Asian Action
Dir: Je-Gyu Kang
Star: Suk-Kyu Han, Min-Sik Choi, Kang-Ho Song, Yun-Jim Kim
Cert / Year: 18 / 1999
Format: DVD R2

When a security breach results in the vicious, armed assault and theft of a top secret, high-tech liquid explosive the South Korean authorities put their best agents, Ryu (Suk-Kyu Han) and his partner Lee (Kang-Ho Song) on to the case. Unfortunately, just as the two agents get a lead and find a suspect, the suspect promptly gets assassinated right under the noses of the agents. Convinced they have a mole within their ranks, the two agents can't trust anyone. They know that they are dealing with South Korea's most feared killer, known as Hee (Yun-Jim Kim) a cool killer who the authorities had believed dead. Her reappearance makes the authorities even more nervous, due to the Korean heads of state that are going to be attending a historic football match between the North and South of the country which is set to signal a road to peace for the warring country..... or is it?

A big budget action thriller? From Korea? You'd better believe it, and if this is any indication, we should keep an eye out for more in future. Shiri is a slick, stylish espionage action thriller and an energetic blast from Korea. The story is pretty good and the theme is reminiscent of La Femme Nikita and Purple Storm to a degree. The opposing regime sending perfect killers into the decadent North (Purple Storm), whilst their ultimate weapon is the woman Hee, hence the Nikita similarity. The film boldly tackles previously taboo political subjects and weaves itself a relatively good web even if the plot is a little crude. That said, this relatively unknown film from Korea can easily compete with the American "blockbusters" and in some cases walk all over them.

The direction of writer/director Je-Gyu Kang is good considering this is only his second film and it is easy to see why this "Korean Nikita" became the highest grossing film in Korean film history. Kang maintains a reasonable balance between the political drama and the kinetic action. Kang has acquired somewhat of a reputation as one of the best Asian film stylists, and it is easy to see why here. There is an exciting and superb running gun battle through the streets, shops and side streets which is fast paced and well choreographed. The brutal training montage at the beginning of the film is also well arranged and atmospheric, proving one of the more memorable segments of the film.

You get the feeling that the action is only "peppering" the romantic sub text of the film which is given a higher priority than the espionage story, which culminates in a very James Bond -esque race to stop a fiendish plot to kill masses of people which revolves around an obligatory countdown sequence. Incidentally the whole explosive water mcguffin is a cool idea, scary as hell but a good idea. Only problem here is that when one does go off, it looks really cheap as all the budget went on other special effects and wouldn't stretch to a CGI building. Considering the film is supposed to be about this feared hit-woman, you don't see much of her. There are a few "hits" but nothing that stands out and elevates Shiri above the bench mark set by the likes of Nikita. There just isn't enough Hee action in general. Plenty of long range rifle shots, but not enough in the thick of it so to speak. Some Martial Arts would have enhanced the action potential and spiced up the film greatly, but a low key approach appears to have been adopted.

A pretty good cast all round really. British trained Yun-Jim Kim does well with the title role, but isn't really given anything meaty to do. Some nice set pieces and a good portrayal of the hit-woman torn between the love of her man and the love of her pseudo fanatic brethren. Nicely handled but just lacking that little something. Min-Sik Choi is excellent as Park, the leader of the South Korean Special Forces. He actually won a Best Supporting Actor award at the "Golden Bell Awards", Korea's most influential film awards. Choi gets most of the screen action and manages to get a higher body count than Hee.

A nicely directed thriller with a good story, even if it is terribly political. A bit predictable in places without many real surprises but a compelling tale nonetheless. Admittedly, Shiri suffers from having a decidedly unhappy ending. In fact, no, that doesn't quite cover it. The ending is miserable, depressive and decidedly downbeat. But it is just so good with it.


No clues. No leads. No time.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Picture 1.85:1 Anamorphic Excellent crisp image
Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 Good mix even if it is in Korean
Features Cool animated menu
"Making Of" documentary
Star and director filmographies
"Asia Extreme" trailer reel
Original Theatrical trailer
Mark Wyatt film notes
Music video "What I Dream"
Verdict Not a bad presentation, but seems to be the usual "Tartan Asia Extreme" fare of extras. Not as good as a Hong Kong Legends disc, but better than some Asian releases.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Reviewed by Logan Back Top Home