Wednesday, May 10, 2017

[Review] The Age of Shadows

Kim Jee-woon's epic spy thriller The Age of Shadows has a lot in common with Park Chan-wook's recent The Handmaiden. Not so much in story, but very much in setting and style. Both take place in the1920s during Japanese-occupied Korea. Both flaunt a grand duration that's full of twists and turns. Both are lavishly cinematic. And simply put--both are excellent.

The plot sees an elaborate cat-and-mouse game ensue between captain of the Japanese police force Lee Jung-chool (Song Kang-ho, Snowpiercer) and resistance fighter Kim Woo-jin (Gong Yoo, Train to Busan). As with espionage tales, the best thing to do is to expect the unexpected. This is a high-stakes chess match. A deceptive who's who. A strenuous exercise in which side are you on?

Director Kim Jee-woon has some great films under his belt (including A Tale of Two Sisters and I Saw The Devil), and he wields his strengths here, running the gamut between slow-burning drama and rousing setpieces---from hot pursuits across rooftops, to mafia-styled street shootouts, to a suspense-filled clash on a moving train. The film's big montage of a climax even reminded me of a film called The Godfather (maybe you've heard of it). Anyway, it's all captured with remarkably lush cinematography--you know, it's one of those films where you just have to admire how grand and polished everything looks. The technical aspects are all top-notch--the careful period detail, the fittingly high-contrast lighting, the immersive sound design. It's not afraid to get ugly and graphic either. In one of the opening scenes, a guy rips off his own dangling toe during a battle.

The runtime for The Age of Shadows clocks in at nearly two and a half hours, but it feels justified. Sure, there are slower moments, but there are never DULL moments. In fact, you really need all the time you can get in order to keep up with this dexterous, head-spinning story.

( 8/10 )

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