“Shiri” is a South Korean film released in 1999 from director Kang Je-gyu. This film, which was released immediately after South Korea’s rapid economic growth in the 1990’s, was a direct response to the Hollywood action films that were popularized in the 1980’s. In addition to containing all of the major elements of a Blockbuster action flick (such as superfluous shootouts where the protagonist remains miraculously unharmed), there are distinct elements to it that show it to be Korean at its core. Yu Jong-won (Han Suk-kyu) is a South Korean agent whose current task is to find the infamous North Korean spy Lee Bang-hee (Yunjin Kim) who has already assassinated a number of key South Korean political figures. She is also a member of a rogue North Korean military unit who has determined to reunite North and South Korea by any means necessary. Yu and his partner Lee Jang-gil (Song Kang-ho) must search for the information that will help them discover where Hee is hiding before her organization can carry out its most devastating attack. The rogue North Korean envoy manages to obtain a liquid explosive known as CTX, which at rest is indistinguishable from water. This liquid is extremely dangerous however, and at the right temperatures for the right amount of time can annihilate a large area or city property. The rogue agents intend to use this weapon at a friendly soccer match between the North and South Korean soccer teams, as the major political figures from each country will be in attendance. It quickly becomes a race against time as Yu and Lee search for information about Hee, her commander Park Mu-young (Choi Min-sik) and the location of their devastating bombs.
One of the major flaws with this movie is the extent of the gunfights and how frequently they occur. What makes it so ludicrous is that the protagonists Yu and Lee, while they are present at almost every single gunfight in the movie, seem to have an uncanny ability to avoid being hit by bullets. Even during the films more extensive gunfights when bullets are flying at the same level of a blizzard, the major characters are not injured for the majority of the movie (the bullets are so extensive, one would assume that even death by friendly fire would be a huge threat).
The running undertones of the movie help aide the movie in its aim to carry a significant plot. The antagonists, albeit misguided, wish to have the divide between the Koreas healed and become one nation again. There is one other significant appearance of the theme of unity, but it plays an important part in the ending (which I will not reveal). Another admirable theme is the idea of love and loyalty. Throughout the film Yu is attempting to remain as focused on his mission as possible. However he is also concerned for the safety of his fiancé, which is another major subplot throughout the film. Additionally, the antagonists always seem to know what the police force will do next, and the police begin to turn against each other out of suspicion. Their loyalties to each other are tested as each agent attempts to protect their interests and their lives.
Overall the film is obviously heavily influenced by American Blockbuster action films, which might make it seem repetitive and unoriginal to an American viewer. However there are positive qualities to the film that occasionally shine through and help to make the film as engaging as possible. The final scene especially is full of tension an thrills, but many viewers are already so tired of the repetition of stagnant action that they may have already lost interest. This movie is definitely most fit for an audience of action die-hard fans who don’t mind the slight lack of depth to the characters and plot.