While Korea is occupied by the Japanese Army in 1933, the resistance plans to kill the Japanese Commander. But their plan is threatened by a traitor within their group and also the enemies' forces are hunting them down.
A widowed father and taxi driver who drives a German reporter from Seoul to Gwangju to cover the 1980 uprising, soon finds himself regretting his decision after being caught in the violence around him.
Set in the late 1920s, The Age of Shadows follows the cat-and-mouse game that unfolds between a group of resistance fighters trying to bring in explosives from Shanghai to destroy key Japanese facilities in Seoul, and Japanese agents trying to stop them. A talented Korean-born Japanese police officer, who was previously in the independence movement himself, is thrown into a dilemma between the demands of his reality and the instinct to support a greater cause.Written by
Official submission of South Korea for the 'Best Foreign Language Film' category of the 89th Academy Awards in 2017. See more »
In the train one of the resistance members open the pocket watch with QUARTZ inscription on dial. Second hand of the watch moves in distinct steps reaffirming they have a quartz movement inside. Quartz watch was not invented in 20s and was not available till late 60s. See more »
[testifying before the judge]
I always adhere to the work of the police.
[He sighs, and continues hoarsely]
If the mission is successful, I will be promoted to Superintendent. I always give my utmost in police operations. I...
[He pauses, and sighs again, but this time his sigh trembles slightly]
I have only to fulfil my duty as a Japanese police officer.
[He finds himself close to tears]
I'm not a member of the Heroic Corps. I just wanted to manipulate Kim Woo-jin.
[...] See more »
taut and intense, bloody and heartfelt but also unsentimental
I have to wonder if director Kim Jee-Woon titled this film in some part after the Melville WW2 film Army of Shadows. This isn't to get all movie trivia on you all, rather it's to make a small point about how Jee-Woon is doing two things in The Age of Shadows and doing them well: making a sort of homage to films about resistance movements and espionage during wartime (in a way this makes this a war film, but the front-lines are often with a few people behind closed doors, or trying to find people on a train who are incognito, or sides being reversed, with torture on the table for the side with power to those captured), and at the same time it's Jee-Woon making a film about his own country's history, when Korea was occupied by Japan, which adds a personal dimension to it.
While I'm sure if I was Korean I would have more of a connection to it - I actually didn't know as much about this history as I thought - knowing about other resistance and underground movements against occupying powers (and another film that comes to mind outside of Melville's film, which is much darker than this, is Inglourious Basterds) makes the drama palpable. Oh, and the actual conflicts and character dynamics pop every possible moments. It's a story about loyalty and honor, but also how difficult that really is: the point of view is mostly from Song Kang-Ho (remember him from Snowpiercer and The Host and other films by Bong Joon-Ho?), a Korean born officer for the Japanese police who was one years before part of the resistance against Japan, but has now gone to the side of conformity. But people underground, including Kim Woo-Jin who is wanted by the top Japanese police brass, see some potential in Hang-Ho's character, the conflict in him deep down, and look to "open his heart" to turn for them. Partially.
This is a complex film, and I'm sure on a first screening a few plot points here and there or little scenes made it so that I'm also sure a second screening might clear up a few things (it's a long film too at 140 minutes, not unlike Army of Shadows, so it's kind of dense viewing - not a bad thing, just what it is). In this complexity the filmmaker, who also is the writer, finds a lot of strong thematic connections, how we as the audience can fill in the gaps that might be questioning on how or why characters decide to do things, the journey for Lee Jung-Chool as alright cop to gray-area level traitor, and it doesn't shy away from gruesome details and moments. It doesn't dwell on things like the torture scenes, when resistance fighters who are captured and given burning skewers or ripped-off finger-nails, but it's important to show enough of that so it impacts certain characters. At the same time the violence is brutal but cut quick (not too quick, of course), which also brings back to mind Basterds.
What I mean to say going back to 'complex' is that you have to pay attention to it (you look at your phone while watching this for a second and you'll miss something, put it away, it's not that kind of movie - aside from that you'll miss the often exquisite filmmaking and those moments where the screws tighten like that entire sequence on the train that makes up a 20 minute chunk midway through). It treats its audience like adults who can take some very hard decisions from characters, and also how subtle cues can alert people to things, and yet at the same time there's even some humor here and there. When the main resistance guy gets introduced to Lee Jung-Chool, the way to make things a little less, uh, 'tense' is to go through an entire barrel of liquor. How this one minute of film is cut together, showing drink after drink tumbled down until the barrel is empty, is one of the funniest things this year - but, again, subtle-funny. It's more about character than anything else.
This is at times a rough film, its twists and turns confronting your expectations and making you question what's going to come next, and other times bleak and depressing. But it all leads up to a place that is phenomenal in terms of its dramatic arc and how the director builds up the kind of palpable suspense that shows he's watched his share of The Godfather a thousand times (but he makes it his own, it's not aped to annoyance). He's so assured that he goes past being one of the most skillful directors in Korea right now; The Age of Shadows confirms after massively entertaining and incredibly dark efforts like The Good, the Bad, the Weird and I Saw the Devil as basically someone in the entire WORLD that should be cherished. This is a remarkable film, and one of the better, more harrowing efforts of 2016.
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