6 April 2017



'Even when we fail, we move forward. The failures accrue, and we tread on them to reach higher ground.'

This epic Korean espionage thriller is out in cinemas at the moment, and as I've just watched it on a small screen, I can only imagine how splendidly lavish and authentic it looks on the bigger one. It's an historical costume drama as well, set in 1920s Korea which, at the time, was enjoying a lengthy period of occupation by the Japanese, ahem.

Well, I'm sure that the Japanese are very sorry now for any inconvenience incurred by the Koreans during this period, haha. Well, of course I'm kidding when I make a glib statement like that. Your local post office closing down, that's an inconvenience. (My local post office just closed down. It's been on my mind. Where am I supposed to buy stamps now?) Your country being invaded and occupied by another country, that's a little more of a hassle.

My researchers (myself and Google, in other words) inform me that Korea was occupied by Japan for quite a while in the first half of the nineteenth century. From 1910 to 1945, to be precise. The period of occupation ended when the Second World War did, but the repercussions and bitterness and bad feeling linger on to this day. I guess it's the same for all occupied countries.

THE AGE OF SHADOWS tells the story of Captain Lee, a Korean-born police captain in the occupying Japanese police force, and the dilemmas he faces when he is given the job of rooting out Korean resistance fighters who seem to be the bane of law and order in Japanese-controlled Korea.

Recently disturbed by the gruesome death of a resistance fighter who used to be his classmate, he's pretty much ripe for manipulation by charismatic members of the resistance who, after all, are his fellow countrymen when it comes down to it.

Kim Woo-Jin (TRAIN TO BUSAN) is the handsome freedom fighter with the movie star looks who somehow reaches Captain Lee and convinces him, if not to actively help them, then at least not to hinder them in their attempts to rid their country of the hated Japanese.

Freedom fighters are a breed apart from the rest of us. I'm being honest when I say that I don't think I'd be cut out for the job. The Korean resistance members in this film are tortured by the Japanese in an attempt to make them disclose their secrets. I wouldn't be able to withstand that type of physical pain for an instant so I'd make a pretty rotten spy. Granted, I've given birth twice with only the minimum of drugs but, quite honestly, that looks like a piece of piss next to the torture scenes.

The scenes where a beautiful young woman, one of Kim Woo-Jin's freedom fighters, has her bones broken with a hammer and her face branded with a hot iron are so distressing to watch. The torture chamber used by the police looks like something out of an old horror movie. It'll send shivers down your spine all right, but not the good shivers, I'm sorry to say.

Captain Lee and Kim Woo-Jin work so well together on-screen. There's such good chemistry between them. They're really believable and sympathetic as reluctant allies and grudging friends who are only teaming up because the situation calls for it and they see no help for it but to jump in feet-first.

The scenes on the train (Gong Yoo must feel like he LIVES on trains now...!) are nail-bitingly tense and suspense-filled. Captain Lee is on the train with his men specifically to trap and capture the freedom fighters (they're trying to smuggle explosives from Shanghai to Seoul), but of course we know that he's going to try his best to foil the efforts of his own police officers. When we think that the whole bag of resistance fighters is going to be captured en masse, the suspense is almost unbearable.

There are so many scenes of note in the film. Night-fishing for a motley crew of freedom fighters and coppers, or one copper in particular, to be precise. The scenes of chaos and murder in the train-station which are all too reminiscent, sadly, of similar scenes, this time of terrorism, which we've witnessed in real life lately or seen on the news.

The sight of a freedom fighter locked in a cell little bigger than a coffin with the only furniture
being a bucket for sanitation purposes. The magnificent but terrifying climactic scene that plays out to the spine-chilling strains of Ravel's BOLERO. (It's not just music for Torvill and Dean, you know...!)

The funny thing is that my favourite scene in the whole film is really low-key and doesn't involve any explosives or shooting at all. On the train when a lightly disguised Kim Woo-Jin (he looks gorgeous in specs, by the way!) is attempting to hide from the police officials who are hoping to catch him, he actually changes the poopy diaper of a tiny baby passenger while the baby's mother slumbers away unawares.

There's something so infinitely touching about the way he (correctly, I might add!) holds up the baby's tiny ankles together in order to clean away the icky poopiness. What could be more vulnerable than a tiny baby with those little tiny frogs' leggies of theirs?

That one simple gesture reminded me forcibly of the tenuousness of everything and the fragility of human life. Kim Woo-Jin's life is hanging by a thread. Will that thread be summarily and cruelly snipped off by a Japanese policeman?

There's only one way to find out, movie fans. Watch this marvellously touching but also nerve-shredding film. Share the experiences of genuinely courageous men and women who are literally prepared to die for their freedom. Remember them, and their stories, even if it's only for a short time. They deserve that much.

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Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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