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Opening Date
11 Jul 2024
To Be Advised
94 mins
Korean with English & Chinese subtitles
Action, Thriller
Lee Jong-pil
Lee Je-Hoon, Koo Kyo-Hwan, Hong Xa-Bin
n a military camp near DMZ of a divided land, Sergeant Kyu-nam has been planning to escape the North, land of repression, to head to the South, land of freedom. But he gets caught while trying to help another deserter. At risk of execution, Kyu-nam starts the chase for freedom.
By InCinemas  11 Jul 2024
96 minutes of hard and fast heart-pumping entertainment.
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ESCAPE is the latest action-thriller by acclaimed director Lee Jong-pil, best known for Samjin Company English Class which won Best Film at the 57th Baeksang Art Awards in 2021. Once again, he showcases his talent and adept storytelling in his latest offering which brings the audience through 96 minutes of hard and fast heart-pumping entertainment.
ESCAPE boasts a stellar cast with credible performances from Lee Je-Hoon, Koo Kyo-Hwan, Hong Xa-Bin, Seo Hyun-woo, Lee Sung-wook, Jung Joon-won, Park Yoon-hee, Song Kang and Esom.
The film begins with the audience being introduced to hyper-focused North Korean Sergeant Lim Kyu-nam (Je-hoon) who is nearing the end of his mandatory ten years of military service in a battalion located not too far from the frontline of the DMZ (i.e. the demilitarised zone separating the North from the democratic South). He sneaks out of his barracks in the dead of night, moves stealthily past some guards into the mine laden DMZ and plants a few stakes to indicate the location of the mine against his map, and return to the barracks before dawn. He diligently repeats the routine on a nightly to pursue his dream of escape. Lim and his fellow soldiers are often reminded of obedience to the communist regime with frequent videos about deserters getting shot, and through a recorded message from  Supreme Leader Kim where he encourages the troops “to watch each other vigilantly even though deserters do not exist in my book.” Lim is adamant about risking the death punishment as he comes from a lowly family and being discharged means a bleak future of forced labour on a farm or in a mine. He has nothing left to lose as both his parents are dead. 
A fellow solder, Kim Dong-hyuk (Xa-bin), who discovers Lim’s plan and his nightly routine, pleads with Lim to take him along as Kim shares “tomorrow is my mom’s birthday” and that his misses her terribly. Lim’s plan gets exponentially harder when Kim tries to escape on his own. Lim tries to stop Kim but both are caught in the botched attempt and tortured as deserters. Kim bravely takes the sole blame for the attempted escape.
Major Li Hyeon-sang (Kyo-hwan), an officer of the State Security Ministry arrives at the unit to investigate the case, recognises Lim as a childhood friend, and takes the opportunity to label him a hero for his efforts in apprehending a deserter, which will secure his performance records and save Lim’s life at the same time. He takes Lim to an award ceremony at Headquarters and gives him a position as a direct assistant to the division commander with immediate effect.
It’s thrilling to see Lim struggle to get his bearings after his initial plans fall through and how he hatches an impromptu alternative plan for escape with creative solutions to meet the changed obstacles and circumstances. When he is heaped with praise during the ceremony, Lim cleverly credits Li with his success during an unrehearsed speech and in so doing he inadvertently credits the military with the tribute it expects.
As Lim finds another opportunity to make a getaway, he unexpectedly manages to free Kim from his imprisonment, and they begin an explosive run for their lives with a betrayed Li in relentless deadly pursuit.   
The cinematography is so visually striking with strong imagery to showcase the rigidity and order in the regime and the desperate struggles of Lim and Kim. The pace of the film is finely tuned and the non-stop tension filled action does not allow your heart to rest with numerous twists and turns in the plot leaving the audience mesmerised.
As fans of both lead actors and familiarity with their previous work, it is clear they delivered immaculate performances in this action-heavy film. Lee Je-hoon with his compelling portrayal of strong-willed Lim Gyu-nam, who navigates the heavily mined DMZ with relentless determination as well as Koo Kyo-hwan's enigmatic performance as the calculated, almost psychopathic Li Hyun-sang. I was rooting for both the protagonist and antagonist till the very end of the film. The clever use of K-pop artist Zion.T's 2014 hit single "YanghwaBRDG" in the scene where Lim is lost in his childhood memories is also another memorable moment.  
It is inspiring that ESCAPE chooses to set itself apart from the typical ideological confrontations or sentimental bonds between solders from the North and South. Rather ittells a basic story of life and death struggle against unfathomable odds for someone who has nothing more to lose.  So determined to escape and find his own happiness, Lim proclaims that “I will die and live on my own terms”.
However, an interesting minor subplot to the film which is left undeveloped, is the subtle hint of a romantic relationship between Li and a friend, Seon Woo-min (Song Kang) as we are privy to his response during Li’s piano performance at the event for the award ceremony, and Seon being saved as “The Bastard I Loved” on Li’s mobile contact. We can only assume that Li is forced to live a life behind a facade and struggles inwardly on not able to pursue his desires and dreams. This may perhaps explain the tenacity behind his desire to stop Lim from escaping to the South for a chance to live his life freely which Li feels unable to do so.
Will Lim and Kim successfully make it to the South? You must watch ESCAPE to find out! All I can share is that I personally feel like the ending satisfactorily ties up the main story neatly amidst non-stop action and wonderful cinematography which will leave the audience satiated.
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