than Takeshi Katano’s Violent Cop.

Once the group gets back to Korea the action ramps up considerably with them having to fight their way through the train station and Jung-Chool coming to their aid even though he has been told to do so and appears to be on the side of the Japanese.

As has been said in at least one other review it does feel strange to cheer for an act of terrorism in a film but the scene perfectly manipulates you into doing it with Bolero playing and the pacing and even having a character toast another just before the climax.

I have enjoyed this director’s other work in the past including the Quiet Family, the Foul King, A Bittersweet Life and the Good, the bad and the weird. I have not seen a Tale of Two Sisters and I Saw the Devil.

As Park Chan-Wook and Bong Joon-Ho tend to do he uses a lot of the same cast in his movies such as Song Kang-Ho so you know they will put in a good performance and I am a sucker for movies with that particular actor in them ever since Joint Security Area.

What I also enjoyed is the story being set in a World War II area of operations that has not been covered as much as Europe. There are many more European war stories it seems but not as many ones told from the perspective of non-western countries. Also it is a break from Korean war films as they always seem to do good business in South Korea but there is a quite a lot of them.

This movie is getting a bit more of a wider release and I would recommend it people who like war movies and also spy thrillers.

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