The Age of Shadows (2016)


First time with Kim Jee-woon. Nice poster.

Interesting period for a political thriller, covering resistance efforts in Japanese-occupied Korea in the late 20s. Unfortunately, particularly for the film’s first third, the design is about as polished and anodyne as a Lindt advert with the bauble-flat sheen of a Thomas Kinkade painting. There is pressure put on Korean lackey of the Japanese police-force Song Kang-ho as an intended fulcrum for intelligence, switching his allegiances after a delicate balancing-act of persuasion; however, the script and pacing are pedestrian enough to deflate most of this significance, leaving the chocolate-box first act feeling surprisingly low-stakes, too.

Part 2 is “Train to Seoul”, with the engaging premise of Gong Yoo’s Tinker-Tailor molehunting within the confines of a lavish but segmented transnational train. While AoS struggles to shake the toothless sense of a romantic BBC WWII period drama, SK-h comes to the fore here, channelling Gary Oldman’s James Gordon in his experienced wariness; Uhm Tae-goo is good value, too, as a zealously unhinged deputy. Some tense escapes and a nice showdown (with an implausible resolution).

I think its third act saves it, to some extent, by striding briskly through an expected ending into a zippy montage of classic action sequences: there’s a train-station shootout,  some legitimately squeamish torture sequences, a Bourne-esque foxhole chase, and an eventual return to the le Carré structure via a satisfyingly vengeful tying of loose ends (set entertainingly to Ravel’s “Bolero”) and a patriotic conclusion. Glad that SK-h took the reins from the likeable but less distinctive GY, too.

Passably tense and historically interesting but visually buffed to an unhealthy sheen and rather lightweight, overall.



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