Brought to cinematic life by the hand of writer/helmer Kim Jee-woon, The Age of Shadows is a Korean espionage action thriller that reaps honors with a smart script, outstanding action scenes, and unshaken performances by Song Kang-ho (Momories of a Murder, Snowpiercer), Gong Yoo (Train to Busan), and Eom Tae-goo.
The director, whose past works oscillate between the horror (Tale of Two Sisters, I Saw the Devil) and the action genres (A Bittersweet Life, The Last Stand), shows a strong narrative articulation while keeping high levels of tension throughout.
“…thrilling Hitchcockian sequences on a train, suspenseful ambushes, treacherous inside men working in the shadows.”
Set in the 20’s occupied Korea and Shanghai, the film centers on Lee Jeong-chool (Kang-ho), a deserter member of the Korean resistance who started working for the Japanese as their police captain. He usually accomplishes knotty missions in a stainless way, being regarded as an asset in the hunt for rebel leaders. His superior, Higashi (Shingo Tsurumi), has him in a high account and never recriminates him, even when the operations go off the track.
After the killing of Ok Kim-jang, an important member of the Resistance, Jeong-chool, whom was his former classmate and close friend, radically changes sides as he teams up with Jin Kim-woon (Yoo), a dissimulated antique dealer and persuasive blackmailer who asks for help in a scheme to transfer explosives from Shanghai to Seoul. The explosives would be used to destroy critical Japanese targets in the disquieted capital of South Korea.
Divided between the Japanese duty and his true Korean heart, Jeong-chool resolves to embrace the role of a double agent after meeting with the most wanted man of the country, Jeong Chae-san (Lee Byung-hun), the leader of the Resistance and, according to his own words, a “soldier who lost his country.”
“Divided between the Japanese duty and his true Korean heart, Jeong-chool resolves to embrace the role of a double agent…”
At the same time that our agent tries to deviate the attention of Hashimoto (Tae-goo), his voracious new partner in the police, he also tries to locate the betrayer who, acting from inside the group, keeps the occupiers so well informed.
Every scene was carefully weighed and measured to look as realistic as possible, a factor that is commonly neglected nowadays in favor of fireworks and overdone tantrums. Never decaying in pace, the film provides us with thrilling Hitchcockian sequences on a train, suspenseful ambushes, treacherous inside men working in the shadows, and incredible shootouts at the sound of Louis Armstrong. Are these enough reasons to make you interested?
The Age of Shadows not only received domestic praise but also drew positive reactions internationally.
The Age of Shadows (2016) – Written and directed by Kim Jee-woon. Starring: Song Kang-ho, Gong Yoo, and Eom Tae-goo, Shingo Tsurumi
8 out of 10