Shiri (1999)

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-Han Suk Kyu
-Choi Min Sik
-Song Kang Ho
-Kim Yun Jin


Ryu and Lee are special agents in South Korea. The agents have been after notorious hitwoman Hee for some time, but in recent times she has gone into hiding. Just as they are about to meet with someone who wants to tell them something important, she resurfaces to kill him. They soon find that she is part of a revolutionary North Korean unit that has plans to hijack a newly developed explosive liquid to use in their plans for reunification of the Koreas. A man from Ryu's past and Hee will be the two main targets as the agents try piece things together, but Ryu and Lee are always a step behind and suspect an inside leak.


Shiri, as far as classification goes, is a pretty standard action/spy/thriller movie. The style has been done before. I must say, though, that I have never seen it done so well. Shiri proves that a movie doesn't have to be wholely original to stand above the rest. It's gripping plot, character interaction, and emotion put it miles ahead of similar efforts.

The plot of Shiri grabs the viewer immediately. From the early scenes of special forces North Korea, viewer interest is piqued. Without jumping immediately into the force's intentions, the viewer is quickly introduced to the main character and his relationship with the woman he loves and plans to marry. Then, its off to the races as the first murder that sets their investigation off takes place. Surely hooked by now, the viewer follows the exact logic with which the two agents start to follow their investigation that leads to the bigger picture.

So geniously plotted and so smoothly paced, the movie had me absolutely hooked. Never was I confused as to what was going on, nor did I feel like the movie was getting boring and redundant. But, the genious of the film lies not solely on the investigation plot. The love between Ryu and his girlfriend, Hyun, is called into play and will become an important part of how he deals with what goes on. The interaction between Ryu and his partner is another thing that makes the film so enjoyable. The chemistry is there and we are truly convinced they are great friends. When leaks are suspected, in such a cut throat enviroment, will they still trust each other?

This action thriller packs much more emotion than others of its type. I can count moments of happiness, relief, confusion, tension and sadness at points throughout the film. The latter three are particularly moving (and not independent of one another). Avoiding spoilers, I will not elaborate too much on these.

There is plenty of action in the film, with some intense and very violent shootouts. These scenes are pretty exciting and well done. The camera does have a tendency to be very shaky, which is a minor complaint, but it does not detract much. The most important thing is that the action scenes work well in the context of the film and during the fight, we see the plot pushed along because of what is going on.

It seems that Shiri definitely deserves all the praise it has gotten. I am not an expert in Korean cinema, but on the merits of this film itself, I certainly understand how the masses made it the number one grossing film of all time in Korea. An absolutely gripping story, chemistry between the characters, and plenty of emotion define the awesome experience that is Shiri.


-Kang Je Gyu


-Original Korean language.