I must admit to being kind of shocked that The Age of Shadows is South Korea's nomination for the Oscars' foreign-language film category; as much as I love Kim Jee-woon, Park Chan-wook also has a new movie coming out this year, and both he and his film (The Handmaiden) seem to be more typical of what people associate with that sort of award. It makes me wonder if that's a bit of a disappointment or if there's something political to the process.
I'm also kind of curious to see how the rapid-release model plays with something which may wind up nominated - this is coming out in the U.S. just two weeks after South Korea, so it's entirely possible that by the time nominations come out it will be on video already, a major change from when the general policy was to wait for nominations and then give something an art-house run once that was out.
As to actually seeing this one I had my ticket for the movie ripped right behind what seemed like a nice Korean-American family with young children, and I sorry of wonder how much of the nose of people leaving and coming back during the film was them, because I know I'd certainly be thinking of getting the elementary school kids out as soon as the guy pulled his own big toe off (after it was basically severed by a gunshot). It does kind of stroke me that, for all that the Indian and Chinese movies that make quick trips to North America include a fair amount of family-friendly material - partly due to the censor boards, partly due to there being a lot of broad-appeal romantic comedies in the mix - the Korean movies we get are pretty much the hard stuff, with something like The Pirates being an outlier. It makes sense - folks distributing Korean movies here are going to target the cult/genre/boutique audience more than the immigrant one, just because of size, but it does kind of stink for Korean-American families who want to see something on the big screen.
Mil-jeong (The Age of Shadows)
* * * 3/4 (out of four)
Seen 25 September 2016 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, DCP)
Hearing that The Age of Shadows was selected as South Korea's entry for the Academy Awards' Foreign Language Film award was a bit eyebrow-raising - not only have certain other noteworthy Korean directors made well-regarded pictures this year, but filmmaker Kim Jee-woon's output, varied as it may be, is genre movies, not necessarily the sort of thing that is considered for awards, whether action, horror, or crime (all of which he has excelled at). This time around, he's making a period spy movie, and, yes, it is good enough to be right up there with the best of the year.
It starts off with a terrific opener, as Kim Jang-ok (Park Hee-soon), a resistance leader in 1920s Korea, discovers that the appointment he'd made to raise money for the organization was actually an ambush, set up by former friend Lee Jung-chool (Song Kang-ho), now working for the occupying Japanese government's police force. Kim sets it up as a chamber piece, starting as a nifty procedural before pushing into suspenseful territory, and then kicking off action with a shot and then serving the audience up a fantastic chase. It's not quite the film in microcosm, but it shows a pattern that Kim will repeat throughout the film, starting off slow but then picking up speed, with composer Mowg increasing the tempo as Kim starts jumping around, cranking things up before pulling back and letting the audience be impressed by the choreography.
After that, the main story kicks in, as Lee tries to follow the trail to Kim Woo-jin (Gong Yoo) and Jo Hwe-ryung (Shin Sung-rok), partners in an antique shop and photography studio that serves as a front for the resistence, hoping they'll lead him to Shanghai-based resistence leader Jung Che-san (Lee Byung-hun) and his "secretary" Yeon Gye-soon (Han Ji-man). They're meeting with a Hungarian explosives expert (Foster Burden), and while they all seem to despise Jung-chool, it's interesting that he bristles when his commander Higashi (Shingo Tsurumi) partners him with Hashimoto (Um Tae-goo), whose impulse is to pounce on every bit of information.
Full review on EFC.