Swiri [Shiri] (1999)

(On DVD, July 2003) Perhaps the best thing about this film is how it doesn’t feel radically different from other Hong Kong or American action films. For a relatively low-budget film from the nascent South Korean film industry, it’s an impressive achievement. Story-wise, Shiri holds together despite quite a few lengths, insufficient character development, a certain blah-factor and a deeply improbable revelation mid-way through. But let’s not be too harsh: said revelation does make perfect sense if one considers the overall thematic intentions of the film, a thriller about a country cleaved in two, torn between its good and evil sides. (I also suspect that the film was originally hyped with the revelation featured in the trailers.) There are a few passable action sequences that have nothing to envy from Hollywood, and if I’ve seen better elsewhere, I don’t think I’ve seen quite this particular story before. The Seoul setting is an interesting change of pace after too many films in New York, Los Angeles or Hong Kong, and that alone may be reason enough to see the film. Asian-action fans may get more out of it, though. The DVD contains an illuminating making-of documentary that may help western audiences understand how important Shiri was to the South Korean film industry.

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