Perhaps best known for I Saw the Devil and The Good, the Bad and the Weird, director Kim Jee-Woon follows 2013’s The Last Stand with a wartime thriller set during the Japanese occupation of Korea.
In Kim Jee-Woon’s hands, 1923 Seoul is a gothic-asian wonderland where rebel fighters and law enforcement are locked in a battle of wits. A one-time rebel sympathiser before moving his loyalties to the Japanese occupation, police captain Lee Jung-Chool (Song Kang-Ho) is tasked with ousting the rebellion. However, his allegiance is once again tested when he uncovers a rebel plot to undermine Japanese rule.
A casual encounter between insurgent leader Kim Woo-Jin (Gong Yoo) and Lee Jung-Chool leave both determined to win the other over to his side. Reaching its tensest moment when all the drama’s players become trapped on a train, Captain Lee distrusted by both his colleagues in the Japanese police and the Korean fighters, plays out this double agent conundrum almost until The Age of Shadow’s end.
Upholding Korean cinema’s reputation for hard-hitting action, shootouts skew towards the gory realism of Quentin Tarantino. A squeamishly visceral opening sequence starts with police forces surrounding a rebel and subsequently shooting him in the foot, before he has to remove his own toe. Kim Jee-Woon’s matter-of-fact handling of violence continues throughout – making scenes of torture surreal to say the least.
Blending brutal gun battles and political intrigue, The Age of Shadows can at times become a noirishly chaotic confusion of bullets with consummate costume and set design. However, audience who crave a uniquely set and stylish action drama won’t be disappointed and ultimately, what lacks in exposition is certainly made up for in breathtakingly, climactic cinematography.
Words by Sunny Ramgolam
Age of Shadows is released in UK cinemas on the 24th of March