On the face of it, Shiri is a fast-paced thriller about a unit of North Korean special forces that infiltrates the South in order to steal a deadly liquid bomb scientists in Seoul have developed. Their elusive secret weapon is hitwoman Hee, whose skill with a high-powered rifle is matched by her ability to merge into the crowds and remain anonymous.

South Korean intelligence agents Ryu and Lee are forever one step behind. They fail to stop the assassination of an arms dealer, connected to the manufacture of the bomb, and are lucky to escape an ambush, set up by Park, the charismatic leader of the North Koreans.

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Hee's ability to second guess the opposition suggests an inside informer, which stirs suspicion and paranoia amongst the Southern agents. Park's ruthless efficiency and Hee's precision skills make it tough for Ryu and Lee. Before the final whistle at the controversial South/North football match, where the bombs are set to go off, it will get much, much tougher.

The plot may be an improvement on Die Another Day, but it's very much of its kind, with an added twist in the tail for good measure. Why Shiri has broken every box office record in Korea, earned $20million in Japan and lead the field in Hong Kong is due to writer/director Kang Je-gyu's exceptional visual style.

This is the best looking spy flick you will ever see. Without resorting to kung-fu on wires, or The Matrix superhumanology, he makes violence sexy. There are astonishingly beautiful action sequences that stand alone as living art, although Kang would be appalled by such pretentious supposition.

He is a truly original filmmaker, who personifies the South East Asian experience, which nurtures the energy and inventiveness of what has become formulaic in Hollywood. Shiri is the opposite of tired and tested, treating the political thriller as a dance of death.

Reviewed on: 01 May 2003
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Excellent and enjoyable action flick with high body count - think Korean Nikita.
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Nicola Osborne ****

Director: Kang Je-gyu

Writer: Kang Je-gyu

Starring: Han Suk-kyu, Choi Min-sik, Kim Yoon-jin, Song Kang-ho, Derek Kim

Year: 1999

Runtime: 124 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: South Korea


EIFF 2000

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If you like this, try:

The Bourne Identity
Die Another Day