Tens of thousands of movies can be made out of historic events, but spy movies don’t get old because everyone lives off the thrill of espionage. The Age of Shadows promises 140 minutes of backstabbing and people trying to outsmart each other in lucid, volatile scenes of technicolor.
Set in 1930s, The Age of Shadows is based on the Korean Resistance during the Japanese invasion. Lee Jung Chool, a Korean police captain with a history of selling out his own people for a good life tries to manipulate his way to the winning team, but it soon becomes obvious that the leader of the resistance is playing him as much as Lee thinks he is in control.
The game of cat and mouse doesn’t stop as betrayals and unexpected allies pop up every other corner. Kim weaves a story so complicated and compelling that it spins your head upside down. The human instinct for survival is pitted against national and personal pride as each character navigates war-torn Korea. The lines between black and white are so faint that you become confused between morals and obligations.
Kim Jee Woon doesn’t shy away from the gore – in fact, he relishes in it. After all this is a director who loves his horror and sadistic scenes, someone who draws out the torture scenes for maximum impact. The entire movie is a work of art in itself. With his trademark saturated colors and play on shadows, Kim merges the typical Hollywood blockbuster movie with the languid, romanticized Korean film with a bit of humor thrown in for good measure. The star-studded cast of Gong Yoo, Lee Byung Hun and Song Kang Ho is just the cherry on top. After all, who would miss another chance of watching Gong Yoo running through a train again? (Train to Busan, anyone?)
There were a couple of clichés, like when a one-sided crush became the downfall of the lead and friends turning into enemies and then into friends again, but not too much to turn the entire movie into a chick flick. The finale is little underwhelming, yet achingly beautiful, just like Kim’s filmmaking. Calling it an action thriller might be pushing it a bit, as the film thrives in its cleverly-written lines almost as much as the fighting scenes.
Kim shows that there is still a lot of areas in which Korean cinema can flourish, and that it’s not all trashy love lines and crude humor. It should not have been surprising that Korea decided to submit this as their entry for the Oscars, but it might be missing that little bit of character to make it a winning entry.
The Age of Shadows (2016)
Directed by Kim Jee Woon
Genre: Action Thriller, Psychological Horror
Running Time: 140 minutes
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
The Age of Shadows is currently showing in Singapore cinemas.