The Age of Shadows
Starring Kang-ho Song, Yoo Gong, Ji-min Han, Hee-soon Park, Byung-hun Lee, Tae-Goo Um
South Korea’s official selection to the 89th Academy Awards, The Age of Shadows marks the second entry for actor Kang-ho Song, who starred in last year’s submission The Throne. The Age of Shadows is the least controversial of the two South Korean films that made moderate splashes in the US cinema market. Epic in scope, but not delivery, Warner Bros. first Korean Production is two hours and a half of intricate spy plotting. The acting is on par with stronger Korean films, the production value is also equally sufficient. The script is just overwhelmingly dense with espionage material that will have the viewer sweating trying to keep up.
Already known as a turncoat, Japanese detective Lee Jung-Chool (Song) has been given the most important job of infiltrating the Korean resistance fighters. “The most dangerous, but rewarding act of intelligence, is to turn a spy,” Kim Woo-Jin (Gong) says. Jin is one of the resistances most important members, and he strikes a careful and trepid friendship with Chool. Jin bets their entire operation on Chool’s cooperation to assist getting explosives into Korea. Chool’s friend Jung Chae-San (Lee) proved to the biggest key to resistance’s strength, a martyr willing to risk everything for a cause. Now Chool must carefully play both sides and then land where his conscious dictates.
Dense with espionage material that will have the viewer sweating trying to keep up
In the opening scene, which lasts over ten minutes, Ji-yong Kim’s impressive camera work provides the viewer with stunning aerial views and angles that insert you into the thick of a surprise raid. What the cinematography doesn’t do, is clue you in to what everything means. Kim’s photography stile is often more riveting and exciting than the story playing out before you. The Age of Shadows is one of the years more difficult foreign language films to embrace. There is so much dialogue that those of us reading the text must quickly comprehend fast moving conversations and follow the action. After the first 90 minutes (which feels longer) I felt confident I understood the themes and purpose of this slow burning thriller.
The train sequence near the third act (there are at least four), the films impressive centerpiece is a highlight. Not just because it’s the largest action scene of the film, but it’s choreography, suspense and claustrophobic nature are well captures. Once the train pulls into the station, the puzzle is set, or so we think, for the conclusion. The plot pushes and pulls the audience along with it, slowly revealing some secrets, keeping others until the last moment. The Age of Shadows goes beyond patience, it’s an endurance test for the viewer; the movie that never seems to end. “Even when failures accrue, tread on them to advance to higher ground,” the films’ most prolific theme.
An exhaustingly dense film that delivers in epic scope but not energy.