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Gong Yoo (left) and Song Kang-ho conspire against the Japanese occupiers in The Age of Shadows (category IIB; Korean and Japanese), directed by Kim Jee-woon. The film also stars Han Ji-min.

Review | Film review: The Age of Shadows – 140 minutes of breathless action

Vibrant cinematography, an invigorating score, sumptuous production design and standout performances show why Kim Jee-woon’s film deserves its nomination as Korea’s 2017 Oscars entry

Film reviews

4/5 stars

Following the disappointment of his Hollywood debut The Last Stand, director Kim Jee-woon returns home with a riveting espionage thriller that taps into Korea’s recent trend for patriotic Occupation-era period pieces. Packed with compelling performances and showy set-pieces, The Age of Shadows is a classic wartime spy caper, blending Asian and European action styles seamlessly.

Song Kang-ho stars as Lee Jung-chool, a Korean-born Japanese police officer in 1920s Seoul, whose loyalty to the occupying forces is tested when he comes into contact with a gang of resistance fighters, led by the charismatic Kim Woo-jin (played by Train to Busan’s Gong Yoo).

As Kim’s team attempt to smuggle explosives into Seoul from Shanghai, they prey on Lee’s latent sympathies for his countrymen. So begins a nail-biting battle of wits between the two men that evolves through a number of bravura action sequences, including a rooftop foot chase through a walled compound and a breathless game of cat-and-mouse aboard a crowded train.

Song is reliable as ever as the conflicted protagonist wrestling with his patriotic duty, while Gong continues to evolve into a compelling leading man.

Han Ji-min as a resistance member in the film.

Lee Byung-hun also appears in an extended cameo, but all three are eclipsed by Um Tae-goo, whose hair trigger turn as the always suspicious Japanese officer Hashimoto steals the show whenever he’s on screen.

In the best year for Korean cinema in recent memory, which has already given us Train to Busan, The Handmaiden and The Wailing, it is no small feat that The Age of Shadows has been chosen as Korea’s Best Foreign Language Film entry at the 2017 Oscars.
Lee Byung-hun as the mastermind behind the Korean resistance.

Its vibrant cinematography from Kim Ji-yong, invigorating score from Mowg and Cho Hwa-sung’s sumptuous production design make The Age of Shadows a joy to watch, its 140 minutes of action unspooling with barely a pause for breath.

The Age of Shadows opens on October 20

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