The Age of Shadows (3 stars)

The Age of Shadows

Stylish and steely South Korean espionage thriller from Kim Jee-woon

Probably better described by its original title 'Secret Agent', Kim Jee-woon's lavish South Korean espionage thriller was financed and distributed by Warner Bros. It's a gamble that pays off; The Age of Shadows has a steely verve and baroque style that recalls the classic Warners gangster movies of the 1930s, even if the microscopic detail often threatens to derail the narrative.

Lee Jung-chool (Song Kang-ho) is a conflicted Korean police captain serving as part of a Japanese mission to locate a deadly consignment of plastic explosives in 1920s Shanghai. The captain visits the antiques store of the mysterious Kim Woo-jin (Gong Yoo), who may be in charge of an anti-Japanese terrorist movement. A cat-and-mouse game ensues, complicated by vigorous competition from rival officer Hashimoto (Um Tae-goo), who is equally keen to locate their enemy and claim the substantial reward.

The portrayal of the police investigation recalls the best work of Michael Mann, with things further complicated by the script's deliberate obscuring of the captain's motives. While clearly playing both sides, it's unclear whether Captain Lee is ultimately serving the Japanese or the Koreans. A lengthy pursuit aboard a speeding train develops this double-agent idea to near farcical levels, as each abruptly slamming compartment door seems to indicate yet another change in the protagonist's shifting allegiances.

A little research into the political tensions of the era is advisable before viewing The Age of Shadows, although the two-dimensional treatment of the Japanese characters tips too much of a wink as to where the film's sympathies lie. But the director of 2010's I Saw the Devil offers more than enough in the way of stylised gunplay and cryptic characters to make his eighth feature compelling viewing for audiences worldwide.

Limited release from Fri 24 Mar.

The Age of Shadows

  • 3 stars
  • 2016
  • South Korea
  • 2h 20min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Jee-woon Kim
  • Written by: Jee-woon Kim
  • Cast: Byung-hun Lee, Yoo Gong, Kang-ho Song
  • UK release: 24 March 2017

Lee Jung-Chool (Song Kang-ho) is a Korean police officer serving as part of a Japanese mission to locate a consignment of explosives in 1920s Shanghai. A little research into the political tensions of the era is advisable, but it has a steely verve and baroque style that makes for compelling viewing.

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