Tuesday, May 22, 2007


The verdict: Cheesy Hollywood-style action from Korea.

Craziness: Buddy-cop action, shootouts and explosions. Oh, wait, that isn't crazy at all...

The rating: 5/10

There's a song from 'Team America: World Police' that tellingly reveals a device oft over-used in movies: the montage. When you need to move things along, the song goes, you need a montage.. and of course fading out from the montage shows that time is passing... Shiri opens with a training montage, with a nameless female soldier graduating from a rain-soaked uber-badass military training school in North Korea. The montage shows us in around 90 seconds that she's a sharp-shooter, separated from her family, and so damn hard that she's graduating top of her badass class. Then, a second montage shows us what she's managed to achieve since graduating, and it's a pretty impressive hit list. Cut to present day, and agents Ryu and Lee are secret agents, partners, and on her case.

Shiri, features two veterans of Chan-Wook Park's revenge trilogy: the instantly recognisable Oldboy himself Min-Sik Choi, and one of the leads from 'Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance' Kang-Ho Song. Their presence in this movie is proof, at least, that paycheck movies aren't just a Hollywood phenomenon. This isn't just any paycheck movie though, as it is still the highest grossing Korean movie in history.

Ok, the story goes: a dissident North Korean regiment, led by Oldboy, are using grasses in the South to gain access to confidential military information about a new technological development: CTX. CTX is a liquid explosive with identical properties to water, bar one rather important one: when it is exposed to enough light and heat, it explodes with a force ten times greater than any other explosive previously seen.

As the secret agents investigate the movements of the North Korean bad lady, named Hee, they uncover evidence linking her to this regiment, and things really start kicking off.

Shiri is pretty action-packed, but the action sequences are out-of-the-box and everything in here has been done many times before, with bigger budgets and more imagination, by the likes of Jerry Bruckheimer, for example. The action tends to take the form of prolonged confusing shoot-outs between goodies and baddies, and the body count starts mounting right from the opening scenes.

The two partners are buddies right from the start, and this relationship has a conclusion to it that is so inevitable it isn't funny. If you've seen an action movie before in your life, you'll see this coming from about ten minutes in... All that is missing from this element of the film is someone screaming: 'NOoooo!!' (Er, in Korean though - Ed)

Where Shiri almost gets away from cliché is in the love interest, but the dialogue between Ryu and fiancée Hyun is genuinely nauseating. She runs an aquarium and talks about a type of kissing fish called 'Kissing Gourami'. These fish live in pairs, and if one dies, so does the the other. This, if you are asleep, is called a metaphor. It would be a nice one if it wasn't repeated so bloody often throughout the movie.

There is a political context to Shiri, that is possibly the reason it attracted so much domestic interest. The action set-piece that frames the finale of the movie is an historic friendly football match between North Korea and South Korea. The presidents of both Koreas are attending, and Oldboy's dissident military unit want to blow up them both up and start a war.

So, it's laden with action movie clichés, and the love interest side of it is sickly sweet, but is it any fun? Well, there is the occasional moment of comedy, but a movie this ridiculous should have its tongue firmly in its cheek... think 'Face/Off' and how the two leads hammed it up so much that the premise actually became a bit of fun. Unfortunately, Shiri takes itself a little too seriously for that. Possibly due to the importance of the political element to the story, and the desire to make the plot laden with emotional connotations, it just gets tiresome, and long before the end.

Perhaps a guest appearance from 'Team America's' Kim Jong-Il would have livened things up... (I'm so rone-ree... mwaa haa! ... ahem.. - Ed) but given that he's a renowned film fanatic, I think he would have taken offence at his image being used in a film that is quite simply a below-par popcorn actioner.

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