Category Archives: Shiri

Shiri Movie Review


“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.


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.

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.