By: Anthony Francis
“I’m starting to learn that, sometimes, there are two truths.”
An Action-Thriller based on important history that has something to say. Yes please!
“Escape From Mogadishu” was the opening night film at this year’s New York Asian Film Festival and it is one hell of an entertainment: not only on an action level but on every level.
This is a film rich in character and story.
Set in 1991, diplomats from North and South Korea band together to get out of Mogadishu safely after the city becomes too deadly for foreigners once the embassies fall.
As the film begins, Mogadishu is already in the middle of an ever-escalating civil war. The diplomats and their families have a false sense of entitlement regarding being in the country during this time. Worried about their positions within their own government, they are at first unaware of the political bomb that is about to explode around them.
The film wastes no time as it shows the brutal conflict between the rebels and the Somali government. As the North and South Koreans struggle to figure it all out, the violence in the streets rises like a tidal wave.
Director Ryoo Seung-wan gives his film a wire-right ambience where no one is safe, and conflict is everywhere. Conflict between the government and the rebels, the North and South Koreans, the Koreans and the government, and so on.
It is only when the North and South Koreans are both threatened and kept like prisoners waiting to be killed that the two sides must work together and put aside their political issues.
Politics play a big part in the decisions each side makesand sometimes the animosities boil over into aggression. In a fantastic scene, a South Korean character fights a North Korean in a small room. The two men bounce one another off tabletops and walls, striking with fists, kicks, and anything they can get their hands on. The battle is realistic and quite brutal and comes to represent the futile battle between the two sides. Eventually, when lives are threatened, foes must put aside all differences and do what it takes to survive.
Kim Yoon-seok and Jo In-sung give the performances of the film as Han Shin- sung and Kang Dae-jin, respectively. The two are South Korean diplomats who struggle to get everyone out alive.
Han Shin-sung is tired of it all, the politics, the infighting, and the violence. Kim Yoon-seok expertly plays the role with a weariness and eventual kindness. This man has a soul and truly cares and chooses honor and dignity over politics.
Kang Dae-Jin is the more heroic character, but not in a cliched way. He is a complex man who knows Martial Arts and is sick of having to suffer fools in the name of diplomacy. His character does everything in his ever-receding power to get everyone to safety. Jo In-sung is perfect in every beat.
There are many thrilling moments in this film. The best comes in the finale during an incredible sequence where the North and South Koreans pile into four cars and blast through the streets of Mogadishu, trying to make it to the Italian embassy.
The scene is a masterstroke of editing and design. The camera moves through each car, through trickery the shots are unbroken. The cars bash into one another and guns blaze at them while a military jeep with a massive machine gun is on their tails.
This jaw-dropping sequence builds and builds as the rebels also become part of the chase. Men get stuck in windshields, guns are struggled over, and each turn becomes a deadly trap. This moment is now the best car chase of the last few decades, standing side by side with any great moment from George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road”.
Ryoo Seung-wan directs the hell out of this film. Much of his framing and shot decisions are rather brilliant in their execution. The filmmaker handles the action scenes and the drama with supreme skill, making every thrill andemotion hit. There is also a sly sense of natural humor that snakes through a few scenes that gives a humanity to the characters and the film.
Guns blaze and bullets spray. Characters run and fight for their lives. While not the type of film where everything is built around action, this is an Action-Thriller made even more special by serious and, at times, moving drama.
By film’s end, I was thrilled and quite moved thanks to the performances and the superb direction and screenplay from Ryoo Seung-wan.
“Escape From Mogadishu” is a powerful and stunning work that will keep its viewers riveted while making an important statement on diplomacy and the honor of men.