Film Notes: The Age of Shadows, 2016 (Original title: “Miljeong”) directed by Kim Jee-woon

KR / 140 min / Color / Grimm Pictures, Warner Bros Korea  Dir: Kim Jee-woon Pro: Kim Jee-woon, Choi Jaeweon Scr: Lee Jimin, Park Jongdae Cine: Kim Jiyong Mus: Mowg Cast: Song Kang-ho, Gong Yoo, Han Ji-min, Park Hee-soon, Um Tae-goo, Shin Sung-rok, Shingo Tsurumi, Park Hee-soon, Seo Young-joo, Han Soo-yeon, Yoo Jae-sang, Lee Soo-kwang, Kim Dong-young, Lee Byung-hun. Synopsis: Set in the late 1920s, The Age of Shadows follows the cat-and-mouse game that unfolds between a group of resistance fighters led by Gong’s character, trying to bring in explosives from Shanghai to destroy key Japanese facilities in Seoul, and Japanese agents trying to stop them. Song plays a talented Korean-born Japanese police officer who was previously in the independence movement himself and is thrown into a dilemma between the demands of his reality and the instinct to support a greater cause.  Release Dates: 3 September 2016 (Venice Film Festival), 7 September 2016 (South Korea), 27 January 2017 (Spain – limited) Spanish title: El imperio de las sombras IMDb Rating: 7.3.

A few days ago, Begoña and I had the opportunity to see this film, with a limited release in Spanish cinemas. It’s an action driven, spy thriller, which I very much liked. Despite its extent, two hours and 20 minutes, it kept me all the time attentive to the screen and I very much enjoyed it. The storyline, based on real events, is very nicely narrated in a very cinematographic and dramatic way. Some scenes may hurt the sensibilities of some part of the public, but the images don’t extend unnecessarily on them.

Korean superstars Song Kang-ho, Han Ji-min, and Gong Yoo headline the latest from cutting-edge director Kim Jee woon (The Good, the Bad, the Weird), an epic-scale period thriller about a double agent sent to infiltrate a band of freedom fighters during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the 1920s.

Set at the end of the 1920s during the Japanese occupation of Korea, The Age of Shadows is an epic period drama, a gripping thriller, and an engaging spy story. Kim Jee woon’s film brings together a cast of marvellous actors, including Song Kang ho and Gong Yoo, to tell a tale of friendship and vengeance.

Lee Jung-chool (Song Kang ho), a Korean working for the Japanese police, is tasked with exposing the Korean resistance’s second-in-command, Kim Woo-jin (Gong Yoo). To gather intelligence on the group, Lee starts to hang out with Kim, who runs a photography studio as a cover for his underground activities. But after coming in close contact with the rebel fighters, some of whom were once his friends, Lee’s mind is clouded by doubts about his dirty work for the occupying forces. Lee’s allegiances shift, his employers begin to suspect him, and now he is both hunter and hunted. In a breathtaking sequence set on a train carrying explosives from Shanghai to Korea, Lee helps the freedom fighters uncover a traitor among them and get to their destination — where a cruel destiny awaits.

In the complex role of a secret agent poised between two worlds, Song delivers an amazing performance that finds time for moments of soul-searching amidst the action and excitement. Rising Korean star Gong does what is arguably his best work yet as the stern, caring, and beloved leader of the freedom fighters. Highly entertaining even as it shines light on a dark period of recent Korean history, Kim Jee woon’s The Age of Shadows is the work of a versatile visual stylist who is justifiably one of Korea’s most prominent film directors. (Giovanna Fulvi) Source: Toronto International Film Festival

Director’s Statement: It all started with my attraction to spy movies. I feel an allure towards double agents or double spies, who with their divided identities act in secret while surrounded by enemies, standing at the borders of their turbulent age. There are so many film masterpieces set in Western countries during the Cold War. But the thought occurred to me that Korea, whose contemporary history is no less dramatic than that of the Cold War, could serve as an effective setting for a spy movie. …… Using the genre elements of the spy movie, I wanted to depict the secret enmity and conciliation that lay beneath an operation to transport explosives from Shanghai to Seoul, and the efforts of a Korean in the Japanese police force to stop them. In one sense, I wanted to capture the image of people navigating the tightrope between support for or resistance to Japanese colonial rule, and being swept up in the consequences of setting one’s foot down on either side of the line. I tried to capture both the atmosphere of that era, and the manner in which it pressed down on those who lived through it, wherever they might go. On the day before we started shooting, I visited the former office of the Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai. It was so small that the bathroom was located right next to the dinner table. I wanted to suffuse the film with the emotion I felt, learning about the struggles of independence fighters who endeavored to reclaim the spirit of people who had lost their country. I hope that viewers can enjoy this story about the people who lived through that era.

Director Biography: One of Korea’s greatest film stylists, whose innovative take on film genres has brought him worldwide acclaim, Kim Jee-woon is always pushing in new directions. His debut The Quiet Family ingeniously fused horror and comedy in a film that skirts the boundaries of commercial cinema. The Foul King, about a harassed banker who takes up pro wrestling in his spare time, was the film that made a star out of Song Kang-ho. With its stunning visuals and challenging story, A Tale of Two Sisters is recognized as one of the most influential Korean horror films ever. This was followed up by the elegant, brutal noir A Bittersweet Life, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. The eclectic “Kimchi Western” The Good, the Bad, the Weird stands out as both a popular hit and an utterly unique contribution to Korean cinema, while gory revenge drama I Saw the Devil carried Kim into uncharted genre waters. With his contribution to the omnibus film Doomsday Book, Kim tackled the SF genre, while The Last Stand took him to Hollywood to work with Arnold Schwarzenegger. With The Age of Shadows, his first film in three years, Kim at last takes his singular vision to the spy genre. Set in the 1920s, during the Japanese occupation of Korea, the film depicts a group of resistance fighters and Japanese police agents locked in a struggle in which one cannot identify one’s foes and allies. The Age of Shadows depicts the tragic fates of those who operated in a grey area during a painful chapter in Korean history.

The Hollywood Reporter Film Review

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