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[Movie 2016] The Age of Shadows/Mil-jeong 밀정


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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)


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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

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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August 31, 2016

‘The Age of Shadows’ selected as 2017 Oscars contender

Upcoming historical thriller “The Age of Shadows” has been selected as a contender for the 89th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, according to the Korean Film Council on Tuesday. 

“‘The Age of Shadows’ was selected not only for its aesthetic achievement, but also in recognition of the director and cast, and the global distribution and marketing efforts,” said KOFIC in a statement. 

Starring big-name actors including Song Kang-ho from the 2013 dystopian film “Snowpiercer” and Gong Yoo from this year’s summer blockbuster “Train to Busan,” the movie tells the story of a Korean independence group’s fight for the country’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule in the 1920s.

“The Age of Shadows” is scheduled for its world premiere at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival, taking place in Venice, Italy from Aug. 31 - Sept. 10. 

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will announce the final nominees for all award categories next January, and will present the annual ceremony the following month. 

Directed by Kim Jee-woon, “The Age of Shadows” opens in local theaters on Sept. 7.

By Kim Yu-young (ivykim@heraldcorp.com)

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September 2, 2016

Creative partners come together again in ‘Age’

Source: INSIDE Korea JoongAng Daily


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


“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. 


BY SUNG SO-YOUNG [so@joongang.co.kr]

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Venice Film Review: ‘The Age of Shadows’


Cult director Kim Jee-woon delivers the goods with an ultra-stylish cloak-and-dagger actioner set in 1920s Korea, under the Japanese occupation.

The irresistible pull of a spy thriller, the heightened stylishness of a 1920s setting, and terrific technical specs make “The Age of Shadows” an unabashed delight.  Korean director Kim Jee-woon (“The Last Stand,” “I Saw the Devil”) surpasses himself, returning to the screen after a three-year hiatus with an electrifying double-agent drama loosely based on the clandestine fight between South Korean resistance fighters and the country’s Japanese occupiers. Unfolding in classic action style, this rousing gem has everything one wants for an evening’s entertainment: no wonder South Korea chose it for its Oscar candidate. “Shadows” is destined to be a local sensation with strong international legs.

The first of several stunning set-pieces comes during the opening minutes, when resistance fighter Kim Jan-ok (Park Hee-soon) is betrayed by a mole and surrounded by Japanese police, led by Captain Lee Jung-chool (Song Kang-ho). Exciting camerawork captures the chase, with seemingly an entire platoon in expertly choreographed movement jumping from roof to roof across Cho Hwa-sung’s striking sets, until Jan-ok is cornered. Jung-chool, a former classmate of Jan-ok but now working for the other side, wants to bring him in alive, but he’s denied his prize.

Chief Higashi (Shingo Tsurumi) tasks Jung-chool with tracking down the resistance leaders, who are buying explosives from Hungarian anarchists (yes, this really is based on fact) by trafficking in antiques. Following a lead, the captain goes to the antiquities shop of Kim Woo-jin (Gong Yoo), who turns on the charm – which he has in spades – as the two men size each other up, fully aware that the game of cat and mouse has begun. Level-headed Jung-chool knows the best way to expose the rebels is by quiet subterfuge, but he’s being paired with hot-tempered Hashimoto (Um Tae-goo), who’s suspicious that the captain’s Korean blood makes him untrustworthy.

Present-day Japanese nationalists of the Prime Minister Abe type will cry foul with the over-the-top stereotyping that forms the entirety of Hashimoto’s character, but he’s a gleefully evil nemesis, and if it’s OK to make one-dimensional fiends of movie Nazis, why not the same for Japanese occupiers, whose historical record in Korea hardly invites positive depictions. Woo-jin suggests Jung-chool meet him in Shanghai, ostensibly to look at his pottery factory, though in reality resistance fighters are heading to China to buy explosives. The two men are engaged in a dangerous dance, but if there’s a way of locating a shred of national pride in turncoat Jung-chool’s soul, then maybe the resistance will have found its most valuable infiltrator.

What 1920’s-set spy film would be complete without a train? Director Kim delivers the goods: he’s crafted one of the best train sequences in recent memory, shifting between characters and classes with consummate skill as a distrustful Hashimoto tries to ferret out Woo-jin and his associates, who are smuggling explosives back to Korea. Yang Jin-mo’s tightly controlled editing keeps tension high enough to break into a cold sweat, maintaining a guessing game in which no one, least of all the audience, knows what Jung-chool will do, nor who the stool pigeon is who’s tipped off Hashimoto to the train’s combustible contents.

While the train sequence is the film’s indisputable highlight, a number of other scenes come close to that sequence’s bravado. This being a Kim Jee-woon film, audiences should expect a fair share of stomach-turning, eye-averting moments, and while not of the same unbearable intensity as “I Saw the Devil,” they still pack a wallop, such as when resistance fighter Yeon Gye-soon (Han Ji-min) is tortured. There’s not an ounce of fat on “The Age of Shadows,” which is based on the 1923 bombing of Japanese police headquarters in Seoul without feeling at all enslaved to facts. If anything, the film is most indebted to classic cloak-and-dagger movies, in which sharp, richly succinct dialogue and plenty of atmosphere seem effortlessly carried along by the force of magnetic personalities.

Those in the attractive cast are all top-notch, though naturally the lion’s share of praise goes to Song (“Snowpiercer”) and Gong (“Train to Busan”) – the former for his delicate balance of loyalties as he realizes he’s being played, and the latter for his easy charm wrapped around determination. Visually the film offers numerous pleasures in terms of atmospheric set-pieces and masterful lensing by Kim Ji-yong. Especially exciting is the use of music to ratchet up tension, first noticeable with simple percussion, then later Louis Armstrong’s “When You’re Smiling” and finally, in the climactic scene, a breathtakingly clever use of Ravel’s overused “Bolero” – it’s quite an achievement to make that old war-horse feel fresh.


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September 3, 2016

(Moview Review) The Age of Shadows, commanding double-spy film

By Shim Sun-ah

SEOUL, Sept. 3 (Yonhap) -- Movies set in the colonial-era Korea were once overwhelmingly grim and oppressive.

That has changed in recent years with the release of films of all different genres and stories: "Assassination," "Dongju: The Portrait of A Poet," "Spirits' Homecoming," "The Handmaiden," and "The Last Princess."

 Last year, "Assassination," an action flick about three Korean independence fighters teaming up to assassinate key figures in the Japanese colonial government, became the first film set in the grim era ever to clinch a commercial success.

Director Kim Jee-woon's "The Age of Shadows" is the same with "Assassination" for being an action film about Korean independence fighters.

But its protagonist Lee Jeong-chul (Song Kang-ho) is a double agent who is thrown into a dilemma between his duty and an instinct to support a greater cause.

Lee is a talented high-level Korean-born Japanese police officer working in the 1920s' Seoul. Korea was a colony of Japan from 1910 to 1945. He approaches Kim Woo-jin (Gong Yoo), the No. 2 man in a group of resistance fighters, with the purpose of gathering intelligence on the group, hiding his true identity. Quickly noticing Lee's identity, however, Kim asks him to help with the group's plan to bring in explosives from Shanghai to destroy key Japanese facilities in Seoul.

The spy action thriller is inspired by a less known historical incident in which Hwang Ok, a Korean-born Japanese officer, was arrested in 1923 for his alleged involvement in a bomb attack plot led by the resistance group "Uiyeoldan."

Court records show that Hwang claimed in court that he infiltrated into the group only to fulfill his duty as a Japanese civil servant. But his true intention of helping the group remains a mystery while some others say that he was a resistance group member who had infiltrated the Japanese police force.

A still of "The Age of Shadows" (Yonhap)

A still of "The Age of Shadows" (Yonhap)

In telling the story, director Kim found a way to approach the controversial figure by fiction. The story cooked up by Kim is that Hwang is initially sent to the resistance group to spy for Japan but slowly undergoes a change of heart and eventually chooses his own nation.

Some may condemn him for converting a serious historical issue into a well-told story, but few would be willing to sit through more than two hours of running time if a film is not interesting.

The movie takes a multilayered approach toward the turbulent era and the people who went through it, not simply focusing on the battle between the resistance fighters and the Japanese police that are trying to hunt them down. It does not judge an apostate as an evil.

A still of "The Age of Shadows" (Yonhap)

A still of "The Age of Shadows" (Yonhap)

Its high-speed chase scenes between resistance fighters and the Japanese police are packed with blazing energy and thrilling stunts. The train action sequence, particularly, feels more like a spiritual sequel to the filmmaker's acclaimed 2008 film "The Good, the Bad, the Weird," a Korean-style western set in the Manchurian desert, northeastern China, after the Japanese invasion in 1931. "The Good" has a similarly stylish chase sequence where a train robber (Song) hurtles through train cars to pilfer a treasure map.

For a spy thriller, however, "The Age of Shadows'" plot is rather loose. The audience knows from an early stage that Lee is going to eventually stand by his people even though he never, until almost to the very end, does not tell anyone what he is really doing. He keeps telling Kim Woo-jin that "I don't know how I will be changed next time I meet you."

The sequences for depicting the two men's moves to explore the opponent's true intention rarely achieves the tension that is due. It is also questionable how Kim and the Ulyeoldan leader Jeong Chae-san (Lee Byung-hun) have such unwavering faith in Lee, even though the man has the power to destroy the entire organization if he wants to.

Fortunately, Song filled the plot's holes with his firstrate performance. In his key role, he sensitively captures Lee's complex emotions: a sense of guilt for betraying his fatherland, identity confusion and deep remorse. His performance is so effective to make even the opportunist Japanese police officer feel very much human.

Gong's performance as the strong but warm leader of the resistance group is equally memorable.

"The Age of Shadows" is set to open in local theaters on Sept. 7. The film is the first produced and presented in Korea by Warner Bros. Pictures.

A still of "The Age of Shadows" (Yonhap)

A still of "The Age of Shadows" (Yonhap)


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

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

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 ofThe 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'sThe 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.


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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.

Gong Yoo stars as independence fighter Kim Woo-jin in “The Age of Shadows.” (Warner Bros. Korea)

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.

Song Kang-ho (right) stars as pro-Japanese police officer Lee Jung-chool in “The Age of Shadows.” (Warner Bros. Korea)

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.

Director Kim Jee-woon’s latest historical noir-thriller “The Age of Shadows” is set in the 1920s. (Warner Bros. Korea)

“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 2, 2016

'Age of Shadows': Venice Review

By Fionnuala Halligan, Chief Film Critic | Screendaily

Japan’s colonial rule of Korea in the 1920s has occupied two of the country’s top film-makers this year – Park Chan-wook used the political oppression as a backdrop to sapphic potboiler The Handmaiden and now Kim Jee-woon has produced a classically-framed wartime espionage drama from the same era. The Age of Shadows, which premiered in Venice at a bracingly explosive 140 minutes, is a sumptuously mounted first local production from Warner Bros which has already been anointed Korea’s foreign language Oscar candidate.

Local audiences should respond well to the stirring patriotic sentiment on display here, although the film’s uneven first half could make it a tougher sell elsewhere. An impressive range of expertly-staged set-pieces and lavish period recreations/costume designs will help, though, as will the appearance of Song Kang-ho (The Host, Snowpiercer) in the lead role, and of course Kim Jee-woon’s reputation goes before him (I Saw The Devil).

The rugged Song (The Host, Snowpiercer) shoulders most of the load, and is typically solid throughout as policeman Lee Jung-chool, a Korean who now works for his country’s Japanese overlords and ends up in a battle of wits with Resistance leader Kim Woo-jin (Gong Yoo, from Train To Busan).

Kim’s invigorating opening sequence sets the scene for the great cat-and-mouse chase which is to ensue when he stages a sting operation on the Korean Resistance at a private compound whose rooftops call to mind Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Japanese troops – literally - run all over the houses as Jung-chool tries to intervene to save the life of his former comrade Kim Jan-ok (Park Hee-soon), now a Resistance fighter.

Working for the Japanese is a matter of pragmatism for Jung-chool in a land where “whoever offers a hand first is a friend” (although “Koreans can choose to obey the Japanese or die,” he is told). Age of Shadows is, according to the credits, “an original work of fiction based on historical facts” and is loosely based on the bombing of a Seoul police station in 1923.

Guided by Chief Higashi (Shingo Tsurumi), Jung-chool’s pursuit of the fanatical Resistance members brings him into contact with their charismatic operations chief Kim Woo-jin. A complex game of double-crossing and second-guessing ensues, with Jung-chool’s sense of decency being manipulated by the Resistance leader while the malevolent Japanese officer Hashimoto (Um Tae-goo) looks on. Jung-chool soon finds himself in an impossible situation, although drinking buckets of soju doesn’t help when it comes to keeping a clear head.

The plot is classic wartime intrigue, and could easily be swapped for a Chinese, British or American WWII epic as the saboteurs head for Shanghai to purchase explosives from Hungarian anarchists (the film’s timeframe plays out prior to the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, when Shanghai was a political melting pot). The entire mid-section of Age Of Shadows takes place on a train headed back to Seoul, with Kim’s actors racing up and down the carriages, assembling and re-assembling their plans at breakneck speed, before the director hurls the film into a huge set piece at Gyeongsan railway station, followed by yet another narrative explosion.

The first half of Age of Shadows feels muddy as momentum builds; the latter stages boast a cinetic energy - cutting a violent melee to classical music (in this case Ravel’s Bolero), may be a tribute to John Woo, but it’s stunning nonetheless. Violence is a given, and Kim lets it rip with some look-away torture sequences and some self-surgery involving a big toe.

Throughout, the technical departments excel. Production design is both highly ambitious and enormously enjoyable, particularly on the train, while costuming revels in the opportunity to dress the handsome leads in a Bugsy Malone range of 1920s kit. Both Song Kang-ho and Gong Yoo give their characters dignity and strength. Han Ji-min doesn’t fare quite so well, though, her Resistance character hints at more but ultimately comes across as decorative, a pretty face under a cloche hat.

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