Impressive high-speed action thriller from South Korea with chases, a lot of guns, a high body count and the added novelty of some intelligence...

Opening with the bloodthirsty training of a crack military intelligence unit in communist North Korea, we soon move on to Seoul, 1998 where two South Korean cops are trying to track down a skilled and merciless female assassin against a backdrop of Korean reunification. Tensions increase when a fabulously ridiculous new explosive by the name of CTX is stolen from a government research facility, the killings start getting closer and the clock is soon ticking for our two heroes...

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Named after a fish found only in central Korea, Shiri is an impressive monster of an action flick. Blood spills in impressive quantities, there is no shortage of big explosions, SWAT teams and extended gunfights with double crosses aplenty. In fact it's probably down to the big bangs and the red herrings that this has been so well received making it "Korea's biggest money maker of all time". The film certainly lives up the hype and, particularly after we are past the initial background scenes, is fast paced, very dark and includes infinite nods towards classics of the genre particularly Nikita.

Interestingly this is one of at least three films showing at EIFF 2000 focusing on communism and reunification (see also Sun Alley and Marshall Tito's Spirit) though here the hardships of the regime in the North are never actually shown. However they are described with some fervor, and the South is made to look bright, hi-tech and decades ahead of the North, with added emphasis given to the differences with the music used in each segment, with the pulsing score ably building the tension up for the later scenes. The film also looks fantastic, the obsession with fish is a nice touch which helps the visuals remain unique as we find big beautiful neon tanks all over the film thanks to one of the cops having a girlfriend who runs a fish shop.

Although the final segment is perhaps a little over-extended, this is a minor quibble with an excellent romp that boasts both a heart and a mind. Although it borrows heavily from an American-dominated genre, Shiri is easily more stylish and rather better written and performed than any of the recent crop of Hollywood action/thriller flicks.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Excellent and enjoyable action flick with high body count - think Korean Nikita.
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Angus Wolfe Murray ****

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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