All posts by Anna R-H

Shiri Review

Korean version of the poster featuring protagonists Ryu and Lee, and antagonist Park
Korean version of the poster featuring protagonists Ryu and Lee, and antagonist Park
American poster for Shiri
American poster for Shiri









Korean director Kang Je-Kyu’s 1999 film Shiri is an action-packed, Hollywood style romance-thriller, with the conflict between North and South Korea in the center. The film follows two South Korean secret agents, Ryu and Lee who are on a mission to track down North Korean sniper Hee. While a group of renegade North Korean soldiers, from the same special ops unit at Hee, have stolen a powerful explosive in order to spark a conflict between the two Koreas in hopes that another war will result in reunification of the two countries.

The film is packed with gunfights, fasted paced action scenes, and literally ticking time-bombs, yet it also displays moments of comedy and romance between Ryu and his fiancé Hyun, who owns a fish shop. Over the course of the film, it is revealed that Hyun is not who Ryu thinks she is, and the two storylines begin to merge together in a flurry of chase scenes and bullets. The film is heavy—to the point of being excessive–on lengthy gunfight scenes. Compared to other movies such as those of Hong Kong director John Woo, the scenes attempt to take on a sense of realism through the handheld camera shots and pacing of the fights, as characters pause to duck behind tables. This realism is broken, however, by the seemingly endless streams of bullets flowing from the enemy’s guns and the seeming invincibility of the protagonists (unless their death or injury proves an important plot point).


Following the typical Hollywood blockbuster style, Shiri is at times overbearing in its use of redundancy and the urgency of the ever-ticking time bombs and deadlines. Yet the film also possesses several traits that set it apart from Western blockbusters. One such trait is the role of the North-South conflict of the movie. By using these historical events and themes, Shiri is able to reach with a wide audience within Korea.  The film’s title comes from the name of a type of fish that is native to rivers in North and South Korea. Unlike the characters in the movie, the shiri fish swims freely across the borders of the two countries, unaware of its location.

Through its use of romance, action and violence, Shiri is often labeled as one of the first “Korean Blockbusters.” Rooted in the historical and political tensions of modern-day Korea, the film is without a doubt Korean, but I believe that the stylistic elements of the film that fall under the label of “blockbuster” are overdone. Although the gunfights and time bombs provide a sense of action and urgency to the film, they are extended and repeated to the extent that they begin to bore the viewer.

HANA-BI Review


HANA-BI, directed by Kitano “Beat” Takeshi, is a tale of two men’s journeys to deal with depression and loss. The film made its debut at the Venice film festival in 1997, taking home the Golden Lion award, and after its success on the international film circuit, was released in theatres in Japan in January 1998. HANA-BI was nominated for several Japanese Academy Awards and won the award for Best Score.

HANA-BI follows the lives of two retired police officers, Nishi and Horibe.  Horibe, who retires after becoming paralyzed in an accident, struggles to fill his time and overcome the grief of losing his job and his family. He eventually takes up painting, and the film is filled with shots of his colorful, surreal paintings. After the retirement of his partner, Nishi leaves the force as well in order to spend time with his wife, who was diagnosed with Leukemia. The main plot of the film follow’s the “journeys” of the two men—literally in the case of Nishi, who travels to Mount Fuji with his wife –in their effort to overcome grief.

The title of the film is the Japanese word for fireworks, a motif which shows up at multiple points throughout the film. Separately, the word consists of the words hana, or flower, and bi, or fire. The spelling of the film’s title as HANA-BI, which separates the two, hints at the film’s unique pacing and aesthetics. The film’s slow, deliberate pace contributes to a peaceful atmosphere and the intimacy between the couple portrayed in the film. Yet just as Nishi’s trip with his wife is constantly interrupted by the yakuza to whom he owes money, the calm of the film is punctuated with moments of extreme violence. These bursts of violence and the bursts of color provided by Horibe’s paintings (painted by Kitano himself) stand in stark contrast to the slow pacing and simple shots of nature within the film.

In addition to its unique pacing, another aspect of HANA-BI that stands out is its silence. Although the film does feature an original score composed by famous composer Joe Hisaishi, who has written scores for several films including those from Studio Ghibli, dialogue in the film is minimal.  Yet Kitano manages to express a sense of closeness and affection between Nishi and his wife without ever showing the couple exchange words; the only time the wife speaks at all is at the very end of the film, simply saying “thank you” and “I’m sorry.”

Through his use of striking pacing and aesthetics, Kitano was able to create a moving story of loss and depression. Although the uneven pacing and extent of the violence depicted in HANA-BI can at times be off-putting for viewers, it is the pacing that gives the film  its unique feeling, and makes it a memorable viewing experience.