South Korea, 2016, 140 min, 2K DCP, Dir. Kim Jee-woon, Not Rated, CJ Entertainment, Korean & Japanese with English Subtitles
“A blisteringly entertaining and exquisite genre exercise, one that may not be recognized as such only because we have never expected genre films to be this good.” – Jessica Kiang, The Playlist
The irresistible pull of a spy thriller, the heightened stylishness of a 1920s setting, and terrific technical specs make The Age of Shadows an unabashed delight. Korean director Kim Jee-woon surpasses himself, returning to the screen after a three-year hiatus with an electrifying double-agent drama loosely based on the clandestine fight between South Korean resistance fighters and the country's Japanese occupiers. Unfolding in classic action style, this rousing gem has everything one wants for an evening's entertainment: no wonder South Korea chose it for its Oscar candidate. What 1920s-set spy film would be complete without a train? Director Kim delivers the goods: he's crafted one of the best train sequences in recent memory, shifting between characters and classes with consummate skill. While this is the film's indisputable highlight, a number of other scenes come close to that sequence's bravado. There is not an ounce of fat on The Age of Shadows, which is based on the 1923 bombing of Japanese police headquarters in Seoul without feeling at all enslaved to facts. If anything, the film is most indebted to classic cloak-and-dagger movies, in which sharp, richly succinct dialogue and plenty of atmosphere seem effortlessly carried along by the force of magnetic personalities. In the complex role of a secret agent poised between two worlds, Song Kang-ho delivers an amazing performance that finds time for moments of soul-searching amidst the action and excitement. Rising star Gong Yoo does what is arguably his best work yet as the stern, caring, and beloved leader of the freedom fighters. The hit of the recent Venice and Toronto festivals is the answer to a movie-movie lover's prayer. Hang on to your popcorn and come along for the ride.