DVD Movie Review: The Age of Shadows

By Drew Hurley 05.12.2017 1

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The Age of Shadows (UK Rating: 15)

Kim Jee-woon has produced some superb stories. It's an absolute requirement for any newbie to Korean cinema to include his absolutely chilling I Saw the Devil and the fabulously eccentric The Good, The Bad, The Weird front and centre on their to watch list. This film is his most recent work, and having originally hit cinemas last year it has now made its way to West courtesy of Thunderbird Releasing. Available on DVD and Blu-ray, The Age of Shadows is out now.

Set in 1920s Korea, The Age of Shadows tells the tale of the Korean resistance fighters who fought tirelessly against the occupying forces of Japan. It's a complex tale of spies with wavering loyalties who repeatedly have to decide on what's best, or rather safest, for them, versus the loyalty to their home nation. The film opens with one such Korean resistance leader - Kim Jan-Ok - being chased down after being sold out to the Japanese police. After receiving some particularly grizzly bullet wounds, Kim is confronted by the leader of the Japanese police. A Korean Police captain named Lee Jung-Chool is struggling with betraying his country for the invaders and is challenged further when having a final heart to heart with Kim. It's these initial cracks in Lee's loyalty to the Japanese forces that affect the events that play out over the rest of the film.


 
Lee is tasked with acting as a traitor and rooting out each of the Korean subversives, including their new leader, the charismatic Kim Woo-Jin. Lee plays both sides at points and struggles with the morality of turning on his people throughout. This is worsened when his Japanese superiors begin to doubt his loyalty and assign a vicious Japanese agent named Hashimoto to "assist" Lee. The story is full of intense situations as the Koreans try to flee from the Japanese forces and they, in turn, try to constantly pin them down. The Japanese are portrayed as very one-dimensional villains, however, especially with the complexity of the Korean characters. There are clear parallels to draw here between the Japanese invaders and how the Germans are portrayed in WW2 films.

While the film opens very slowly and has some issues with pacing - it runs for almost two and a half hours - it is utterly engaging. There are enough big scenes to keep adrenaline high when the film starts to flag. Best of all is a longer sequence where each of the Korean agents, Lee, and the Japanese forces are all playing a deadly cat and mouse game upon a moving train.

The cast is filled with some of the very best Korea has to offer. First up is Song Kang-Ho playing Lee, and even those who have never seen a Korean film will recognise Song for his role on the superb Snowpiercer, but his finest works are definitely from films in his home country, such as movies like creature feature, The Host. Song is always fantastic, and his body of work has been racking up award nominations and wins for many years. For The Age of Shadows he won two best actor awards alone. Starring opposite Song as Kim Woo-Jin is Gong Yoo, a Korean TV actor who has exploded into mainstream success after taking the starring role in the recently reviewed Train to Busan - seriously, it is the best zombie film in present memory, so go watch it! - and he almost matches the performances of Song, too. Even the Sagittarius Zodiarts from Kamen Rider Fourze, Shingo Tsurumi! About 1 in 1,000,000 readers will know what that is.


 
9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10
Every aspect of this film is absolutely magnificent. The story is captivating from opening to credits, the cinematography is a master-class in the art and the actors give some of the best performances of their careers. Considering some of the actors here, that's saying something. The Age of Shadows is a film that deserves numerous re-watches and continues to showcase the talent of Kim Jee-woon.

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Sold! Definitely have to check this out now. I'd stopped watching Korean films because I had a few duds, but I'll certainly check this out - thanks! Smilie

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