Beyond the exploding squibs and relentless sentimentality, there's something interesting going on in director Kang Je-Gyu's South Korean blockbuster: He takes the very real tensions between North and South Korea and uses them to drive a high-octane action flick. Things get off to a jolting start when what appear to be savage acts of guerilla warfare turn out to be training exercises designed to turn an elite group of North Koreans into merciless killers. Once their training is complete, these terrorists slip across the border and into Seoul, where they trigger a wave of urban mayhem that keeps the city on edge and South Korean special ops on their toes. Notorious among the terrorists is a mysterious woman known only as Hee, an expert sniper and cold-blooded assassin, who, despite the efforts of agents Ryu (Han Suk-Gyu) and Lee (Song Kang-Ho), remains at large; no one's even sure what she looks like. Lee is having trouble with his girlfriend, Hee (Kim Yun-Jin), a recovering alcoholic who's been slipping off the wagon, but he soon faces bigger problems when he learns that the terrorists have gotten their hands on a terrifying new weapon: CTX, a colorless, odorless liquid that's indistinguishable from water but explodes when exposed to heat or light. The terrorists have planted the stuff all around Seoul, but their central target is the stadium where the presidents of North and South Korea are scheduled to preside over a North vs. South soccer game. It's a tentative first step towards reunification, and a moment that North Korean terrorists will stop at nothing to prevent. Like many Western action films, this thriller is too loud and thoroughly overbearing, but its heartfelt concern about North Korea's recent past and South Korea's future adds a much needed moral weight. The shiri of the title is a freshwater fish native to both Koreas, and which Lee hopes will one day swim freely between them. But an even more appropriate central image for the film is Hee's gift to Lee: a pair of kissinguri, kissing fish that die if separated. This film struck a nerve with homegrown audiences: It's one of the highest grossing Korean films of all time and kissinguri quickly became all the rage. Unfortunately, the all-too-vivid simulation of terrorist attacks, including a prolonged scene of a building collapse in which people are seen plummeting to their deaths and crushed under falling concrete, may strike a very different chord with post-9/11 American audiences.
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- Released: 1999
- Rating: R
- Review: Beyond the exploding squibs and relentless sentimentality, there's something interesting going on in director Kang Je-Gyu's South Korean blockbuster: He takes the very real tensions between North and South Korea and uses them to drive a high-octane action… (more)