The Age of Shadows sets two Korean stars in a thrilling spy drama

A 1920s espionage incident during the Japanese occupation gets re-enacted

The Age of Shadows (NC16: violence)

Starring Song Kang-ho, Gong Yoo Directed by Kim Jee-woon

Kim Jee-woon is South Korean cinema’s most successful genre innovator. He conjoined horror and comedy for his 1998 debut The Quiet Family and cooked up the 2008 ‘kimchi western’ The Good, the Bad, the Weird, while adding the ghost story A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) and the revenge drama I Saw the Devil (2010) to his award-winning hits.

The Age of Shadows, set during the 1920s Japanese occupation of Korea, as based on actual characters and events of the 1923 bombing of the Japanese police headquarters in Seoul, is Kim’s entry into historical spy thriller.

Captain Lee Jung-chool is the Korean-born Japanese police chief assigned to ferret out the Korean independence movement and thwart their plans to smuggle explosives into Seoul for the said attack.

The great Song Kang-ho, who came to stardom on the director’s 2000 The Foul King, is Lee; Gong Yoo (Train to Busan) is the charismatic resistance fighter serving under revolutionary leader Lee Byung-hun. The two men on opposite sides, each knowing the other’s identity and intentions, develop an unlikely rapport.

Lee is persuaded to help the rebels’ cause. He is Korean, after all.

Kim doesn’t let nationalism get in the way of good storytelling delivered with confidence and style. A 20-minute chase on a luxury train is the highlight of the thrilling action set pieces, which climax in the explosion choreographed to Maurice Ravel’s Boléro and include gun battles, betrayals, and a harrowing torture scene (female dissident Han Ji-min the victim).

And at the centre of the story, thickening the moral ambiguity of the cloak-and-dagger, is the collaborator Lee, conflicted between self-preservation and his awakening conscience. In Korean with English subtitles. 4/5

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