Loosely based on actual characters and events, director Kim Jee-woon’s taut and bloody thriller rushes from one great set piece to the next in a dizzying and hypnotic tale of patriotism and self-interest.
Set in the first half of Japan’s 35-year occupation of Korea, Lee Jung-chool (Song Kang-ho) is a captain in the occupying force’s police. Tasked by his superior officer with infiltrating and exposing the Korean resistance, Lee soon finds himself torn between duty to his country and pursuing his career. It soon becomes clear that he is a pawn, used by both sides, never quite sure if he is the cat or the mouse.
Caught between the machinations of resistance fighter Kim Woo-jin (Train to Busan’s Yoo Gong) and terrifyingly ambitious Japanese investigator Hashimoto (Um Tae-goo), Lee finds himself facing increasingly difficult moral choices and actions in an effort to keep his cover being blown.
Never afraid to offer his own take on different genres, director Kim Jee-woon evokes memories of Alfred Hitchcock and Carol Reed, especially in an extended exercise in nail-biting set on a train journey from Shanghai to Seoul with both sides determined to root out a traitor. There is a slight feeling that The Age of Shadows is a little too long and that that train sequence could well be considered the film’s dramatic climax but everything is brought to a satisfying, if extended, conclusion.
Featuring great performances by all, a twisting, turning plot full of surprises and some of the most sumptuous, evocative set design and costuming never to be considered Oscar worthy, The Age of Shadows is everything you’d wish for in an evening’s entertainment. (Though you might want to look away during the more than harrowing torture scenes)