The plot seems simple: two of Korea's top secret intelligence agents investigate the murder of a notorious arms smuggler. What at first appears to be a routine investigation unfolds into something much larger and scarier.
Kang Je-Gyu's "Shiri" is a top-notch political action thriller with exciting action sequences and also strikes a balance with some deep emotions and serious reflection. As such, the movie comes across with far deeper meaning than most action flicks, leaving the audience genuinely caring for the characters as more than just action stars.
Kang Je-Gyu wrote and directed "Shiri", which was released in Asia in 1999. Rewritten with some new sequences for the US, it was released state-side in February 2002.. even more timely and universal in the wake of Sept. 11.
Much like top notch action movies from John Woo (Hong Kong's famed action director who directed movies like Mission Impossible 2 and Wind Talkers), Shiri has all the ingredients for an international success with a good plot and very good action scenes. The film is in Korean though and sub-titles unravel much of the mystery, though you should be prepared to miss a few details due to the language differences. Despite that, as in most Asian films, these convoluted and often complex plots often unravel themselves towards the end.
"Shiri" takes its title from a freshwater fish that can survive only in the clearest seas and, during spawning season, swims upstream against the swiftest currents. It is therefore symbolic of the Korean longing for reunification and the uphill struggle to see it come to pass.
The main plot centers around a group of terroists who are set on disrupting peace developments between North and South Korea. Intent on maximizing their impact, the terroists steal a liquid bomb from the South Korean military and plan to set it off at a North-South Korean Unification Soccer Match. As this event is so crucial in the tense relations between the two nations approaches, South Korea's intelligence agency is confronted with disturbing evidence that the elusive Hee, a ruthless and daring North Korean female terrorist, has renewed her activities after a long dormant period and plans to assist in carrying out this terrorist act. Ryu (Han Suk-Gyu) and his younger partner, Lee (Song Kang-Ho), are assigned to track her down to prevent what might inevitably lead to the destruction of Seoul.
Apart from the intense action sequences, there is a softer side to Shiri, including very deep emotional sequences between Ryu and his girlfriend. This relationship, however, is not all that it seems and seems to quickly spiral out of control and adds quite a twist to the plot. I'll leave it to the reader to discover what happens. What I love about this movie is that it suceeds in presenting a very human side of the terroists and does not paint them simply as one dimensional "the bad guys". Kind of reminds me of the characters in the movie HEAT.
In terms of shoot-out action, this movie has it all. Weapons variety is very diverse - from Korean modified M16s to MP5s, AUGs, PSG1 (actually a G3 derived sniper riflle with PSG1 components), Beretta 92F, AK47 and lots lots more. Shootouts occur all over the city of Seoul with rooftop snipers to SWAT teams running down terroists in hotel kitchens, ice rinks, in the streets, and of course the soccer stadium. One particular good sequence sees Hee (the female terroist) set down her sniper case on a rooftop and efficiently assemble her G3 based sniper rifle with a scope a nickel plated silencer before taking aim at Ryu who was having some coffee across the street. Then there is teh very intense ice-rink and kitchen shoot-out scene between scores of heavily armed SWAT team members toting MP5s, and the terroists with Berettas and Desert Eagles with seemingly endless ammunition. These sequences are intense enough to drive you to the edge of your seat. Watching this movie without an airsoft gun in hand is close to impossible since it instills such a sense of excitement! The opening scene is extremely shocking as it depicts how the terroists are trained in cold blooded murder.
For those of you who have not seen this movie and dare venture into the world of Korean cinema - we highly recommend Shiri.
Visit the official site for more on this terrific movie.