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The Age Of Shadows

Opening Date
05 Jan 2017
NC16 Violence
141 mins
Korean with English & Chinese subtitles
Action, Drama, Thriller
Jee-woon Kim
Gong Yoo, Song Kang-Ho, Han Ji-Min, Shingo Tsurumi, Um Tae-Goo, Shin Sung-Rok , Lee Byung-Hun, Park Hee-Soon
Set in the late 1920s, The Age of Shadows follows the cat-and-mouse game that unfolds between a group of resistance fighters trying to bring in explosives from Shanghai to destroy key Japanese facilities in Seoul, and Japanese agents trying to stop them. A talented Korean-born Japanese police officer, who was previously in the independence movement himself, is thrown into a dilemma between the demands of his reality and the instinct to support a greater cause.
By Yun Huei  07 Jan 2017
Despite its weaknesses, there’s no denying that The Age of Shadows is easily one of the best Korean films I’ve seen in a while
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After a three-year hiatus, director Kim Jee Woon makes a big budget return to the big screen with The Age of Shadows, a slick, stylish and somewhat overblown spy thriller set in the 1920s. While there are some top-notch set pieces, the story is almost impossible to make head or tail of, involving more twists and turns than one can shake two fists at, and additionally hampered if one needs to read the subtitles. However, it remains an engaging film throughout its 2-plus hour running time, and for fans of his recent work in Train to Busan, Gong Yoo turns in another decent performance, though Song Kang-ho is the true star here.
While the entire film is handsomely lensed, Kim Jee Woon manages to outdo himself in the setup of a number of set pieces, none more evident than the extended sequence on the train (zombie-free), in which Kang-ho’s Jung-chool traverses multiple times through the train, his loyalties seemingly being tested and changing constantly, the tension ratcheting up multiple times till an almost unbearable degree, finally culminating in an expected but still shockingly violent conclusion. The opening sequence comes a close second, in which an expertly choreographed chase resembles almost like a ballet more so than a squad of policemen chasing down their quarry. It’s all extremely impressive camera and editing work, further enhanced by an excellent soundtrack.
However, the dense plot threatens to derail (ahem) The Age of Shadows at times, and this is a movie that heavily punishes any lapse in attention – even without any distractions, one might find difficulty in following the labyrinthine plot. This does the film no favours, especially when one of the weakest characterizations is that of Japanese police chief Hashimoto, a one-dimensional villain that fails to convince, posing zero moral ambiguity and hence a certainty to Jung-chool’s character arc and his decisions along the way despite being the film’s main focus. While these do prevent the film from reaching greater heights, there’s no denying that The Age of Shadows is easily one of the best Korean films I’ve seen in a while, and certainly explains why South Korea chose this to be their entry for the Best Foreign Language Film in the Academy Awards this year. 
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By Eternality Tan  06 Jan 2017
Crafted with operatic scale and striving for an epic-ness that its subject matter necessitates, but ultimately feels overdrawn to work powerfully.
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One of the more anticipated South Korean films to hit our shores from last year, The Age of Shadows is Kim Jee-woon's feature-length return to his national cinema since the ultraviolent vengeance thriller I Saw the Devil (2010), and after his English-language debut with Schwarzenegger in The Last Stand (2013). 

It dives into the exquisite period detail of the late 1920s, and the intriguing double-crossing world of spies, all set against the backdrop of Japanese-occupied Seoul that would see resistance fighters for Korean independence attempt to transport explosives from Shanghai to blow up key Japanese government facilities.

Song Kang-ho plays Lee Jung-Chool, the man in the thick of bloody action and suspenseful deceit, who leads us into this dangerous world.  He is at the crossroads himself—a Korean who holds a high position in the Japanese police force whose mission is to track and eradicate the Resistance. 

The film will no doubt force him to take sides, but that decision is not the raison d’etre of Kim's work.  It forgoes a rich sense of history or politics for a more gleefully straightforward exercise in genre filmmaking, with a dash of gory violence (those who have seen the far more explicit I Saw the Devil would find this tolerable).

From the outset, Kim shows us the thrills you can expect in a splendid prologue action set-piece that gives the film enough energy to wade through some of its more expository segments later on.  The characters are for most parts well-developed, and the acting uniformly excellent.  The pacing, however, could have been tighter, and even though the film is largely entertaining, there’s a sense that it is a good fifteen minutes too long, and feels overdrawn to work powerfully. 

Nevertheless, Kim is at his best when prolonging the suspense—a brilliantly-devised set-piece in a moving train that sees the Japanese police trying to weed out resistance fighters in disguise pays homage to both Hitchcock and Tarantino.

The Age of Shadows may be crafted with operatic scale and striving for an epic-ness that its subject matter necessitates.  However, it doesn’t quite achieve the grand canvas that combines style with a deeper psychological connection to its time and historicity, in a way that, for example, Melville did in what I think is his finest film, Army of Shadows (1969), about French resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied France. 

The use of Ravel’s ‘Bolero’ music in the climactic set-piece of The Age of Shadows is perhaps the best example of Kim’s flawed indulgence in trying to create cinematic magic, but falling short.  Go watch it though, because you need your Korean fix, and this should rightly satisfy you.
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