Shiri: Film Review

Shiri, written and directed by Kang Je-gyu, is a 1999 release, action packed, South Korean, blockbuster film that challenges the preconceived ideas of identity and what happens when those ideas combined with the theme of undying love. Blockbusters are often similar in action and progression, but Shiri involves deep things, hidden within symbols in the movie. The actors are important when analyzing the film.

The actors and actresses do a solid job on making the characters believable. Yunjin Kim portrays the vicious, cold-blooded, North Korean named Hee. Hee assumes the stolen identity of Hyun, a gentle, feminine girl who tends to fish. Her identity is a warped and not until the end of the film is it revealed if both sides of her are reconciled or not. Hyun is happily engaged to Yu, who is portrayed by Han Suk-kyu, another secret agent, but from South Korea. This mixture of secret agents, North Koreans, and South Koreans creates a volatile mix and tests the boundaries of identity. Those factors also play a large role in how if identity is undecided, then undying love cannot exist properly.

While the story itself was not so realistic, the themes keep the viewer captivated. Identity and undying love bring the story together and give the film meaning, while the character’s actions within the film are justified by the themes. The North Korean persona portrayed is believable based on the previous knowledge on North Korean life. A large amount of the population is in the military and trained to be ruthless. The ruthlessness is show by Hee burning the picture of her family with not remorse. The simple them of undying love is rattled in this film due to the apparent opposites paralleled in the film. The kissing gourami fish oppositely parallels the relationship of Hyun and Yu. Kissing gourami are explained in the film as symbols of the truest form of love, dying if the other dies. Yu and Hyun could resemble the fish, but Hee ruins the sanctity of the bond. Of course, at the end, to complicate matters further, another character appears and gives more insight on what happens when identity combines with the theme of undying love.

Plot is important when telling a story, but in Shiri, the plot is rather action heavy with little explaining points, however, the storyline is logical and does follow a linear timeline. The structure of the film is decent, but the action heavy points throughout most of the duration of the movie are exciting at first, but eventually become a bit stale and pointless. However, it must be understood that, these directing choices were mainly made to fit this film into the action genre, which is what eventually allowed it to become a blockbuster.

Cinematic aspects of the film should not be overlooked either. The non-diegetic sound effects of all the ammo being fired give the film a war like tone, which is accurate. Even though it is not a war movie, it is a war of North and South Koreans, as well as their identities. Non-diegetic music within the film was appropriate in timing from when love is in the air all the way to when all seems lost. None of these elements detracted from the film as a whole, but rather contributed greatly to it.