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Director Kim Jee Woon 김지운 Kim Ji Woon

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August 12, 2016

Dir. Kim Ji Woon and Lee Byung Hun at the 'Director's Cut Awards 2016'

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August 16, 2016

AGE OF SHADOWS, CITY OF MADNESS, HANDMAIDEN Selected for Toronto
BARGAIN Invited to TIFF Short Cuts

by Pierce Conran / KoBiz

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Korean blockbusters will be heavily featured in the Special Presentations lineup of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Veteran directors KIM Jee-woon, PARK Chan-wook and KIM Sung-soo will present The Age of Shadows, The Handmaiden and Asura: The City of Madness, respectively.
 
Returning to the Korean scene after his Hollywood foray The Last Stand (2013), KIM Jee-woon will premiere his new Colonial Era action-thriller The Age of Shadows at the Venice International Film Festival early next month. Featuring SONG Kang-ho and GONG Yoo, the film will open in Korean theatres on September 7th, ahead of the local Chuseok holiday, before screening in Canada.
 
Having its world premiere in Toronto will be Asura: The City of Madness, KIM’s first film since the influenza thriller The Flu (2013). The film stars JUNG Woo-sung as a cop who gets caught between internal affairs and a city mayor.
 
Following its competition slot at the Cannes Film Festival and its successful run at the Korean box office, which netted it almost 4.3 million viewers, PARK’s The Handmaiden will continue its festival run in Toronto. Based on Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, the steamy Colonial Era thriller stars HA Jung-woo, KIM Min-hee and newcomer KIM Tae-ri.
 
Also playing in Toronto will be Bargain in the Short Cuts section. Director LEE Chung-hyun’s 14-minute film will have its international premiere after winning the Busan Cinephile Awards and Jury Prize from the Busan International Short Film Festival.
 
TIFF will continue to reveal sections of its lineup in the coming weeks.

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August 26, 2016

Director Kim Jee-woon says ‘Age of Shadows’ is ‘heated’ noir

When director Kim Jee-woon first started filming his newest historical thriller “The Age of Shadows,” he had set his mind on making a “cold” noir flick featuring a ruthless world of spies. 

But the film turned out to be much more “heated” than originally intended, he told reporters after a press screening of the film in Seoul on Tuesday.

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Director Kim Jee-woon speaks to reporters at a press conference for film “The Age of Shadows” in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)

His original references had been classics like the 1949 black-and-white thriller “The Third Man” and the 1965 Western espionage flick “The Spy Who Came In from the Cold” -? both set in the Cold War era.

In the course of filming, however, Kim discovered that the period of the Japanese occupation of Korea, in which the film is set, had a completely different atmosphere. 

“The occupation era was a time when patriots sacrificed their lives without regret to recover a country that had been lost,” said Kim. “With that story in the center, the film couldn’t help but get heated toward the end.” 

Though the film ultimately diverged from what he had originally intended, Kim said he chose to “not force a certain filmic self-consciousness or style” and instead “follow the direction of the story and its characters.”

“The Age of Shadows” is the most recent in a string of historical flicks to hit Korean theaters this year -? including “The Last Princess” and “Operation Chromite.”

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Actors Song Kang-ho, Gong Yoo and Han Ji-min speak at a press conference for film “The Age of Shadows” in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)

Set in the 1920s, it chronicles the story of independence fighter Kim Woo-jin, played by actor Gong Yoo, and his group of comrades who hatch a plan to smuggle bombs from Shanghai into the Korean capital in order to overthrow the Japanese government. 

Actor Song Kang-ho plays Lee Jeong-chool, a Korean national who has sided with the Japanese. A high-ranking officer in the Japanese police, Lee is responsible for spying on and ultimately capturing the independence fighters. 

The film aims to explore the “complexity” of the era, according to director Kim, in which coexisted those who spied for the opposition and those that risked their lives to recover their lost country. 

“It tries to show a period in which people had no choice but to become spies,” he said. 

It’s not a film that chases who the spy is or isn’t, but shows that anybody can be a spy,” said actor Song. 

Actress Han Ji-min stars as independence fighter Yeon Gye-soon. Actor Lee Byung-hun makes a cameo appearance as Jeong Chae-san, leader of the independence fighters. 

“The Age of Shadows” has been invited to screen at the 41st annual Toronto International Film Festival, to take place on Sept. 8-18, and the 73rd Venice International Film Festival, set for Aug. 31-Sept. 10. 

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The cast of film “The Age of Shadows” and director Kim Jee-woon (far right) pose for a photo at a press conference in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)

With a budget of $8.62 billion, it is the first ever Korean-language film to be produced by Warner Bros., which will also helm local distribution. Korean sales company Finecut picked up the film’s international rights in April. 

Kim previously directed “I Saw the Devil” and “The Good, The Bad, The Weird.” His Hollywood directorial debut was in 2013 with “The Last Stand,” featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

The film opens in local theaters on Sept. 7.

By Rumy Doo (doo@heraldcorp.com)

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August 29, 2016

[Photos] Premiere images for the upcoming Korean movie "The Age of Shadows"

Source: Hancinema.net (please refer link for more pics)

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Eom Tae-goo, Gong Yoo, Han Ji-min, Song Kang-ho and director Kim Jee-woon

Premiere images for the upcoming Korean movie "The Age of Shadows"" (2016)

Directed by Kim Jee-woon

With Song Kang-ho, Gong Yoo, Han Ji-min, Eom Tae-goo, Park Hee-soon, Seo Yeong-joo-I,...

Formerly known as "Secret Agent"
Crank in : 2015/10/22
Crank up : 2016/03/31
Synopsis
Based on the history of Organization of Righteous Bravery, a part of the armed independence movement during Korea under Japanese rule. Release date in Korea : 2016/09/07

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August 30, 2016

S. Korean film "The Age of Shadows" submitted to Oscars

By Chung Joo-won

SEOUL, Aug. 30 (Yonhap) -- A South Korean spy film will be submitted to next year's U.S. Academy Awards, the state-run film council confirmed on Tuesday.

"The Age of Shadows," directed by South Korean filmmaker Kim Jee-woon, will submitted for consideration in the foreign language film section of the 89th Academy Awards, according to the Korea Film Council (KFC). The annual event is slated to take place in Los Angeles in February 2017.

"The film scored high in multiple evaluation factors, such as aesthetic achievement, recognition of the director and cast, as well as global distribution and marketing potential," the KFC said in a press release.

Actor Song Kang-ho appears in this still from South Korean film "The Age of Shadows," provided by Warner Brothers Korea. The film is set to open in South Korean theaters on Sept. 7. (Yonhap)

Actor Song Kang-ho appears in this still from South Korean film "The Age of Shadows," provided by Warner Brothers Korea. The film is set to open in South Korean theaters on Sept. 7. (Yonhap)

Every year, the KFC makes the final selection of the film to be submitted to the Academy Awards.

"This year, the film council has received many works of outstanding producing skills and high individualized style, leading to fierce debate among the KFC judges," the council added.

Starring top actors Song Kang-ho and Gong Yoo, "The Age of Shadows" portrays the story of Korean independence fighters during the 1920s, when political turbulence abounded under Japanese colonial rule.

Song, globally known for "Snowpiercer" and "The Host" plays Korean investigator Lee Jeong-chul who works for the local Japanese police. Gong, whose recent zombie film "Train to Busan" hit the jackpot at home, plays Korean resistance group member Kim Woo-jin.

Among the cast are also some top South Korean stars such as actor Lee Byung-hun and actress Han Ji-min.

"The Age of Shadows" premieres in local theaters on Sept. 7.

Actor Gong Yoo (second from L) appears in this still from South Korean film "The Age of Shadows," provided by Warner Brothers Korea. The film is set to open in South Korean theaters on Sept. 7. (Yonhap)

Actor Gong Yoo (second from L) appears in this still from South Korean film "The Age of Shadows," provided by Warner Brothers Korea. The film is set to open in South Korean theaters on Sept. 7. (Yonhap)

Actor Lee Byung-hun appears in this still from South Korean film "The Age of Shadows," provided by Warner Brothers Korea. The film is set to open in South Korean theaters on Sept. 7. (Yonhap)

Actor Lee Byung-hun appears in this still from South Korean film "The Age of Shadows," provided by Warner Brothers Korea. The film is set to open in South Korean theaters on Sept. 7. (Yonhap)

jwc@yna.co.kr

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August 30, 2016

South Korea selects 'The Age Of Shadows' as Oscars entry

By Jean Noh | ScreenDaily  

Kim Jee-woon’s period thriller stars Song Kang-ho and Gong Yoo.

Warner Bros Korea’s first Korean-language production, Kim Jee-woon’s The Age Of Shadows, has been chosen as South Korea’s submission to the 89th Academy Awards best foreign-language film category.

The news was announced today by the Korean Film Council (KOFIC).

Set in Seoul and Shanghai during the Japanese occupation, the film stars Song Kang-ho (Snowpiercer) with Gong Yoo, who is currently starring in record-breaking local hit Train To Busan, which premiered in Cannes earlier this year.

Song is also one of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS)’s new members as of last year.

He plays a former member of the Korean resistance who has joined the Japanese colonial forces as a police officer, tasked to infiltrate the notorious resistance group called Uiyeoldan.

Gong plays a resistance fighter trying to bring in explosives from Shanghai while Japanese agents close in on them. He and his group’s leader, played by Lee Byung-hun (RED 2), try to “turn” Song’s character to aid the resistance again.   

The Age Of Shadows is due to make its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival Out of Competition on the night of September 3. It will also premiere in the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival’s Special Presentations section later next month.

KOFIC’s selection committee stated they went through “intense” discussions to decide on The Age Of Shadows as having the most potential to make the Oscars shortlist.

“The Age Of Shadows got high scores not only for its aesthetic accomplishments, but also for the level of recognition of its director and actors and for its overseas distribution and marketing capabilities,” KOFIC said.

Kim Jee-woon is known for critically-acclaimed films such as Cannes titles A Bittersweet Life (2005) and The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008). He made his Hollywood debut in 2013 with the Arnold Schwarzenegger-starrer The Last Stand.

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August 30, 2016

Warner Bros.’ ‘Age of Shadows’ Picked as Korea’s Oscar Contender

Sonia Kil Variety.com

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Kim Ji-woon’s “Age of Shadows,” Warner Bros.’ first Korean-language production, has been selected as South Korea’s contender for the foreign-language Academy Award race.

The film (aka “Mil-jeong”) is a 1920s set espionage drama involving resistance fighters trying to smuggle explosives from Shanghai into Japanese-occupied Korea. It stars Song Kang-ho (“The Throne”) as a Korean-born Japanese officer who has divided loyalties and Gong Yoo (“Train to Busan”) as the leader of the Korean resistance group. Last year, Song joined the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) as one of the first Korean members.

It will have its world premiere at the Venice festival before then traveling to the Toronto festival. It goes on commercial release in Korea later this week (Sept. 7.)

The selection was made by a special committee of the Korean Film Council. “‘Shadows’ earned high scores not only in terms of its aesthetic achievement, but also of the director and the actors’ recognition, international sales and marketing,” said KOFIC in a statement.

Submissions for the Academy Awards’ foreign-language section close at the end of September. Nominations will not be announced by AMPAS until January.  Despite Korea’s impact on global film-making in the past 20 years, no Korean film has ever received a nomination from the Academy.

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September 2, 2016

Creative partners come together again in ‘Age’

Source: INSIDE Korea JoongAng Daily

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Kim Jee-woon, left, and actor Song Kang-ho on the set of “The Age of Shadows.”[JOONGANG ILBO]

Director Kim Jee-woon and actor Song Kang-ho have reunited again through “The Age of Shadows,” the fourth project that the two have worked on together. 

Song and the director, who is often dubbed ‘The Stylist’ in the country’s film community for his excellent cinematography, first met while they worked on “The Quiet Family” (1998), Kim’s first feature film. 

The second project the two worked on together was “The Foul King” (2000), in which Song plays the role of a rank-and-file employee who begins to study wrestling after work. 

“The Good, The Bad, The Weird,” (2008) the third project of the two, was a western genre film with Korean touches set in 1930s Manchuria. 

Kim calls Song the “biggest weapon” that he has to express the sentiments of the characters in his films. 

During a recent interview with JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, Kim said, “Song is one of a few Korean actors who can play the role of Lee Jeong-chul [in ‘The Age of Shadows’] because he can play a wide range of roles.” 

In “The Age of Shadows,” Song plays Lee, who formerly worked for the independence of the country, but later becomes a Japanese police officer. 

Song defined his character Lee as “a person who is formed by the [tragic] era.” The 49-year-old actor added, “The biggest virtue of this film is that it does not see people back in those days in black and white but it looks into the diverse ideologies and conflicts that people had.”

Song continued, “Kim and I exchange our feelings and find out what both of us want [for each scene.] Sometimes it is hard to explain art with specific words.” 

Meanwhile, Kim chose “irony” as a common theme found in all of his films. 

“I find myself attracted to irony all the time. And the character of Lee is ironic himself. He approaches Kim Woo-jin as a Japanese police officer but his initial plan falls through and he can’t easily make decisions between the two groups.” 

“The Age of Shadows” is the first Korean-language film to be financed and distributed by Warner Bros.


BY JANG SUNG-RAN [so@joongang.co.kr] 

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September 2, 2016

‘The Age of Shadows’ is a beautiful spy adventure;

Colonial era thriller keeps viewers on the edge of their seats

Source: INSIDE Korea JoongAng Daily

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“The Age of Shadows” by director Kim Jee-woon is probably the most stylish film ever set in the late 1920s when the country was under Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945). Gong Yoo, second from left, plays the lead role of Kim Woo-jin.[WARNER BROS KOREA]

In almost all Korean films set during the time of Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945), only two groups of people exist: the good and the bad. 

The good guys fight for the independence of the country while the bad guys work closely with the Japanese government. 

But the film “The Age of Shadows” by Kim Jee-woon approaches the era by featuring Lee Jeong-chul (played by Song Kang-ho), a complex character who once worked for the independence of his home country but now pledges loyalty to the Japanese by working as a police officer who brings his former colleagues to court.

The two protagonists of “The Age of Shadows,” Lee and Kim Woo-jin (played by Gong Yoo), are based on Hwang Ok and Kim Si-hyun, both independence fighters at the time. 

Lee one day realizes Korean resistance fighters are making bombs in Shanghai and that they plan to smuggle them to Gyeongseong, a name for Seoul during Japanese colonial rule, to destroy major buildings and attack key figures in the imperial Japanese army. Lee decides to approach Kim, a close aid of Jeong Chae-san (played by Lee Byung-hun), the head of the independence movement. 

Lee attempts to obtain key information from Kim about the bombs but instead he is asked to become miljeong or a secret agent, so that the resistance fighters would be able to successfully land in Gyeongseong with the bombs.

The independent fighters manage to get on a train to Gyeongseong but the confidential information about their route is leaked to the Japanese police. It is then that they realize there is miljeong inside the group. 

“The Age of Shadows” overwhelms the audience from its very opening scene. 

A throng of Japanese police officers run over roofs racing to catch a Korean independent fighter. The stark contrast between the modern uniforms of Japanese police officers and the beauty of old giwa, Korean traditional roof tiles, under the moon light is a sign that this is going to be another stylish film from director Kim, who took the helm of many hit films including “I Saw the Devil” (2010), “The Good, The Bad, The Weird” (2008) and “A Tale of Two Sisters” (2003). 

In terms of cinematography, Kim is second to none and he doesn’t disappoint his long-time fans. There are heaps of films that are set in the late 1920s, but none of them portray the people of the era, when traditional Korean culture and the modern culture of Japan mixed, in the sophisticated and classic way that Kim does. 

Kim’s newest work also reminds viewers that film is a comprehensive art form which includes music and visual art. The film’s sets and score are stunning to the eyes and ears over the course of the film’s 140-minute run time. 

In the director’s notes, Kim wrote that he found himself attracted to the spy film genre and wanted to portray the identity crisis of a double agent. 

“The Age of Shadows” is a good espionage film as it keeps the audience sitting at the edge of their seats throughout the whole film waiting to find out who the secret agent is. 

But the visually exciting film lacks depth and plausibility when it explains the changes that lead character Jeong-chul goes through. 

The film also fails to make the best use of some supporting characters such as actress Han Ji-min who plays one of the resistance fighters. Her character, Yeon Gye-sun, seems to have an interesting story, but it never gets explored, leaving much to the imagination. 

Still, the performance of the star-studded cast make up for some of the weaker points. 

Song proves that he is a natural, who can easily switch between comedy and tragedy.

“The Age of Shadows” was invited to the non-competition section at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival and was a special presentation of the Toronto International Film Festival.

The film opens on Wednesday at theaters nationwide. It is rated 15 and over. 


REVIEW

BY SUNG SO-YOUNG [so@joongang.co.kr]

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September 3, 2016

Venice 2016 Review: THE AGE OF SHADOWS, Kim Jee-woon's Dazzling Period Spy Thriller

Pierce Conran ScreenAnarchy

Korean theatres have become inundated with films set during the Japanese Colonial period over the last year or so but all are put to shame by The Age of Shadows, Kim Jee-woon's mesmerising return to home soil after directing Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Last Stand. The film also marks a strong start for Warner Brothers in the market, financing a Korean production for the first time.

An engrossing tale of action and intrigue, The Age of Shadows features top local actor Song Kang-ho has a former resistance sympathiser who has switched allegiances to become a police captain for the Japanese occupiers in 1920s Seoul. While seeking to foil a bomb plot, he comes into contact with a charming arts dealer connected to the resistance, played by Train to Busan's Gong Yoo, while an unhinged Japanese subordinate begins to doubt his loyalty.

The film's Korean title, 'Miljeong', simply means 'Secret Agent' while the foreign title hints at the film's stylistic approach, namely by recalling Jean-Pierre Melville's WWII resistance drama Army of Shadows. Its brooding tone, ample double-crosses and some visual cues point to the French masterpiece, while with several others influences, from the quick 70s Hollywood camera zooms and Sergio Leone's tense stare-down closeups to John Woo's HK-era gunplay, Kim brings to bear a dizzying panoply of visual styles which blend into a seamless and invigorating whole.

Kim Jee-woon's unique skill has always been to take something ordinary and elevate it not only through his deft command of mise-en-scene but also his ability to twist a new image out of the familiar. In this latest work, for example, a nun furiously cycling to composer Mowg's clanging guitar score and dashing through a corridor as the camera follows her billowing veil turns a standard scene into a striking one. In another sequence, modelled after the execution montage of The Godfather, shadowy figures in a dark room are illuminated when bolts of daylight punch through fresh bullet holes.

While based on some Colonial Era events, Kim's focus is not historical veracity. This much is clear from the pulse-raising opening, when scores of Japanese soldiers dash across the roofs of nighttime Seoul. The Age of Shadows is an expert exercise in period espionage that mines its Colonial Era setting for stylistic potential and commercial gain, timed with the recent wave of hits set at the same time, including Choi Doong-hoon's Assassination and Park Chan-wook's The Handmaiden, another stylish romp not concerned with political statements.

Song does typically fantastic work, effortlessly drawing out pathos and a surprising amount of comedy from his conflicted protagonist. As for Gong, he takes on the most challenging role of his career and delivers his best performance, yet can't quite level up to his more talented co-star. After years in supporting roles, Um Tae-goo, as Song's despicable Japanese adversary, is sure to enter a new stage of his career as he venomously bristles in his show-stopping and disquieting turn.

Lee Byung-hun is imposing and charismatic in an extended cameo and leads the film's funniest scene, an early morning drinking session. Han Ji-min on the other hand, as one of resistance fighters, fares worst among the cast, with a strained performance in a character that is underwritten, underscoring Kim's difficulty with female characters.

While director Kim may be the conductor, his stable of long-time technical collaborators each provide essential contributions, including the shades of gold and black from Kim Ji-yong's vivid cinematography, the tense twangs of Mowg's pulse-raising score and the intricate details of Cho Hwa-sung's lush production design. All frequently combine to remarkable effect, especially in a lengthy and absorbing central train sequence that calls to mind another Melville classic, Le Cercle Rouge.

Wading into an already crowded field of top Korean thrillers in 2016, Kim Jee-woon's The Age of Shadows is a gripping thriller and a dazzling technical display that stands as the genre maestro's most confident work to date

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September 4,  2016

Spy thriller deals with double agent

By Park Jin-hai The Korea Times

Among a slew of recent films set during the Japanese occupation (1910-1945), director Kim Jee-woon's new espionage movie "The Age of Shadows" clearly stands out. 

The film tells the story of a Korean-born naturalized Japanese police officer Lee Jeong-chul, played by seasoned actor Song Kang-ho, who becomes friends with the leader of a freedom fighting group called Uiyeoldan to get information about the group's bombing plans against the Japanese authorities.

The film is Warner Bros.' first Korean-language production and is a strong contender for a foreign film Academy Award. Kim's latest work bears all the hallmarks of his cinematic esthetics and places it in a league of its own.

From the opening sequence, where the camera dynamically follows a chase and gun-fight between Japanese police and an independence fighter, to a highlight action sequence on a train, the film reminds viewers of Kim's acclaimed 2008 film "The Good, the Bad, the Weird," while the beautifully colored mise-en-scene of the film reminds the audience of the director's earlier mystery thriller "A Tale of Two Sisters."

Unlike the other occupation-period films, which intentionally strike the chord of nationalism and patriotism, the "Age of Shadows," while dealing with the independence movement, doesn't portray a role of strictly good and bad, or us against them.

Instead, it adopts the double-agent device to depict a world of uncertainty as the poster states, "The enemy has always been within," and reveals the thin and blurry line that separates the traitor from the freedom fighter.

Protagonist Lee, based on the controversial real-life figure Hwang Ok, a Korean-born Japanese officer, who was arrested in 1923 for his alleged involvement in a bomb plot led by Uiyeoldan, is cleverly portrayed by Song.

Song, who became the first Korean member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences last year, portrays Lee not as a notorious and cold-blooded betrayer but as an ordinary secular and shaky person who acts based on the situation he has found himself in during the turbulent times.

As a former leader of the independence movement who became a Japanese police officer chasing down his former friend, Lee shows his inner guilt throughout the movie. At the same time he warns that "I don't know who I will be the next time (I meet you)" to the secret request of becoming a double-agent by the independence fighters.

For a spy thriller, however, the movie plot is rather loose. Lee has became a double agent with few reasonable explanations which tends to fizzle out the thrill of the movie a little too early and prevents viewers from feeling empathy with the character.

What saves the film is the great acting of the two protagonists Song and Gong Yoo. Song depicts a multi-layered character, while Gong Yoo acts the part of a soft but charismatic freedom fighter in detail. The force of actor Lee Byung-hun, who plays the leader of Uiyeoldan, is significant, despite his short appearance. As the director said, the movie starts with depicting the historical pains of the tumultuous times, but ends leaving a long aftertaste about shaky and fragile characters who are destined to live out the lives they are faced with. This is something that we can relate to living today.

"The Age of Shadows" has a 140-minute running time and will hit the local theaters on Sept. 7.

jinhai@ktimes.co

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September 4, 2016

[Herald Review] ‘Age of Shadows’ shrouded in intrigue, style

Academy Award submission presents exhilarating mix of Korean independence movement history and spy noir

“The Age of Shadows” is the latest among a handful of Korean movies this year to gain international attention. After being invited to Toronto and Venice international film festivals, the film was chosen last week as Korea’s contender for the Academy Awards’ Best Foreign Language Film.

Directed by Kim Jee-woon (“I Saw the Devil”), the film is a stylish noir-thriller brimming with intrigue. It also spins a Western spy-action take on the history of the Korean independence movement, which will be refreshing to some, jarring to others, but entertaining to almost all.

Set during the Japanese occupation of Korea, the film traces an underground group of independence fighters called Euiyeoldan who hatch a plot to smuggle bombs from Shanghai into Gyeongseong, today‘s Seoul, to blow up the Japanese colonial government. 

The film starts out as Captain Lee Jung-chool, played by Song Kang-ho (“Snowpiercer”), a pro-Japanese collaborator who has risen to the high ranks of the Japanese police force, is ordered to infiltrate the Euiyeoldan suspected of purchasing explosives under the cover of an antiques trade. As a pro-Japanese collaborator, Jung-chool seems predictably pragmatic, defending his own interests above all else.

He tracks down the antique shop owner Kim Woo-jin, played by Gong Yoo (“Train to Busan”), a key member of the Euiyeoldan. 

Nothing short of gregarious on the outside, the two knowingly befriend each other: Woo-jin and his comrades are well aware of Jung-chool’s agenda and the captain, in turn, knows that they know.

Thus begins a precarious chase of spying and being spied on. Director Kim deftly captures the string of furtive glances in dark alleys, the tension regarding who to trust, and action plans that rely just as much on gut instinct as on intricate strategy.

The captain and the shopowner stay faithful to their guises and the rules of the game. But the cards are laid out much sooner than expected, and Woo-jin asks Jung-chool for help. There is no incentive for the officer to switch sides, and no reason for Woo-jin to trust him other than instinct, desperation, and a bet that Jung-chool harbors feelings of guilt for betraying his country.

The film, however, makes the apt choice not to explain at length the characters’ motivations. Instead, it focuses on the act of spying itself -- the intrigue and the visceral judgment it entails, the choice between instinctive trust and reasonable doubt.

Uncertain of anything, the Euiyeoldan members board a train headed from Shanghai to the Korean capital, on a ride that is easily the highlight of the film. Suspense is maximized inside the confined setting. Delightfully unexpected choices of music, including Louis Armstrong’s “When You’re Smiling,” add to the film’s flair.

Once the train reaches its destination, the discreet, shadowy game comes to a close, replaced with a passionate charge toward the end goal. 

Song is as exciting an on-screen presence as ever and the lifeblood of the spectacle. Gong Yoo seems too dashing and clean-cut to be an independence fighter who has laid down his life for the cause of national independence, but it works in this hyper-stylized world. Actor Um Tae-goo provides a frightful, while exaggerated, version of the cruel Japanese officer Hashimoto; Lee Byung-hun makes a charming appearance as the Euiyeoldan leader.

“The Age of Shadows” is a highly-stylized, modern-day old-fashioned spy flick, a web of subterfuge beneath billowing trench coats. It will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last sleight of hand.

The film is produced and distributed here by Warner Bros. Korea and distributed internationally by Finecut. It screened at the Venice International Film Festival on Sept. 2 and will screen at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 9. It opens in local theaters on Sept. 7. 

By Rumy Doo (doo@heraldcorp.com

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September 3, 2016

Venice buzz title: Kim Jee-woon talks spy thriller 'The Age Of Shadows'

By Jean Noh | Screendaily

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The Korean film-maker discusses Warner Bros Korea’s first local-language production, and expresses his thoughts on changes in the local industry.

Set in the 1920s, Kim Jee-woon’s latest film The Age Of Shadows is based on a true double-agent story that mirrored the times. Set in the middle of the Japanese Empire’s 1910-1945 colonisation of Korea, the story follows a Korean member of the Japanese colonial police force who had previously taken part in, and then abandoned the independence movement. He is tasked to infiltrate a band of resistance fighters who are trying to smuggle in explosives to Seoul from China, but wavers as they appeal to his sense of guilt and country.

“I was intrigued by this story about an undercover police officer who had to become a spy – who couldn’t help but do this work because of the era he was living in,” says Kim.

“Respecting the original book that told this story, I wanted to make it a bit more cinematic and entertaining, adding the train scenes and structuring it as a commercial film,” adds the critically acclaimed director, whose films include Cannes titles A Bittersweet Life (2005) and The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008).

The Age Of Shadows is Kim’s first film since his Hollywood debut with Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle The Last Stand (2013), as well as Warner Bros Korea’s first local-language production. It was recently selected as South Korea’s submission to the Oscars’ foreign-language film category.

The spy drama stars Song Kang-ho (Snowpiercer) as the undercover police officer and Gong Yoo (Train To Busan) as a young leader in the resistance group. Lee Byung-hun (RED 2) makes a short but significant cameo appearance as the hunted head of the group who decides they must try to “turn” Song’s character as Japanese agents close in on them.

Points of origin

The film joins other recent Korean titles such as The Handmaiden, Assassination and The Last Princess which have taken to shining a light on the colonial era. They deal with facets of a dark time when Koreans were not just downtrodden and fighting for independence, but some were also collaborating with the Japanese occupiers.

The fact that after liberation, many of those pro-Japanese collaborators acquired powerful positions in government and industry, while former independence fighters and their families fell to the wayside, has been a historical sticking point in South Korea.

“The nature of history is that there are always parts left for descendants to disentangle. I took that as a point of origin to see what kind of story I could tell about things that had happened, and what kind of meaning that story could have in the present,” says Kim.

Although The Good, The Bad, The Weird also took place in the Japanese colonial era, Kim says creating the stylish look of The Age Of Shadows was a completely different matter.

“The Good, The Bad, The Weird was primarily a Western set in Manchuria, with a lot of post-modern imagination to it. But The Age Of Shadows deals with the pain of that era. So we had to continually do historical research to which I could match up the fantasy I had in my head,” says Kim, who shot the film in three different studios in Shanghai and on open sets and in folk villages around Korea.

Korean dynamism

After making The Last Stand, Kim was prepared to work again with another Hollywood studio. “The US system is so different. For instance, if you need to build a set, they’ll want a detailed explanation why. For Korean directors, this is absurd. But I’ve been through it, and know to project certain possibilities and contingencies while waiting [for approval] now,” he says.

He also credits Warner Bros Korea local productions director Jay Choi as “an able control tower” in keeping communication channels between Warner Bros headquarters and Korea operating smoothly. The two had previously worked together on Kim’s A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003) and The Good, The Bad, The Weird.

In his 18-year career, Kim has seen “tremendous aesthetic and business developments” in the Korean film industry. But he also sees how the growth of conglomerate studios and multiplexes has brought on a system that he says has “narrowed the spectrum for creativity”.

“From the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, directors were able to make the films they wanted and, simultaneously, critics and audiences would like them. But you can’t do that now because creativity has to be standardised and quantified,” he says.

“Despite that, we still have noteworthy directors who can carry off aesthetic achievements that are also industry successes. And we get two to three of their films a year. That means Korean cinema’s dynamic energy and staying power is still around.”

Up next, Kim is working on a live-action remake of Japanese animation Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, which was written by Mamoru Oshii (Ghost In The Shell). “I’m also working on a low-budget mystery horror with an American company that I can’t reveal yet,” he adds.

The Age Of Shadows is making its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival tonight (Sept 3), will screen in the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival and opens in Korea on September 7.

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September 7, 2016

Toronto Film Fest reflects current trends in Korean cinema

By Jason Bechervaise The Korea Times

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A still from "The Age of Shadows / Courtesy of Warner Bros. Korea

It's been a strong year for Korean films thus far, both on the domestic front and international festival circuit ― so much so that 2016 could be hailed as one of the best in years. 

Na Hong-jin's "The Wailing" received critical acclaim in Cannes and its box office performance followed suit, accumulating more than 6.8 million admissions in May. 

"Train to Busan" went even further, surpassing 11 million admissions during the busy summer box office season, repeating its rapturous response in Cannes and performing well in a number of international markets, including Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. 

Other features such as Park Chan-wook's "The Handmaiden," Kim Seong-hoon's "Tunnel" and Lee Joon-ik's "Dong-ju: The Portrait of a Poet" have also been popular with audiences and critics alike. 

Turning now to the fall festival season, which includes Venice and Toronto, Korean films remain a prominent fixture in this year's line-ups, further illustrating the strength of the local industry. 

At the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which kicks off Sept. 8, five Korean features have been invited this year. 

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A still from "Asura: The City of Madness" / Courtesy of CJ Entertainment

Kim Jee-woon's occupation-era espionage thriller "The Age of Shadows," which premiered in Venice last week and hits local screens Sept. 7, will have its first public screening in North America in TIFF's Special Presentations section Sept. 17. 

Having already garnered strong reviews in Venice, it's set to solidify Kim's reputation as one of Korea's leading genre filmmakers. 

But much like "The Wailing," "The Age of Shadows" was produced and funded by a Hollywood studio rather than a local one -- a further sign that the industry is changing. 

In an interview with The Korea Times, TIFF programmer Giovanna Fulvi said, "it's too bad for Hollywood that they did not pay attention earlier because Korea has been producing very good films for many years. That shows that Hollywood lacks creativity." 

Interestingly the film comes at a time when a number of films set during the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-45) have already hit screens this year including "The Handmaiden," "The Last Princess" and "Spirits' Homecoming." 

"My goal is to reflect current trends in Korean cinema," Fulvi said. 

This trend along with another popular theme that continues to crop up in current Korean cinema is "corruption." 

"It seems that this year these themes ― Japanese occupation, corruption ― are important to major filmmakers," said Fulvi, making reference to Park Chan-wook's colonial lesbian thriller "The Handmaiden" that is also screening at the festival, and Woo Min-ho's political thriller "Inside Men." 

At this year's festival, Kim Sung-soo's crime-action feature "Asura: The City of Madness," which will have its world premiere in Toronto, appears to share much in common with "Inside Men," "A Violent Prosecutor" and "Veteran" which all tackle the issue of corruption. 

Starring Jung Woo-sung, Hwang Jung-min and Kwak Do-won, it follows a detective who does the dirty work for a local mayor in order to pay the medical bills for his gravely ill wife. But when a prosecutor is determined to take down the politician and forces the detective to corroborate, he is stuck in the middle. 

Also invited to the festival this year are the latest films from other well-established auteurs: Kim Ki-duk and Hong Sang-soo. 

Kim Ki-duk's "The Net," which also debuted in Venice last week and screens in TIFF's Master's strand, follows a North Korean fisherman played by Ryoo Seung-bum who inadvertently finds himself in South Korean waters and is questioned by the local authorities. He is encouraged to defect, but that would mean leaving his wife and daughter behind. 

The latest film from Hong Sang-soo, "Yourself and Yours," will have its world premiere at TIFF in the same section. Kim Ju-hyeok plays a painter searching for his girlfriend (Lee Yoo-young) following an argument over another man whom she met. 

Speaking about the number of films from Korean auteurs at TIFF this year, and how these filmmakers can provide the industry with exposure on the global stage, Fulvi said, "We are very lucky that the stars have aligned and TIFF has been able to spotlight many films by these masters at the same time. These directors will bring a lot of international attention to Korean cinema in general, enabling the many emerging new voices to be heard." 

Commenting on the strong lineup of Korean films this year, he said, "As someone who has been paying attention to Korean cinema for many years, it is honestly not that surprising that this is another great year for Korean cinema. And I am happy that major film festivals have the space and interest to showcase contemporary Korean cinema." 

Also showing at TIFF this year is the Jeonju Cinema Project "A Decent Woman" by Lukas Valenta Rinner and the Korean short "Bargain" by Lee Chung-hyun about a young woman who meets a man in a hotel room. 

TIFF runs from Sept. 8 to 18. 

Jason Bechervaise is a film columnist for The Korea Times. He can be reached at jase@koreanfilm.org.uk.

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September 12, 2016

'The Age of Shadows' dominates weekend box office

SEOUL, Sept. 12 (Yonhap) -- Local historical drama "The Age of Shadows" dominated the box office last weekend, data showed Monday.

The latest from director Kim Jee-woon topped the box office over the Sept. 9-11 weekend, collecting more than 1.6 million moviegoers according to the computerized box office tally from the Korean Film Council (KOFIC). The movie took up 69.1 percent of ticket sales.

The film, in particular, surpassed the 2 million mark in attendance on Sunday, the fifth day of the run, which is three days faster than other box office hits released ahead of the Chuseok holiday such as "Gwanghae: The Man Who Became the King" (2012) and "The Throne" (2014). This year, the country celebrates the full moon harvest holiday of Chuseok for three days from Wednesday to Friday.

A still from the Korean film "The Age of Shadows" (Yonhap)

A still from the Korean film "The Age of Shadows" (Yonhap)

Set in 1920s Seoul and Shanghai, "The Age of Shadows" portrays the story of a talented Korean-born Japanese police officer who happens to work as a double agent for Japan and a group of Korean resistance fighters during Japan's colonial rule over Korea. It stars top actors Song Kang-ho as the Korean-born Japanese police officer and Gong Yoo as a key leader of the resistance group "Uiyeoldan."

Coming in second was "The Map Against the World," a Korean period drama depicting the life of Korean geographer and cartographer Kim Jeong-ho who traveled all round the country to create a complete map during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).

Spoiler

A promotional poster of the Korean film "The Map Against the World" (Yonhap)

A promotional poster of the Korean film "The Map Against the World" (Yonhap)

A total of 219,291 people viewed the new film by director Kang Woo-suk over the weekend. The performance is relatively weaker than expected as it was cited as one of the most-anticipated films of the Chuseok season.

Disney's "Alice Through the Looking Glass," a new collaboration of director Tim Burton and actor Johnny Depp, came in a close third with 156,026.

The Korean animated film "Lost in the Moonlight" landed fourth on its first weekend since its opening. It is about a 13-year-old girl who happens to enter a world of fantasy called the "moonlight palace" inside Changdeok Palace, an ancient royal palace in central Seoul.

Spoiler

A still from the Korean animation film "Lost in the Moonlight" (Yonhap)

A still from the Korean animation film "Lost in the Moonlight" (Yonhap)

sshim@yna.co.kr

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