The Age Of Shadows


Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

The Age Of Shadows
"A sumptuous period epic littered with over the top direction and action scenes that wouldn’t feel out of place in a gritty Hong Kong police flick."

The opening minutes of Kim Jee-Woon’s stylish but confused new thriller, Age Of Shadows, are as lavish and tightly choreographed as any wushu style martial arts epic. Scores of rank and file Korean soldiers dash across tiled rooftops in pursuit of a Resistance agent, whilst Lee Jung-Chool (Kang-ho Song), decked out in an ostentatious leather jacket, attempts to outpace them and pacify the resistance fighter without bloodshed.

It’s unclear from the first moments exactly which side Jung -Chool is truly on, and the film follows his path as a double agent, working both for the Japanese Police Authority in occupied Korea, and the Korean Resistance. For fans of South Korean cinema, a film starring the exceptional Kang-Ho Song and directed by Kim Jee-Woon (I Saw The Devil, A Bittersweet Life) is a match made in Heaven, and on the expected fronts it delivers. It’s a sumptuous period epic, littered with over the top direction and action scenes that wouldn’t feel out of place in a gritty Hong Kong police flick.

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The plot is relatively simple - though complicated by the number of players - and sees Jung-Chool going undercover to help the Resistance via his contact, Kim Woo-Jin (Yoo Gong). As they ingratiate themselves with one another over expensive tastes in liquor and antiques, a plan to smuggle explosives in via Shanghai is revealed. Further tightening of the screws occurs thanks to Japanese enforcer Hashimoto (Tae-goo Eom), a gaunt spectre seemingly modelled on Guy Pearce’s Agent Rakes in Lawless. A severe man, he barely conceals his anger towards the resistance, and one memorable scene sees him snap and beat the stoic face of a Korean police officer for what seems like an eternity.

Similar also to Hillcoat’s crime drama is Age Of Shadows' attention to period detail - the grime and smoke of 1920s Korea is ever present, with garish lights and slick rain adding a suitably noir feeling to proceedings. It’s also unexpectedly amusing; the complex web of double crossing and the potential for any character to be a rat or informant means you’ll be scanning every scene for characters out of place, only for Jee-Woon’s slick directing to yank you by the scruff and lead you through a chain of glances and double-takes that feels like a send up of typical cloak and dagger tropes.

It’s clear too that this is a real passion project. The Resistance is a patriotic part of Korea’s history. Their early filmmaking did its best to subvert the regime, and after films like Joint Security Area it feels like the time to eulogise their history is at hand. The directing is slightly larger than life however, no bad thing in and of itself, but it is slightly jarring against the historical tone and sense of time and place it attempts to convey. When it works, it’s a treat: a standout sequence on a train is agonisingly tense, with disguised resistance members and Japanese-directed Police officers moving up and down a crowded train trying to sniff each other out. It's punctuated by Jee-Woon’s trademark daubings of blood.

Age Of Shadows sticks to its guns throughout, a taut and well executed game of cat and mouse that is only slightly marred by its over the top nature. Jee-Woon’s style is known for its excess, and it frequently feels out of place in this otherwise muted and taut film. The bombast of the final sequence (set to Ravel’s “Bolero”) is well deserved, but you can’t help but think it would have been slightly better as an explosive end note, rather than another moment in a laundry list of dressy occurrences. One last word about those coats everyone wears too: easily worth the price of admission alone.

Reviewed on: 19 Feb 2017
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The Age Of Shadows packshot
Resistance fighters try to dodge the attention of Japanese agents while smuggling explosives through 1920s Korea.
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Director: Jee-woon Kim

Writer: Jee-woon Kim

Starring: Byung-hun Lee, Yoo Gong, Kang-ho Song, Ji-min Han, Hee-soon Park

Year: 2016

Runtime: 140 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: South Korea


Glasgow 2017

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